Monday, February 05, 2007

When Beer was King

In the late 19th century, America, and to a greater extent, New York City, was a beer drinking nation. Beer was safer than the water of the time, and many apartments had micro breweries where today they have laundry rooms. Brewing was also a main source of income in Yorkville, and the breweries had company run beer halls to keep the staff from wandering away during lunch.

The long-removed First Avenue El train had custom spurs to the breweries of the Upper East Side, which stocked the second-to-the last cars - the Raines law lunch cars - with fresh suds. Naturally, this played havoc with the schedule, but who the hell cared!

There was a beer pipeline - paid for with public funds - that ran from the Upper East Side breweries to all the Yorkville beerhalls: taps in the washrooms of the time were labeled "Hot", "Cold", "Lager" and "Bock". You could still see separate oaken beer towers next to the water towers on the Deutsche Turnverein building on East 83rd street when it was being demolished in the late 90s.

As immigration patterns changed, there was race to build a pipeline extension across the East River to Astoria. The two spurs put out by the Rupperts and the Piels were dug by some 6,000 sandhogs, many actually working double shifts for both companies just to get the fabulous perks of the job - "all the brew you could spew". However, the resultant drop in pressure cut down the supply to the usual clientele, and the anticipated Austro-Hungarian exodus to Queens never came to pass; the breweries closed up and the rest is stale beer.

Nevertheless, while digging test tunnels for the Second Avenue Subway, a working pipeline was uncovered which was still connected to an underground ice chamber with a mostly filled copper vessel of Bayrische Brau, STILL POTABLE AFTER 80 YEARS to the great delight of the workers. And now you know the real reason that that great civic project has been stalled for so long.

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