Born in a barroom

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A lot of bad decisions are made in bars. Dancing with your pants on your head . . . Bingeing on a second cheesesteak . . . Drunk dialing . . . Sex with your ex . . .

But, c’mon, let’s give barrooms their due, for without them there’d be no libraries, no credit cards and no NASCAR.

Here are 10 great things that were born in bars.

1. The United States Marine Corps

Jarheads, who have been known to pound a few beers, take special pride that their beloved USMC was founded at Tun Tavern near Philadelphia’s waterfront on Nov. 10, 1775.

The Colonial inn had already served as host of various meetings and organizations around town when the Second Continental Congress tapped its manager to recruit marines. The tavern, which stood where I-95 now runs through the city, is long gone, but you can find a historical marker on Front Street near Sansom Walk.

2. “The Gift of the Magi”

The classic 1905 short story tells the beautifully sad tale of two struggling newlyweds who sacrifice their most cherished belongings to buy Christmas gifts for each other. O’Henry is said to have written it in a booth at his local pub, Pete’s Tavern on East 18th Street in the Gramercy Park section of New York.

Historians say there is little evidence to support that story, but I have no doubt he wrote the tale over beers. His real name, after all, was William Sydney Porter.

3. The gay rights movement in America

According to author June Thomas in The Gay Bar: Its Riotous Past and Uncertain Future, “gay liberation is the only civil rights movement that began in a bar.” That’s mainly because gay bars were not only “a refuge” in the 1950s and ’60s, they were also where people learned the ethics and tradition of gay culture.

The Black Cat in Los Angeles, Dixie’s in New Orleans and, most famously, New York’s Stonewall Inn, among others, are widely regarded as the birthplace of gay rights.

4. The city of Raleigh, N.C.

In the 1780s, a tavern built by Colonial landowner Joel Lane served as the first meeting place of North Carolina’s burgeoning general assembly. It was in this tavern that the legislature authorized the purchase of 1,000 acres of Lane’s land to establish the city of Raleigh as the new capital of North Carolina.

Today, the building has been restored as a historic home and museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

5. America’s first lending library

Before smartphones and Wikipedia, a must in any decent bar was a stack of books to settle arguments. In early 18th-century Philadelphia, however, most books were privately held – a problem that confounded members of Benjamin Franklin’s high-minded Junto discussion group as they sought definitive answers to their academic queries.

The group, meeting at the city’s Indian Head Tavern on Market (formerly High) Street, solved the problem by pooling their money to buy books, which they then lent to subscribers. Their original Library Company of Philadelphia still exists – not in a bar, but in its own building at 1314 Locust St.


Stock car racing got its start with Prohibition bootleggers trying to outrun the law in automobiles that were modified to go faster than police cars.

So it’s not surprising to learn that the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was founded in a bar – the rooftop Ebony Club at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla. That’s where drivers and others met in 1947 to organize the sanctioning body, jotting down its first rules on cocktail napkins.

7. Credit card numbers

Pull out your credit card and look at the raised, square-ish numbers. That typeface is called Farrington B, and it’s one of the most familiar icons of our computer era. It was designed to be easily recognized by optical card readers in the days before credit cards came with magnetic strips or embedded chips.

David H. Shepard created the typeface in the 1950s, jotting down numbers on a cocktail napkin at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

8. Buffalo wings

The ubiquitous treat was invented with loose chicken parts at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1964.

9. Martin Van Buren

The 21st president was born in his father’s tavern in Kinderhook, N.Y., in 1782.

10. Shark Week

The kitschy annual Discovery Channel series was the product of barroom brainstorming by a crew of TV executives in the 1980s.


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