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Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

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Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

Old 08-11-19, 09:48 AM
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Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

I’m talking about running a tab over a period of multiple visits to a bar. I’m wondering whether this method of payment was ever that common at bars (for regulars). Anyone ever done this years ago?
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Old 08-11-19, 11:42 AM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

I have had one for the night, but always had to settle up before I left. It may been a common practice in the 60's, 70's, and 80's.
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Old 08-11-19, 11:53 AM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

In the 80's I had a bar tab that I paid every month. I was stationed at the Defense Language Institute in San Francisco and lots of us had a tab at a Korean dive bar. More importantly than the tab, they only carded if they thought they would be raided, and I was under age. I suppose it was like Cheers, in that we were mostly regulars. It was an odd mix of army kids, bikers, and Koreans. I also had a tab at the 7-11 down the corner. That was for burritos at 2 in the morning after the bar closed.
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Old 08-11-19, 01:56 PM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

Yeah, they existed. My dad was an alcoholic (sober the final 21 years of his life though) and told me a lot of stories. The one thing that didn't happen was allowing them to run for months or years like Norm Petersen. They were paid promptly on the first of the month, or you were cut off. That was essentially suicide to an alcoholic, so somehow, the tab was always paid.
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Old 08-11-19, 03:45 PM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

Originally Posted by tasha99 View Post
In the 80's I had a bar tab that I paid every month. I was stationed at the Defense Language Institute in San Francisco and lots of us had a tab at a Korean dive bar. More importantly than the tab, they only carded if they thought they would be raided, and I was under age. I suppose it was like Cheers, in that we were mostly regulars. It was an odd mix of army kids, bikers, and Koreans. I also had a tab at the 7-11 down the corner. That was for burritos at 2 in the morning after the bar closed.
Cool story...
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Old 08-11-19, 03:56 PM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

Yes. I was a bartender at various dive bars during the 80's & 90's. There were always a few people that had a tab. They were regulars that came every day and had been coming for years. The tab was either paid once a month, or it had a $100 limit. Like Paff said, those enormous endless Norm Peterson tabs didn't exist. Everyone always paid. I never had to cut anyone off.

I had a tab at the bar down the block from my apartment. I was there every night from 10pm-2am. I paid it every other week. I don't think it ever got above $100.

Last edited by TheBigDave; 08-11-19 at 04:29 PM.
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Old 08-11-19, 04:44 PM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

I ran a tab at a bar I hung out in in the mid-1980s, when I was in my early 20s. It wasn't a hot dance spot or anything like that, just a neighborhood watering-hole type of place located in a shopping mall whose management office I worked in at that time. I paid my tab every two weeks, on payday. I didn't drink much so it was manageable, but I remember when I went on vacation for two weeks, my friend Trish played a joke on me by drawing up a "Vibiana's Tab" on a sheet of legal paper with all the other regulars' drink consumption added up so I owed like three thousand dollars. It was hung behind the bar the night I came in after my first day back at work.

The last bar I ever frequented with any regularity was a gay place here in town that was in an out-of-the-way neighborhood and had been owned by the same guy for like thirty-five years. He probably ran tabs for some people but I never asked him to run one for me. He retired a few years back and sold the place, and it reopened briefly as a gay place by this asshole who didn't know how to run it and so it finally died. Now it's open again but as a restaurant. I haven't been back but I've heard it's a nice enough place. SSG Honeylamb was the main reason I hung out there to begin with--she loves to play darts and got me playing for a while. That bar closing and our splitting as a couple happened in roughly the same year or so time period. She still goes around to all the other gay places in town to play darts, but I'm retired.
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Old 08-11-19, 04:48 PM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

Originally Posted by Paff View Post
Yeah, they existed. My dad was an alcoholic (sober the final 21 years of his life though) and told me a lot of stories. The one thing that didn't happen was allowing them to run for months or years like Norm Petersen. They were paid promptly on the first of the month, or you were cut off. That was essentially suicide to an alcoholic, so somehow, the tab was always paid.


The places I have known of that would run tabs, told their bartenders that if the customer didn't pay up, it was coming out of the bartender's pay. I don't know if that's legal or not.
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Old 08-11-19, 05:30 PM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

Must suck to owe something you already whizzed out.
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Old 08-11-19, 07:04 PM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

The origin of the tab had to do with payday. You’d get a tab to carry you ‘till payday. Then typically the bar would cash paychecks, so they’d get paid first.
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Old 08-11-19, 08:40 PM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

Went to a lot of bars before I quit drinking in '92, never had a tab, probably better that way.
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Old 08-12-19, 11:01 AM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

Originally Posted by Mabuse View Post
The origin of the tab had to do with payday. You’d get a tab to carry you ‘till payday. Then typically the bar would cash paychecks, so they’d get paid first.
My understanding as well. It's hard to remember there was a time when you got your paycheck, you immediately turned it into cash. Bank accounts were for the really rich.

It's funny (and not in a ha-ha funny way) how many businesses were essentially enablers of alcoholism. That scene in Richard Linklater's Boyhood where the liquor store clerk immediately cashed the illegible check, you knew he had some sort of unspoken agreement with the alcoholic dad. Of course, he's the same guy who sold a sixer to the underage Mitch Kramer, so he's not the most scrupulous guy to begin with...
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Old 08-12-19, 12:38 PM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

They still exist if you're friends with the owner. As long as you pay it off every couple of months or so.
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Old 08-12-19, 07:31 PM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

Originally Posted by Mabuse View Post
The origin of the tab had to do with payday. You’d get a tab to carry you ‘till payday. Then typically the bar would cash paychecks, so they’d get paid first.
If you watch Shameless at all you see how Macy's character cashes his disability check at the bar, but most of it goes towards the tab.
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Old 08-13-19, 09:51 AM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

It wasn't just Norm, but it seemed all the regulars never paid for their beers at the bar. You can often see Carla picking up money and putting it on her tray when she is serving the unknowns at the tables, but I don't recall seeing any of the regulars ever paying for their consumption. They always joked about Norm not paying his tab, but it's assumed that the others had tabs as well. I'm sure fraiser could easily pay his tab, but the ones like Norm and Cliff seemed to drink well beyond what they could afford.
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Old 08-13-19, 10:57 AM
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Re: Were long term bar tabs ever common or popular (like Norm on Cheers)?

Originally Posted by movieguru View Post
It wasn't just Norm, but it seemed all the regulars never paid for their beers at the bar. You can often see Carla picking up money and putting it on her tray when she is serving the unknowns at the tables, but I don't recall seeing any of the regulars ever paying for their consumption. They always joked about Norm not paying his tab, but it's assumed that the others had tabs as well. I'm sure fraiser could easily pay his tab, but the ones like Norm and Cliff seemed to drink well beyond what they could afford.
Remember when Sam was offered the bar for $1.00, and no one had a dollar to lend him?
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