New Yorkers have strong opinions about sandwiches. Anyone who mentions a meatball sub to a Manhattanite will hear about a corner bodega with the most tender beef and, conversely, a tourist-trap deli that uses a marinara sauce so runny a dog wouldn’t eat it.
So it’s curious, then, that what was simultaneously the worst-tasting and best-selling sandwich ever created was first forged in the heart of the Big Apple. It couldn’t be found at a corner deli, though. No, thanks to a politician’s schemes, people flocked to the darkest and seediest spots in the city just to order one.
It was the late-19th century when New York State Republican Senator John Raines noticed a big problem in New York City: the residents were way too drunk, way too often. For decency’s sake, Raines figured, this needed to change.
See, Raines’ constituents were based in the more rural parts of the state. They went to church. They respected the Sabbath. In his eyes, they weren’t like those city dwellers that drank through Sundays only to stumble home smelling like cheap whiskey and seedy bars.
Gangs of New York
Frustrated, Raines did what any politician would and drew up legislation to curb the indecencies plaguing the city. After all, more and more conservatives were taking root in the hub, and the new police commissioner — Teddy Roosevelt — was preaching “law and order.”
And so it was in 1896 that New York passed Raines’ Law, which put massive restrictions on the 8,000 saloons crowded by the worst vagrants and vagabonds the city had to offer. Backed by Roosevelt, the law immediately changed the city’s drinking landscape.
Liquor licenses costs skyrocketed, now up to ten times more costly. Bars couldn’t be built within 200 feet of schools and churches and were forced to close at midnight on Saturday. The drinking age raised from 16 to 18. These stipulations weren’t even the worst of them.
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and Raines’ Law made sure of it: bars could no longer give away meals with drink purchases. New Yorkers, as they’re sometimes prone to do in the face of a slight, got really, really angry.
persnicketyfox / instagram
But because Raines’ Law also required bars to keep their curtains open, there was no getting around it. Saloon owners couldn’t serve a trusted crowd secretly on Sundays — any of Roosevelt’s patrolmen would’ve spotted the funny business.
Worse, unforeseen consequences hit the working class hard. The city’s immigrants — the Irish and the Germans — were no longer allowed to drink on their only days off. The Jewish, who celebrated their Sabbath on Saturday, lost a day to enjoy themselves.
Outraged and just wanting to get drunk on their day off, lower-class New Yorkers combed through Raines’ Law, hoping for any loophole that might let their wild weekends continue. And wouldn’t you know it — they found one.
Written into Raines’ Law was a clause that allowed hotels and lodging houses — where rich people often drank when their servants had the day off — to continue serving alcohol with meals seven days per week. Clever bar owners and drunks used this to their advantage.
That’s why, weeks later, law enforcement noticed some odd trends: saloons were placing beds in their basements and advertising lodging. Were the officers to walk inside the establishment on Sunday, they would’ve seen a strange — but totally legal — practice going on.
The odd Sabbath practice looked like this: A man ordered a whiskey, but, as Raines’ Law stated that drinks on Sunday had to be served with food, he also asked his waiter for a Raines Sandwich.
Moments later, the waiter would bring out the whiskey and place it on the patron’s table alongside a sandwich. Sipping his Sunday whiskey, the saloon guest wouldn’t touch the food.
And that was for good reason: The sandwich was entirely inedible. Playwright Eugene O’Neill described his Raines Sandwich as, “an old desiccated ruin of dust-laden bread and mummified ham or cheese.” Luckily, the sandwich didn’t stay at the table for long.
Because moments after the first patron ordered it, another saloon guest would put in a request for a whiskey and a Raines Sandwich. The server would pick up the sandwich from the first patron and bring it to the second — alongside a whiskey, of course.
American Prohibition Museum
These sandwiches were used again and again, getting passed around for often weeks at a time so that people could just get good ‘ol fashioned wasted on Sundays. Naturally, those who’d momentarily enjoyed streets free from Sabbath drunks challenged the Raines Sandwich loophole.
So, law officials found themselves in the middle of a hot debate: was a sandwich a “complete meal”? Ruling that it was would allow bars, which had become known as Raines Hotels, to continue serving alcohol on Sundays.
After what probably amounted to weeks upon weeks of debate, law enforcement determined “that a cracker is not a complete meal in itself, but a sandwich is.” Naturally, this much-awaited ruling had an immediate impact in New York.
Within months, city officials had a lot of work cut out for them, as there were 1,500 requests to open up Raines Hotels throughout the area. People just wanted to get wasted on Sundays, and now, they’d found the means to do it.
Forty years later, though, New Yorkers were forced to come together once more to fight back against a law they considered oppressive. It all started at cigar shop up on 106th street in East Harlem, New York.
The cigar shop dealt out the finest fixes and vices to the neighborhood and always had at least a few heads hanging around. So no one blinked an eye on March 6th, 1948, when an unfamiliar man with a single penny in his pocket walked into the shop.
Without throwing so much as a glance toward the tobacco-lined shelves, the man swaggered directly for his target — The Marvel Pop Up. With one slide of his thumb across the clean copper for luck, the man dropped the penny into the slot and braced for the pinball to drop.
His luck seemed to betray him as 3, 4, 5 balls fell back into the machine, the tiny pings punctuating his defeat. As the 6th and final silver orb descended down, the man found his stride and sunk the little ball into a hole that won him a free play… but the game was already over.
Instead of collecting on his free turn, the man, an undercover New York City police officer, cuffed the owner of the small cigar shop for “unlawful possession of a gambling machine.” Jail time was a hard knock, but it was nothing compared to the fate of The Marvel Pop Up.
The old machine played her last game that day. Like many before and after her, she faced the sledgehammer. This was a case as common as any during the years New York’s government made it their mission to end the greatest perceived threat to American society — pinball.
It almost seems like a joke by today’s standards, but from the moment pinball emerged on the scene during the Great Depression, it was seen as a crime-inducing, moral-soiling corruption. But of course, as vehemently as it was loathed, it was just as equally adored.
Still, many anti-pinballers took the position that the game was a form of gambling. For anyone who’s ever pinned a ball, that probably sounds outlandish, but before the advent of the “flipper,” the button-operated arms that flings your pinball around, the game was pretty irrefutably a gamble.
In the pre-flipper days, gamers had to actually tilt and turn the tables to drive the balls into holes. There was little to no skill involved, balls were rolling wild, and in the days before digital, wild balls were a hoot!
People gathered in droves to bars and shops hosting the games, and men even placed bets with prizes ranging from a free game or gum to jewelry and chinaware. And once the coin-operated machines came out in 1931, a whole new type of crowd was piqued.
Pinballs’ popularity was no longer exclusive to louche men with armoirs full of arcade china. With games at a penny a play, kids were all over pinball like ants on cookie crumbs. But their “frivolous pursuits” as the anti-pinballers called it, were to be short-lived.
Schools, churches, mothers, and other morally conservative entities were in the throes of hysteria as they watched kids ditching school and skipping meals to drop some metal into the machines. Of course with a commotion like this, it wasn’t long before the government got involved.
The mayor of New York, Fiorello H. LaGuardia was adamant about pinball being a gateway game to crime and juvenile delinquency. Aside from the flirtation with gambling, he claimed pinball was a flagrant waste of resources, which is what ultimately liberated him to crack down.
See, right after Pearl Harbor, the mayor used the excuse that thousands of tons of metal were being wasted on pinball machines when they should be used to create weapons and tanks to destroy the enemy. We’re in a war people! And who can argue with war?
So with rationing on his side, the mayor officially banned pinball in New York on January 21st, 1942. The new prohibition was set in motion immediately with a drastic confiscation agenda. But LaGuardia was sure this new plan to eradicate pinball would work out exactly the way Pearl Harbor didn’t.
Police squads wasted no time in raiding bars, shops, soda fountains, and anywhere else that kept the criminal game. It was estimated that LaGuardia and his horde of heavies seized over 2,000 pinball machines, about a fifth of the city’s count.
Funny enough, despite the scale-tipping factor of pinball machines wasting precious resources that could be used for the wartime efforts, the fate of thousands of snatched machines left a lot to be desired. And no one was making any efforts to hide it.
In fact, LaGuardia frequently assembled the press to raids where reporters snapped shots of pinball machines being lined up firing squad style and sledgehammered to oblivion. So, of course, the next step was to recycle all that precious metal for ammunition, right?
Nope! Instead, hundreds of tons of pinball remains where paraded through the streets of New York and dumped into the Long Island sound like a pack of mob informants. Time reporters have since estimated that “the contraband contained enough metal to build four 2,000 pound aerial bombs.”
Things carried on in this fashion for decades, as cities across the U.S. followed in the footsteps of New York, also decrying the devilish machines. Pinball essentially became the Footloose of games; its underground following had a pulse of its own.
Illicit pinball rings certainly never held any sort of monarchy, but if there had to be a crowned king it would without a doubt have been Roger Sharpe. The NYC-based writer spent all his loose change and hours ballin’ the jack at pinball, but with worthy avail indeed.
You asked anyone in town who was the best around, and without hesitation, Sharpe’s name was darting out of their mouths like a pinball off a hot flipper. It wouldn’t be until 1976, however, that Sharpe’s taboo skills truly became victorious.
See, during the ’70s, New York was facing a dire bankruptcy crisis, and in an effort to capitalize wherever they could, councilmen began debating the ban on pinball. With the prohibition raised, licensing and taxes could be imposed on the popular entertainment. But there was still a major obstacle.
Pinball was still considered a form of gambling. Many officials were split on this issue, with opponents staunch in their position. But whisperings of the ban being overturned made it to pinball distributors, and they didn’t hesitate to put in their two cents.
The Amusement and Music Operators Association knew to win this battle they needed to make a convincing case that pinball was indeed a game of skill and not luck, therefore quashing the argument that pinball is gambling. So in a pinball crisis, who you gonna call?
© Comedy Central
None other than Roger Sharpe! While that pivotal call wasn’t documented, it essentially went something like: “Yo, we hear you’re the best. And if you want to game out and proud, we need you to play pinball in front of the entire New York City council and prove that this is a game of skill.”
© Comedy Central
Sharpe dutifully accepted his mission, and on a May morning in 1976, he strutted into a Manhattan court with all the swagger of an undercover cop. And there in the courtroom, encircled by a gaggle of councilmen, was the controversial defendant herself, the pinball machine.
Breath was bated as Sharpe explained, “Look, there’s skill, because if I pull the plunger back just right, the ball will, I hope, go down this particular lane.” The court was suspended in silence as Sharpe narrowed his eyes at that target lane to liberation and pulled back the plunger.
As Sharpe made his Fosse-like release, the pinball shot out of the machine, a sweet chariot blazing down its ordained lane. Roger Sharpe may not have been the official king of pinball, but he did call the shot that dissolved the 30-year prohibition.
After Sharpe’s monumental game, New York City went on to raise over $1.5 million dollars off pinball fees. The city never declared bankruptcy. And today, pinball is celebrating yet another resurgence, with over 1,800 tournaments held across the country every year.
It’s fair to say, the Marvel Pop Up was officially avenged! And despite its dramatic beginnings, pinball is now decisively an American classic. But there are many things, like gambling, that can obviously be polarizing subjects.
Fashion, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to fall next in line, however, one trend of clothes nearly brought a whole city to ruin. With sirens blaring around every corner and mob violence in the streets, these fashionistos had way more than just the fashion police to worry about.
When it comes to dramatic outfits, few ensembles can outshine the zoot suit. These long, boxy, eye-catching numbers were all the rage in the 1940s. They also resulted in one of the bloodiest nights that Los Angeles has ever seen.
Zoot suits made a strong statement for urban pride. The style originated in Harlem’s jazz scene, where the wide sleeves and flowing fabric emphasized dance movements. Gaining popularity, the fashion spread to other communities.
Hispanic youths took to the zoot suits, though mainstream white society feared the style signified gang activity. This subculture — known as “pachuco” — only ballooned in controversy with one of the biggest events in American history.
On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced the United States would enter World War II after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. This conflict required great sacrifice from soldiers and civilians alike.
On the home front, families adjusted to the rationing of basic goods. Huge amounts of sugar, meat, and butter went to the war effort; fabric too became a scarcer good. In addition, anyone who didn’t enthusiastically cut down on consumption was viewed as unpatriotic.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops fought hard overseas. The government periodically brought them back on shore leave to let them unwind in between tours. Needless to say, these celebrations often went overboard.
In 1943, thousands of high-strung servicemen entered bustling Los Angeles. They hoped to blow off some steam with fun and romance during their break, but quite a few were also spoiling for a fight.
Navy partiers frequented the rowdy L.A. dance halls, full of pretty girls and music. Though they couldn’t help but sneer at the pachucos in their loud suits. Didn’t those delinquents, the sailors asked themselves, realize all that fabric should go to the troops?
One night in May, a couple of servicemen exchanged words with zoot-suited teenagers. It predictably ended in a scuffle, with one sailor winding up in the hospital. His outraged brothers-in-arms swore not to let that insult stand.
Word of the incident spread throughout the Navy ranks. By June, nearly every sailor in Los Angeles forgot about dancing. Their blood boiling, they had only one goal for the rest of their shore leave: revenge.
The enraged sailors called the pachucos a disgrace, with their flashy clothing and unfamiliar language. Some accused them of draft dodging, unaware that most zoot suiters were teenagers. But reason didn’t matter; the troops were out for blood.
The San Diego Union-Tribune
An angry mob of 50 servicemen roamed through Chinatown, many of them carrying clubs or improvised weapons. Each time they spotted a zoot suit, they set upon the unsuspecting victims in a drunken fury.
Mexican-American teenagers stood little chance against the sailors, who had numbers and the element surprise on their side. Some white civilians even joined in as the military men brutally beat and stripped every zoot suit in sight.
Harold P. Matosian
Chaos overtook Los Angeles. Brawls broke out all over the city, while soldiers proudly paraded with strips of clothing they’d torn off the pachucos. Wouldn’t anyone step in to restore order?
Police became aware of the situation only as the night’s violence was dying down. They pledged to tamp down on these Zoot Suit Riots, as the conflict came to be known. However, many Angelenos felt their solution was anything but just.
Instead of going after the instigators, police officers began rounding up Latino teenagers. They arrested hundreds with virtually no justification. Adding insult to injury, most American newspapers blamed the pachucos for the violence.
The inebriated servicemen faced no immediate consequences, though their superiors declared the Los Angeles off-limits to prevent further brutality. The broken city tried to piece itself back together as similar riots broke out in other urban areas.
Reddit / jecinci
Scores of young Chicano men languished in cells. With zoot suits now criminalized, they wondered if any establishment figures would come to their aid. Luckily, they had one sympathizer very high up in California’s ranks.
Governor Earl Warren — later a groundbreaking Supreme Court Justice — headed a committee that determined racism was the core cause of the Zoot Suit Riots. Though less progressive leaders tried to undermine him, Warren advocated peace for Los Angeles.
Even with the dust settling, the summer signified a huge blow for California’s minority communities. Many found themselves wounded, humiliated, and blamed for all the destruction. Still, the Zoot Suit Riots provided them with one silver lining.
The incident opened the eyes of zoot suiters and turned them into activists. American heroes like Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez both counted the riots as a pivotal event in their lives, inspiring them to stand up for the rights of the oppressed.