Posts Tagged ‘beer in New York City’

An 1877 Park Avenue mansion funded by beer

June 25, 2018

The titans of industry in the Gilded Age built spectacular mansions for themselves on today’s Upper East Side.

George Ehret also built an Upper East Side mansion. But unlike men like Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Frick who made their money in steel, railroads, or on Wall Street, Ehret’s showstopper of a home was funded by a decidedly old-world product: beer.

Ehret was the German-born founder of the Hell Gate Brewery, opened in 1866 in a massive brick clock-tower structure on a mostly rural stretch of East 93rd Street between Second and Third Avenues.

(Below, the view from Ehret’s mansion in 1882, with Hell Gate Brewery in the background close to the East River.)

Like thousands of other German immigrants, Ehret arrived in Gotham in the middle of the 19th century, part of the first wave of mass immigration from Europe.

While beer had been a popular beverage in the city since colonial days, this sudden population surge fueled a demand for beer that led to the opening of several huge breweries in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“The Germans who came during and after that period were mostly beer drinkers, and the demand for that mild beverage became so great that the speedy erection of additional breweries proved to be a manifest want,” Ehret wrote in his 1891 history of brewing.

Thanks to all the beer gardens and saloons popping up in the Gilded Age, Ehret made a fortune. In 1877 he bought land on newly landscaped upper Fourth Avenue between 93rd and 94th Streets, then commissioned an architect to construct a fabulous mansion for himself, his wife, and their many children.

Architecture critics may not have loved it, but the brownstone-style mansion built on a hill certainly stood out, especially since the Ehrets didn’t have many neighbors at the time. (Above, from the mansion roof in 1882)

Over the decades that changed, and by the time Ehret died in his home in 1927, Park Avenue was turning into an enclave of tall, stately apartment houses.

His family sold the mansion to a developer who built 1185 Park Avenue on the site (above). Ehret’s brewery ceased production two years later, a casualty of Prohibition.

[Top photo: NYPL, 1928; third and fourth photos: MCNY 2001.72.10; MCNY 2003.26.4]

Sick of Prohibition, New York holds a beer parade

July 4, 2016

Beerparademarchersio(By 1932, alcohol-loving New Yorkers had had enough.

For 12 years, Prohibition had been the law of the land, a law enforced in the city by a team of sometimes crooked prohibition cops and ignored by people who openly drank at the city’s legendary speakeasies.

So New York’s mayor, party guy and frequent speakeasy visitor James J. Walker, proposed an idea.

Beerparadefreerepublic

He wanted to stage an enormous protest parade, with participation on the part of labor activists, government officials, and regular citizens, up Fifth Avenue.

It wouldn’t be the first “wet parade” in the city. Anti-Prohibition marches were held in the 1920s as well, attracting many drys, as they were known, as well.

Beerparade1932souvenirBut what was dubbed the “We Want Beer” parade of 1932 had more support than ever.

The argument was strong: legalizing beer and other beverages would add millions in tax money to government coffers and also open up an industry that would employ thousands in Depression-era America.

On May 14, at least 100,000 marchers strode down Fifth Avenue from 80th Street, with picket signs, in costume, and cars festooned with slogans.

The marchers went west on 59th Street and back north on Central Park West, parading into the night.

BeerparadebrooklyneagleheadlineMayor Walker, dapper in his derby and suit (and about to be brought up on corruption charges before resigning as mayor), led the procession.

Other cities and towns held beer parades as well, and Coney Island had its own on Surf Avenue a month later.

(Interestingly, at noon, the marchers paused for a minute of silence in honor of Charles Lindbergh Jr., whose body was found dead in woods in New Jersey two days earlier.)

How effective was the beer parade? Hard to say. It  generated big media coverage (check out this old newsreel) and may have helped put the final nail in the coffin for Prohibition, dead and gone 19 months later.

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[Top image: via Free Republic; second image: via i09; third image: MCNY; fourth image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle headline; fifth image: New York Daily News]

Piels: one of the last Brooklyn breweries

September 6, 2011

The three Piels brothers came to Brooklyn from Germany and opened their eponymous brewery in the hinterlands of East New York in 1883.

They couldn’t have imagined that their beer—made with the preferred “soft” water native to Long Island—would be a hometown lowbrow (to put it mildly) favorite for the next 90 years.

[A Piels coaster from the 1950s. Less what? Non-fermented sugar.]

“Piels was selling about a million barrels a year in the mid-1950s, hardly a major player but still prized across the Northeast as one of those lower-end, popularly priced regional brands whose market had always been the working classes,” reports a New York Daily News article from 1998.

Part of Piels appeal were its popular Bert and Harry commercials. When the company dropped the campaign, the beer’s popularity plunged too. After taking over a few other local breweries, Piel’s sold itself to a Michigan brewer and bid Brooklyn good-bye in 1973.