86 is restaurant and bar-speak meaning gone. It has dual definitions but is obvious in context. For example, a chef may say “86 the chicken” to their wait staff, meaning the kitchen is out of chicken so don’t sell anymore. Waitstaff taking orders for items that have been 86’d quickly draw the ire of chefs.
Much worse, depending on your perspective is when you 86 a customer, meaning they are no longer welcome generally due to intoxication. Fear not, most customer’s who were 86’d are welcome back the next time, just take it a bit easier.
The etymology of 86 is murky at best. Explanations run the gambet from references to alcohol strength, to the number of bullets issue to soldiers, to simply that it rhymes with nixed. Its use in restaurants to indicate they ran out of something dates back to the 1930s. Legend points to a historic New York City bar named Chumley’s, located at 86 Bedford Street in the West Village. Chumley’s at the time had two entry/exit points with one facing Bedford Street and the other on Barrow Street known as “the Garden Door.” Two versions come from Chumley’s. First, it is rumored that an unruly guest was escorted out from the Bedford Street door holding the address “86 Bedford St.” A second version presented in Jef Klein’s great book The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York states “the cops would very kindly call ahead before a raid, they’d tell the bartender to ’86’ his customers, meaning they should exit via the 86 Bedford door,” while the police would come through the now-closed entrance at 58 Barrow only to find an empty building. This is the version Chumley’s mentions on their website so we are going with that as the official explanation of the term.
« Back to Glossary Index