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Rail gin, vodka, etc. 
Posted: 07 April 2007 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]
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From the context it seems clear that this Americanism refers to the standard bottles of spirits hanging on the optics. I don’t recall ever hearing it in New York. Does this mean that it’s new, regional or simply that I have had relatively limited experience of American bars?

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Posted: 07 April 2007 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Never heard it myself, but then I’ve not done much bar drinking in the last ten years or so.  And not much hard stuff drinking in more time than that. 

BTW, what are optics in this context?

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Posted: 07 April 2007 02:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I can’t find any authoritative reference right away. In my experience, the bartender often has several bottles of ‘default’ or ‘generic’ liquors right under the bar ("at the rail”, I suppose?) ... in addition to multiple brands of each type on shelves behind him. So there’s a rail gin, a rail vodka, etc. The customer can order, say, “vodka and tonic” and settle for the rail vodka or he can choose his brand (usually at a higher price).

At least this is how I’ve heard the expression used.

I don’t hear this “rail” spoken much, but I’ll bet most bartenders know it well. Just ask “What’s your rail gin?” and he’ll tell you the brand ... I think.

[ Edited: 07 April 2007 02:43 PM by D Wilson ]
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Posted: 07 April 2007 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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BTW, what are optics in this context?

From OED:

Optic, n. 5. A device attached to the neck of a bottle for delivering a measured quantity of spirits or other drinks, usually with the bottle fixed in an inverted position. Also optic measure.
A proprietary name in the UK.

First cite: 1926 Trade Marks Jrnl. 22 Sept. 2158 Optic, an apparatus included in Class 8, for delivering a measured quantity of Spirits or other Liquids.

Don’t they use these in the States at all for measuring shots of liquor?

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Posted: 07 April 2007 03:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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These figure most often at happy hour (usually just after work 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. or so).  The sign usually says, “draft domestic beers, house wines and rail drinks, $2.50” I asked Doug Wilson’s question at a bar just last week, “What is your rail scotch?” And the answer was, “You don’t want to know, but J&B is the same price.” I am in the midwest, but by googling “Rail Drinks” I see it’s all over without geographic rhyme nor reason.

I’ve also heard “well drinks” for this same item.  This site seems to have it about right:

rail/well drinks While western states tend to use well to describe uncalled liquor, the East prefers rail. Both names come from where the bottles are stored: the easily accessed rack directly behind the bar. In some cases the rack is a metal enclosure with a drain (a well) and other times its a shelf with a rail to keep the bottles in place.

Don’t they use these in the States at all for measuring shots of liquor?

Yes, but I’ve never heard them called anything.  What, then, does “hanging on the optics” mean?
[ Edited: 07 April 2007 03:47 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 07 April 2007 03:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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kurwamac - 07 April 2007 01:28 PM

I don’t recall ever hearing it in New York.

From Lennox Lounge on Lennox Ave in Harlem:

Happy Hour
Mon-Tue, Fri, 5:30pm-7:30pm; two-for-one rail drinks, $3 domestic beers, $15 appetizer sampler

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Posted: 07 April 2007 06:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Well I’ve heard; never rail.  And yes we have those things that measure out the proper amount of booze, but, like Oecolamp, I’ve never heard them called anything.  They’re on all the bottles, not just the well bottles, IIRC.

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Posted: 08 April 2007 06:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Re: optics. The inverted optics, bottles hanging upside-down, are not common in the States. The stopper-like devices that will deliver a fixed measure of liquor are quite common. Like the other ‘Mericans, I’ve never heard the name “Optics,” but I’ve seen the devices in British pubs and bars.

I’ve heard “rail,” but “well” seems to be more common.

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Posted: 08 April 2007 06:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The stopper-like devices that will deliver a fixed measure of liquor are quite common.

Yes. But in my experience only in “better” establishments. Dive bars will use pouring spouts, but they do not deliver a regulated amount as the “generous pour” is part of the appeal of such places. In fact, as an aficionado of dive bars, I would consider it an essential feature, much like a seedy atmosphere and Runyonesque patrons.

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Posted: 08 April 2007 07:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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It sounds to me that US bars are not bound by licencing laws to sell alcoholic drinks in strictly measured amounts, hence the non-use of optics. These measuring devices are inspected and tested by the local Weights and Measures Officer.

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Posted: 08 April 2007 07:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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It sounds to me that US bars are not bound by licencing laws to sell alcoholic drinks in strictly measured amounts

Depends upon the location. Utah, for example, was very strictly regulated, at least up until the Winter Olympics.  There was a time in the early 80’s when their regulations were so curiously contrived that some establishments were required to serve rather large amounts of distilled drinks.

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Posted: 08 April 2007 12:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Having lived in the midwest US all my life, but for a couple of years, I have never heard “rail” used, only “well”.

I have seen several bars in my life start out using the optic measure (though I’ve never heard that term used), but eventually they all switched to the pouring spouts. Why? Because they don’t allow enough booze per drink. Weak drinks chase away customers.

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Posted: 08 April 2007 02:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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In several decades in the Midwest, I don’t think I’ve heard “well” spoken in this sense (maybe I’ve forgotten though). I’ve heard “rail” and “house”. I’ve seen all three in print IIRC. Probably it depends on which bar(s) one frequents. Mostly the word isn’t spoken AFAIK (except within the trade): one orders, say, “rum and Coke” and he gets rail rum plus cola; very few order, say, “rail rum and Coke” and few bartenders ask (e.g.) “You want the rail rum?” (they might ask “Any particular brand?") ... in my of-course-limited experience.

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Posted: 08 April 2007 03:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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It probably depends upon which part of the Midwest US one is from. Me? I’m originally from western Iowa and now live in Omaha, Nebraska. The Midwest is a large area.

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Posted: 10 April 2007 07:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Here in New Jersey I’ve also heard bar gin etc. and they are kept in a “speed rack” for quick access when making commonly requested drinks. Pourers are now available which dispense a measured amount.

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Posted: 11 April 2007 01:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Here in the UK they’re known as ‘house’ spirits - many pubs offer discounts, single price or happy hours on ‘house doubles’. As well as strict rules on measures in the UK (they’ve just gone up - from 25ml to 35ml for a single I believe) the pubs’ spirits are checked for potency by the use of a float - it enables the licensing authorities to tell if non-branded spirits are being put out as branded ones (or branded ones diluted), in some instances unbranded spirits are stronger that branded ones.

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