Does “Club” in Club Sandwich Stand for “Chicken Lettuce Under Bacon”? Examining the Origins

The club sandwich is a lunchtime staple – stacks of toasted bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and chicken sandwiched between three layers. With its delicious combination of flavors and textures, it’s no wonder the club sandwich remains enduringly popular decades after its invention.

But how exactly did the club sandwich get its name? A common theory states that “club” is actually an acronym for its typical ingredients Chicken Lettuce Under Bacon. This tidy explanation seems quite plausible but is it fact or fiction? Let’s investigate the origins of the storied club sandwich.

The “Chicken Lettuce Under Bacon” Theory

On the surface, the notion that club stands for “Chicken Lettuce Under Bacon” makes logical sense. The classic club sandwich is composed of chicken, lettuce, tomato and bacon sandwiched between slices of toasted bread. Since the bacon is usually placed underneath the chicken and lettuce layers, the acronym CLUB fits the standard ingredient stacking order.

Many people assume the sandwich was thus named for this acronym, similar to a BLT sandwich being named for “Bacon Lettuce Tomato.” It’s an intriguing theory, but surprisingly, historical evidence does not support this explanation.

Tracing the Early History of the Club Sandwich

References to the “club sandwich” existed long before anyone suggested the CLUB acronym In fact, recipes for the double-decker sandwich appeared in publications as early as the late 1800s

An 1889 newspaper article already mentions the “Union Club sandwich” being served at the Union Club of New York City. Member Ely Goodard was credited for the sandwich in the 1890s. Early recipes called for turkey ham and chicken between slices of toasted bread.

The key details – the multi-decker form, toasted bread and mixed meats – were already established as club sandwich hallmarks. And there’s no early mention of CLUB referring to its contents. Clearly, the sandwich had its “club” moniker well before the acronym theory emerged.

When Did the CLUB Acronym Theory Originate?

Food historians have traced the earliest known reference to “Chicken Lettuce Under Bacon” to a 1998 internet forum post. The acronym explanation simply did not exist in any known published material prior to the late 1990s.

So while the club sandwich itself has 19th century roots, connecting CLUB to its ingredients appears to be a modern invention. There are no references to this meaning in vintage cookbooks or writings about the sandwich’s history.

The Early Meaning of “Club”

If not an acronym, how did the club sandwich get named? Food etymologist Barry Popik suggests “club” referred to the exclusive clubs where the sandwich was first created and consumed, like the Union Club.

Using a prestigious club’s name lent a classy, upscale aura – similar to naming dishes “Oysters Rockefeller” or “Veal Oscar” after American tycoons. The word “club” evoked wealth and luxury to make the sandwich sound refined and exclusive.

Debunking the CLUB Backronym

“Chicken and Lettuce Under Bacon” is considered a backronym – an acronym invented later to tie the word to something meaningful. While a clever mnemonic device, it doesn’t explain the club sandwich’s real origins.

The “club” in club sandwich wasn’t named for ingredients, but rather for the upper-class establishments where the indulgent sandwich first rose to prominence in the late 1800s. So next time you enjoy a club sandwich, you can ponder its rich history while taking a bite. Just don’t credit your CLUB to the chicken and lettuce underneath the bacon!


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