Belly Up to the Bar

Posted by R. Berg on March 20, 2001

In Reply to: Belly Up to the Bar--Phrase Origin posted by Bob on March 19, 2001

: : : I'm a reference librarian with a patron who wants to know the origin of the phrase "belly up to the bar." My colleagues and I have searched numerous word and phrase origin dictionaries and various word/phrase origin sites on the Internet. Does anyone perchance know the origin of this phrase. I know there's a song from "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" with this title, but I believe its usage has to be very old. Thanks for any and all assistance.

: : : Paula Davis
: : : Reference Librarian
: : : San Antonio Public Library
: : : 600 Soledad
: : : San Antonio TX 78205

: : This is the entry from Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day:

: : "belly up! belly up to the bar, boys!" Drinks on the house, boys!: Canadian: 20th century. Cf. the US underworld, mostly pickpockets', catch phrase "belly up?," Have a drink!--c. 1930-50. Prompted by the English-speaking world's toast "bottoms up!"

: Not that I would contradict the esteemed Mr. Partridge, but I'm highly skeptical that Belly Up to the Bar was "prompted by" Bottoms Up. Aside from the slender evidence that the word up is used in both, Belly Up refers to a portion of the human anatomy, to get up next to the bar, whereas Bottoms Up refers to the bottom of a glass, raised to drain it. I suppose there's some resonance in the idea of (human bottoms) up that make the phrase more memorable or amusing, but it seems a stretch to connect the dots here.

That line between articulating one's skepticism and contradicting somebody is getting mighty thin. Mr. Partridge didn't say what his evidence was for the belly-bottoms connection. Here's an entry that might fare better, from the esteemed Messrs. Wentworth and Flexner (Dict. of Amer. Slang):

belly up to: To approach something straight on, to move straight ahead; fig., to push one's belly toward or up to something. 1953: ". . . For a fellow to belly up to a bar and buy a round of drinks. . . ." Hal Boyle, AP, Feb. 27.