A Lesson in Tavern History – the Fresh Flow Trough Spittoon

I recently learned that way back when, (pre-Prohibition) bars used to have spittoons. Sometime during the turn-of-the-century constant flow trough spittoons were introduced. These gutter-like troughs ran the length of the entire bar and fresh water rushed through them to wash away waste to an awaiting drain.

You may be wondering why on earth a tavern would need a trough with a drain right in front of the bar. Lucky for you, I know the answer.

According to Forgotten Buffalo (a really cool organization that tours unique landmarks, old neighborhoods and a lot of taverns) "The neighborhood tavern was not the cleanest business on the block. It was a time of heavy, working-class drinking. Men would often bring the smell of industry with them for a ‘quick one’ before heading home. Horse manure from city streets often found its way on to men’s boots. The chewing of tobacco created noxious spit which ended up on the floor, the bar and the walls."

These trough spittoons were designed from tile, sheet metal or in a few cases, marble. They were made for tobacco but according to countless stories, patrons saw them as an opportunity as relieve themselves right at the bar – and they did.

Today, only a few of these flow trough spittoons remain in North America.

Forgotten Buffalo lists the following:

  • The Brick (Roslyn, Washington)
  • The U.S. Hotel (Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania)
  • Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
  • Birches Restaurant (Baltimore, Maryland)
  • The Black Pearl (Rochester, New York)

Rochester is my hometown and conveniently only an hour away but all of my research indicates that The Black Pearl (which was supposedly the oldest operating tavern in Rochester) closed its doors on Meigs Street in 2008. If anyone has been there or has details, I’d love to know more.

Spittoon in Old Tavern

Spittoon in Old Tavern

The 23-foot long trough spittoon at Brick Tavern in Roslyn, WA. Established in 1889, the Brick is the oldest operating tavern in Washington State.

Spittoon in Old Tavern

Spittoon in Old Tavern

Spittoon in Old Tavern

Note: All photos courtesy of Forgotten Buffalo.

[techtags: TAVERNS, PUBS, SPITTOONS, TAVERN HISTORY, PUB HISTORY]

9 Comments

  • Ed November 18, 2010 @ 5:04pm

    I’m really digging the woodwork in that bar! Pure class all the way! It’s awesomely-executed classic bar styling, stag head included. It’s kind of a shame there are so few remaining.

    As for the spittoon troughs, I’m suddenly finding that I definitely won’t be drinking any really dark beer anytime soon. 😛 (blech) Heh!

  • Daron November 18, 2010 @ 5:12pm

    The Black Pearl re-opened with new owners as the previous name of the bar. Dicky’s
    https://rocwiki.org/Dicky's
    I enjoy the blog. Cheers.

  • Knile November 18, 2010 @ 6:31pm

    I went to Dicky’s a few times after it re-opened. They’ve done a pretty nice job design-wise with the place. Good beer selection & decent food too. Service has been an interesting mix. Check it out, Liz!

  • Knile November 18, 2010 @ 6:32pm

    Also, the story I’d heard was that it was a urinal, not a spittoon!!

  • Peg January 27, 2016 @ 2:02pm

    Joe’s Bar in Boulder Creek, California also has a metal trough spittoon.

  • Bill Gibson November 1, 2016 @ 3:04pm

    We were recently at BENDERS a bar since 1902 and restaurant in Canton Ohio. It has pictures [postcards] of the trough + bar that used to be there before renovation. It was a urinal. Women were to use a different entrance to avoid this scene. I had snapping turtle soup that was great!!!

  • Dave January 29, 2017 @ 7:37pm

    Bay Horse Cafe was one of the oldest bars in Cincinnati when I moved to town in 1980. I remember seeing an old photo on the wall there, showing men standing at the original bar, which had a urinal through across the front.

  • Matt February 2, 2017 @ 9:29am

    The Cherry Street Tavern in Philadelphia (Cherry and 23rd Street) has a trough the length of the bar. Non working of course.

  • Stanley Wolf February 6, 2017 @ 9:43pm

    A friend just texted me a photo of a trough in the Star Hotel bar in Elko, NV

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