Editor’s Column – Eating Away at the Term, “Buffet”
The theme for this issue is “Leisure,” so it seemed only appropriate to write a column that wouldn't require too much work. Why not just assemble some vintage images of Arizona drinking places that would be a fun trip down memory lane for readers?
Despite my best intentions, this seemingly breezy topic turned into an etymological rabbit hole when I noticed the word “buffet” appearing on some odd businesses.
I associated the word with the diet-shattering smorgasbords made famous in Las Vegas. These buffets were loss leaders offered by casinos to entice patrons to gamble afterward. The concept was sort of like a cafeteria on steroids, where you served yourself as much food as you wanted, and the idea spread across the country. Customers love to sample a wide variety of food for one low price.
But in my research, I uncovered a vintage photograph of the neon sign at the Copper State Buffet in Phoenix on Washington at 20th Street. There was no "All-You-Can-Eat Special" advertised, but rather the place touted "Cocktails," "Dancing," "Live Music," and "Package Liquors," along with a mural of a dancing couple outfitted in 1970s attire. If the buffet offered food, it was a decided afterthought.
So, was the word “buffet” historically used in Arizona as another term for bar or nightclub? It sure seemed so, as a check of an old Yellow Pages listed Copper State Buffet under cocktail lounges. But the same reference under the "Buffets" heading, noted, "See Restaurants; Also Cocktail Lounges.”
Saratoga Café & Buffet, once located at Central Avenue and Washington Street in Phoenix, was in the Yellow Pages under "Restaurants." Ephemera from the business, which promoted itself with the motto, “Good Food is Good Health,” seemed to support the notion that this place was meal-oriented. But looking at its vintage postcard, the buffet has a separate entrance from the café, and the business is officially called “The Saratoga Café and Cocktail Lounge.” So maybe, the buffet was the cocktail lounge?
This definition is supported by evidence from the long-shuttered Hotel Del Sol in Yuma, which advertised its cocktail lounge as “Yuma Buffet.” Also in Yuma, the Valley Café is featured on a vintage postcard in five views: front of the building, palm room, dining room, coffee shop, and buffet, which depicts a bar.
Delving deeper into the mystery, I explored newspaper archives. One ad announced the opening of Charles Bauer’s Montezuma Buffet, located in the Montezuma Hotel in “Nogales, Arizona’s Bright Spot,” in 1940. The “Gala event of the year on the border” was deemed to “Be just like New Year’s Eve,” and featured Mexican charros in the Buffet, a talented singer and pianist in the cocktail room, and dancing in the Montezuma Hotel Lobby to the tune of music by a high-class orchestra.”
Four years later, The San Carlos Club Buffet and Rose Room opened in Coolidge. The business was “Pinal County’s first, DeLuxe Cocktail Lounge…for the recreation and relaxation of Ladies and Gentlemen in a pleasant and quiet atmosphere."
To read the rest of this article, you are invited to purchase the digital issue here.
This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jan/Feb 2022 issue, Vol. 11, No. 1.