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In The Big Lebowski, when the Dude meets the narrator, the latter says to the Dude:

A wiser fella once said, sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes, well, the bar eats you

and then the Dude asks if this is some kind of eastern thing.

This phrase seems to appear only in this movie, so I'm wondering what was the inspiration for it, and what is the meaning in the context of The Big Lebowski?

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It's bear, pronounced with an accent. [And hopefully the rest of the meaning is clear: You win some, you lose some] – Walt Mar 4 at 15:06
No, the transcript of the following link says bar. – vonPetrushev Mar 4 at 15:12
@vonPetrushev A transcript doesn't mean anything. The subtitles on the DVD use "bear" (IIRC). Also, this script says "bear", though I don't know how real that is – BCdotWEB Mar 4 at 15:13
The tag coen-brothers is redundant here, that's why edited it out. This is because this is about The Big Lebowski only, not Coens' work in general. – Chanandler Bong Mar 4 at 15:13
See this. We typically use director tags if the question involves a choice of the director, or something specific to the director. Here, the question is specific to the film so it's not necessary. – Andrew Martin Mar 4 at 15:18
up vote 17 down vote accepted

Bar is an antiquated variation of bear. Frontiersman Daniel Boone, for instance, famously carved on a tree once, after killing a bear:

D. Boon Cilled a Bar on [this] tree in the year 1760.

It makes sense that The Stranger would use such a colloquialism, as he's a sort of personification of the Old West (which is what he means when he says it's "far from" being Eastern). The saying is attributed to baseball pitcher Preacher Roe (though it was possibly older):

After being taken out of a game in the second inning, Roe commented that, "Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you."

The phrase's general meaning is: You win some, you lose some; There are good days and bad. The Stranger says it to the dispirited Dude to try and make him feel a little better.

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As noted by others, he's not saying bar, as in a place to get drinks, he's saying bear as in the animal.

The US is full of regional dialects and accents, and the narrator is supposed to be some kind of cowboy type. He speaks with a fairly thick Texas drawl, and the word bear just happens to sound like bar.

For example, take the Ka-Bar style of knife. The reason it's called a Ka-Bar? The company that makes this style of knife once received a letter from a fur trapper with testimony of how he used their knife to defend himself against a wounded bear that attacked him after his rifle jammed. The letter wasn't terribly legible, and of the fragments they could make out, "ka bar" was fairly easily understood to mean "kill a bear".

The bear is a metaphor for life, and the phrase thus generally means, "Sometimes you win at life, and sometimes you lose."

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