What Does The 'Club' In Club Sandwich Really Mean?

If you consider its individual ingredients, the club sandwich is about as basic as it gets. It features standard cold cuts you'd find in any deli case — typically turkey, though variations exist made with ham or chicken (via Irish Times). The assembly is rounded out by bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. All delicious, but far from luxurious. And yet, something about this sandwich just feels special. Perhaps it's the extra slice of bread that creates a double-decker display, or the tradition of cutting it into quarters rather than halves. Then again, maybe it's all in the name.

The word "club" evokes exclusivity, giving an air of sophistication to otherwise simple ingredients — but what does the name really mean? If you scour social media, you'll probably come across a rather dull answer. Some say that "club" is an acronym for "chicken and lettuce under bacon," a theory propagated in part by the British tabloid The Sun. But can you really trust them? After all, we're talking about a paper that once ran the headline Werewolf Seized in Southend. A more reputable source, the fact-checking site Snopes, debunks this theory, noting that the acronym "chicken and lettuce under bacon" doesn't appear in any sources prior to the advent of the internet. It is more likely a backronym inspired by the classic BLT sandwich. So where did the name really originate?

Finding the origin of the club

There are a number of competing theories as to the origin of the club sandwich moniker. One suggests it comes from the double-decker club cars that were featured on American trains in the 1890s (via Eater). The most likely theory, though, is that the sandwich originated in the kitchen of a private social club. The only question is, which club? 

Credit is often given to the Saratoga Club House — something the city of Saratoga Springs, New York proudly boasts about on its website. However, their club sandwich didn't make its debut until 1894. There is another club that appears to have beaten Saratoga to the punch five years earlier.

An edition of The World newspaper of New York, published on November 18, 1889, contains this brief but intriguing blurb: "Have you tried the Union Club sandwich yet? Two slices of Graham bread with a layer of turkey or chicken and ham between them. Served warm" (via the Library of Congress). There is some debate as to whether this can really be considered a club sandwich. For starters, it is served warm on Graham bread, a whole wheat variety devised by Sylvester Graham, the health-conscious namesake of the Graham cracker, per WiseGeek. However, it does share the name and characteristic double meat of the sandwich we know and love today. Regardless of its origin, let's just be thankful that these days, anyone can join the club.