Brunch through the Years: A Brief History of Your Classiest Weekend Meal

You may be someone who’s never gone out for brunch, or you may be that person who keeps an alphabetized list of all the best brunch places in town. Whether you’re a brunch newbie or an alternative breakfast connoisseur, chances are you know what the brunch has come to represent in US culture: relaxation, indulgence, and fun.


Surprisingly, common understandings surrounding this meal reflect the history of the time it was born.


It’s unclear where or when brunch originated. Some believe that it emerged from the traditional English hunt breakfast, which featured elaborate hearty courses around midday. Others think brunch is rooted in the Catholic church, whose clergy would break their pre-mass fast with a large midday meal. Still, others think that the brunch we know today was born in New York City’s plethora of diners, where eggs Benedict, bagels and lox, and other delicious brunch staples were first concocted.

The term “brunch,” which is simply a rather goofy combination of "breakfast" and "lunch," did not first appear in the US until 1896, when the word was published in a column in an old Pennsylvania newspaper. The term became widespread by the 1920s and 30s, with American elite circles using the meal as an excuse to day drink with blatant disregard for prohibition. The middle-class stigma surrounding day drinking meant that more modest brunchers did not regularly imbibe until after WWII when women and men alike used the meal to unwind after a tough week at work.

Brunch Menus

The spread of snacks and beverages has changed surprisingly little over the last century. A brunch menu staple, the Bloody Mary cocktail originated in France and was made a bit spicier in the United States. The cocktail was believed to be a healthy choice and a hangover cure, even though many people chose the strong stuff over mocktails. After WWII, cocktails became even more popular, with restaurants all over serving Bellinis and Mimosas. The feast-like brunch menus we know today were partially influenced by the 1980s, too, as the American pop-culture of consumption rose to even greater decadence.

Today, brunch remains the meal of the privileged-- from hungover Ivy-league students, to wealthy mothers in sunny outdoor restaurants, to corporate men meeting up before golf, lunch has always enticed seekers of luxury. With the internet blending culture from all across social circles and classes, more and more people are finding ways to enjoy this quirky midday weekend meal. From making brunch at home to hitting the diner, all kinds of Americans find ways to feel a little fancy.

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