How Strict Were Pre-Prohibition Liquor Laws in New York City?

The Raines sandwich will probably go down in history as the most popular sandwich that no one wanted to eat.

In 1890s New York City, tavern owners evaded the Raines Law's ban on Sunday drinking by turning their bars into "hotels" and serving inedible sandwiches with drinks.
In 1890s New York City, tavern owners evaded the Raines Law's ban on Sunday drinking by turning their bars into "hotels" and serving inedible sandwiches with drinks.

At the end of the 19th century, variations of the Raines sandwich could be found every Sunday in pretty much every tavern in New York City -- often making the rounds from one patron to another, untouched.

The Raines sandwich didn't have a specific recipe; instead, it was a combination of leftovers and some inedible items thrown together under (probably stale) bread and handed out with alcoholic beverages. Sometimes it was made of rubber or even brick.

This "food service" was provided to patrons thanks to a loophole in the so-called Raines Law, which came into effect in 1896. Among other things, the Raines Law forbade the sale of liquor on Sundays -- except in lodging establishments that offered its guests complimentary meals.

The taverns serving these sandwiches also got hotel licenses as long as they had 10 empty rooms available, and many owners rented space above their taverns to serve as makeshift accommodation. Within a short time, "Raines hotels" had opened everywhere, giving drinkers quick and easy access to cots on which to sleep off a Sunday night's revelry, making a mockery of the legislators' attempts to ban Sunday drinking. The law and the loophole continued into the early 20th century, but both came to a stop in 1920, with the start of Prohibition.

Liquor laws around the world:

  • Until 2011, any beverage containing less than 10 percent alcohol was considered a "foodstuff" in Russia.

  • It is against the law to give alcohol to a moose in Alaska or to a fish in Ohio.

  • In Germany, you can have your license revoked and be required to submit to a psychological exam if you are caught riding a bicycle while intoxicated.

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