The Bowery under 3rd Avenue 'El' in New York City, circa 1940. (Photo by Lawrence Thornton/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Food - Drink
The Bizarre Reason 19th Century New Yorkers Held Their Breath In Bars
New York’s 19th-century dive bars were home to some pretty lurid antics, ranging from shady back alley deals to cocaine-laced whiskey to actual murders. Tales of the oddball bar rooms of old Manhattan linger on, and one of the strangest customs was the breath-holding bravado that took place in Bowery during the 1800s.
The Bowery is New York City's oldest thoroughfare, and while it's a chic hangout nowadays, in the 1800s, it was scoundrel central. Bowery saloons were so unrefined that they didn't even have glasses; bar owners just hooked rubber tubes up to beer barrels, and you'd pay three cents to slurp from them until you had to come up for air.
To maximize each drink from the beer barrels, customers of Bowery saloons practiced holding their breath outside of bars, and even learned a special technique called circular breathing. For sheer anarchy and bravado, you couldn't beat the 19th-century dive bar — even if you did need to hold your breath to get your money's worth.