What is the historical definition of “buffet” in Arizona?

Douglas C. Towne

Bar, nightclub, restaurant or hybrid establishment: what is the historical definition of the word “buffet” in Arizona?

These days, many people associate the word with the earth-shattering diet assortments made famous in Las Vegas. These buffets were loss leaders offered by casinos to encourage customers to play before or after their pig outing. The concept was a bit like a cafeteria on steroids, where you helped yourself to as much food as you wanted. Customers liked to sample a wide variety of dishes at a low price; it was a Vegas treat.

In Phoenix, there was the Copper State Buffet in Washington on 20th Street, which operated from the 1940s until at least 2006. with a mural of a dancing couple dressed in 1970s attire. If the buffet offered food, that was decided after the fact.

So, was the word “buffet” historically used in Arizona as another term for a bar or nightclub? A check from an old copper state buffet listed in the yellow pages under cocktail lounges. But the same reference under the heading “Buffets”, noted “See restaurants; also cocktail lounges”.

Match cover of the Saratoga Café & Buffet in Phoenix, 1940.

The Saratoga Café & Buffet, located at Central Avenue and Washington Street in Phoenix in the 1940s, was listed in the Yellow Pages under “Restaurants.” The company’s ephemera, which introduced itself with the motto “Good food is good health,” seemed to support the idea that this place was all about dining. But on its vintage postcard, the buffet has a separate entrance from the cafe, and the business is officially called “The Saratoga Café and Cocktail Lounge.” So maybe the buffet was the cocktail bar?

Two renowned Grand Canyon State historians have weighed in on the buffet’s etymological rabbit hole.

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Buffet Bar in Tucson, 2011.

“I think it’s a nod to buffet cars on American trains that served drinks and light snacks,” says Demion Clinco, executive director of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation. “The Buffet Bar in Tucson refers to the connection in the panel graphic, which is a yellow aero train on the outside edge.”

Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble recalled a business owned by Frank and Nora Gumm in his hometown of Ash Fork. In the 1950s it was Gummies Buffet, but in the 1970s it was called Gummies Bar in the 1970s. wasn’t in his office,” says Trimble. “I don’t remember them serving any food except maybe hard-boiled eggs in a jar.”

Marshall Trimble at Gummies Bar in Ash Fork, 1970.

Trimble added that there are several definitions of a sideboard. “One is a piece of furniture. It also means knocking repeatedly. I think it’s most often used to describe serving oneself.”

But the Ash Fork buffet was definitely a saloon. “Maybe Frank and Nora just liked the sound of a French word because it put their establishment on a higher plane than other bars in town,” says Trimble.

Douglas C. Towne is editor of Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, arizcc.com.

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