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April 6, 2010

That's not just any foot rest. It's a trough.

The next time you find yourself sitting at an old Baltimore bar, look down and see what's underneath it.

There might be a long, wooden railing, or a rectangular foot rest -- or nothing at all. But if you're in a bar like the Pickled Parrot, you'll be propping up your feet on an exposed metal trough. And once you see it, you might start to wonder what a metal trough is doing underneath a bar.

Anyone who's just eaten lunch might not want to keep reading past this point ...

Years ago, a surprisingly large number of Baltimore watering holes were stag bars. That's a fancy way of saying "men's only" clubs -- run by men for men.

The absence of women meant the guys didn't have to be as polite as they would around members of the fairer sex. Curse words were exchanged. Dirty stories were told. Fists met faces. And after a few cold ones, most men needed to relieve themselves.

If the pub was packed full of people and you were lucky enough to have a spot at the bar, you weren't going to want to risk losing it by walking to the bathroom. But when nature calls, sooner or later, you have to pick up the phone.

What to do?

To solve the problem, bars began installing impromptu urinals underneath the bars. They were stainless steal troughs with a faucet at one end and a drain at the other. That way, the beer could go in one end and out the other at the same time

I'd like to propose toast to modern innovation!

As time passed, stag bars went the way of horse and buggies. New owners bought old pubs, and, grossed out by the sight and smell of the troughs, ripped them up or covered them with plywood. A few spots, like the Pickled Parrot, kept them for posterity's sake.

Today, when you see a seemingly harmless wooden foot rest below a bar, chances are, it's hiding a metal trough -- a dirty little secret from pubs of the past.

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:37 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Hey as long as they aren't still used for that purpose, I have no problem with their existence.

Bring them back! Bring them back! Hell no we won't go!'re not supposed to use them any more? Oops.

When my dad was the age I am now, he used to go to a Baltimore stag bar on the regular. I'm a little jealous of that.

I love the Parrot! I knew what the trough was used for back in the day, but who cares... its an awesome bar, with some great history!

Had the worst rum & coke of my life at the Parrot a few weeks ago. Took 2 sips and couldn't finish it. They bartender refused to give me a replacement.

I'll never go back

Doesn't the Dead End Saloon have the same thing in their bar?

The Admirals Cup had this as well. Hopefully some day soon a place will open up in that spot.

Tyson's Tavern on Fleet Street has the same trough. I actually heard this story before though from a bar tender at Roman's Place. The only difference is they have they trough underneath a wooden box.

Oddly enough Roman's used to be a speak easy back in prohibition and still has one of the original liquor liscense still hanging behind the bar.

The Laughing Pint has one too.

the idea still persists though. what about swim-up bars at resorts etc? it's even better because it's gender equal - anyone can relieve themselves while waist deep in a pool at a pool bar!

It makes a very interesting tale-- but alas, is not true. The troughs were not urinals, but were spitoons for tobacco chewers. I'm surprised that you didn't do a little more research about this! People love to say they were urinals, and I've heard that tale ever since I drank my first pint of suds-- but stop for one second and think about it. Do you REALLY think a drunk guys aim would be good enough to get it all in the trough? That bar room would be one stinking, sickening sight, not to mention the smell over the years. Imagine what the front of the bar would look like after only one night? The trough/urinal fable has been spread for decades by folks just wanting to shock the average bar patron of today. Unfortunately, it just doesn't hold water, so to speak. Do a little more investigation next time Sam!

x2 for Johnnycat

there was also an old rumor that these housed blocks of ice back in the day before air conditioning, for cheap cool air.

Everyone's a little right. Some bars built it for spittoons, while out west in Northwest US they built them mainly to get the cattle manure off your shoe (and spittoons and going #1). Some bars even made the foot rail a bubbler over the trough so you could clean your shoes. That's feng shui the 1800's way! As for the "no they wouldn't do that, it'd smell." comment. Have you ever been around 30 guys chewing tobacco? I have, it's called a major league dugout and it is a primordial soup. Back in the day, your clientele was made up mostly of slaughterhouse workers, cowboys, thieves, bums, women of the evening, vagabonds etc. just like today :) So the smell wasn't that big of a deal. Also, bars didn't have a lot of indoor plumbing running to outhouses and separate bathrooms. They wanted to keep their customer base alive and at the bar so they could pay their tab. Pee, barf, clean your shoes - just stay at the bar. Remember also, you took your life into your hands when you went outside to go the bathroom. Lions, bears, indians etc. For those of you laughing that Bmore didn't have those, the legend of how Poe died is scarier (another thread).
My thinking is, if you pee in the shower, then my money is on that you'd pee at the bar (after a rustlin up a few hefers and throwin back a few.) Sorry ladies, no commenting on this story until after 10:30 pm.

Johnnycat, my aim is true

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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