Artsy's Backyard: In the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge...

The Brooklyn Bridge.Howdy y'all!  Artsy guy here, reelin' from a great day of wandering around the great city of NYC.  I crossed a wee wish off the list today and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.  The sky was full of chunky white and grey clouds, but the sun was a-peekin' through, giving quite a show.  As I ambled from the Brooklyn side (DUMBO) to Manhattan (Lower East Side), I was entranced by this iconic piece of architecture as well as that offered from the south end of Manhattan (including One World Trade Center as it climbs ever upward).  A highly recommended jaunt!

And as I found my footing on the bedrock of Manhattan, I figured such a trek should be accompanied by refreshments at one of the island's oldest drinking and dining establishments, the Bridge Café.  At the intersection of Dover St. (which runs along the southern base of the bridge) and Water St., you'll find an old storefront that poured its first wine and beer in 1794 when the East River licked at the back of the foundation and the bridge hadn't yet been built (and wouldn't be for 90 years).  The years since have found it in different hands and offering varied services (an 1855 census lists six prostitutes as residents), but the rough and tumble history of this neighborhood has long been accompanied by the liquid encouragement of the shopkeepers at 279 Water Street.  Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton argued sides of an insurance claim battle embroiled here.  The book The Gangs of New York describes a despicable dive called "The Hole in the Wall" at this location.  And in later years, as the place was polished, Mayor Ed Koch called this his favorite restaurant and held court here twice a week.  So much history in these clapboard walls!

The Bridge Café in the shadow of the Brookly Bridge, and the bar.Tuck in, y'all!On this visit, I found a charming restaurant with a talented chef and an incredibly well-stocked bar.  Whisky lovers will find quite a selection... scotches, ryes, bourbons, etc.  Craft beer lovers won't be disappointed (Hear hear!) with taps offering Kelso, Sixpoint, Lagunitas, Smuttynose, etc. and quite a bottle list.  The chef didn't disappoint even this transient lunch-seeker.  I absolutely loved my southwestern avocado soup with fire roasted corn and hominy... and a marinated mozzarella and cherry tomato salad on a bed of sliced beefsteak tomatoes, with croutons, basil, and amazing balsamic reduction.  I need more.  And there's plenty more to be had on the menu.  I'll be back tomorrow.

Get thee to the Bridge Café, y'all!  It's a perfectly charming fine dining establishment rising from the foundation of a whole lotta history.  Good stuff!  That's what's HOPpenin', y'all!

Artsy's Backyard: Theatre 80

Howdy!  Artsy Guy here.  As a wee departure from my usual topic (beer), I'll occasionally shed some light on a historical locale or other unique hotspot.  Speakeasies.  There's currently a well-established neo movement of hidden mixologist havens for those in the know, but I'm particularly enamored with old school joints of the jazz age that have survived in one form or another.  My brother's groom's dinner was held at a former speakeasy in Stillwater, Minnesota and we've also visted the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul.  I feel fortunate to have visited Chumley's in NYC's West Village before it disappeared in 2007.  I was happy to visit another place with a storied past at 80 St. Mark's Place in the East Village...

Theatre 80 was once (Walter) Sheib's Place and throughout Prohibition provided liquid nourishment to such infamous folks as Al Capone.  On the back wall of the theatre, you can see the boarded up door where the hooch made its way into the place via the alley.  And evidently there are still tunnels underneath.  Years after, the place became The Jazz Gallery where allegedly a young Frank Sinatra sang and waited tables.  In the 1960s Howard Otway bought the place, renovated, and opened Theatre 80 which soon thereafter presented the premiere of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.  In addition to propelling careers of such talents as Bob Balaban and Gary Burghoff, also found an usher in a young Billy Crystal.  After a stint as a rear-projection classic and independent movie house, Theatre 80 returned to live theatre and became the home of Pearl Theatre Company for 15 years and rental productions since.  On the night of my visit, I experienced the amazing campy and delightfully raw Silence! The Musical.

In addition to the happenings the main space, current Theatre 80 owner Lorcan Otway (keeping it in the family) has opened the tiny but potent Museum of the American Gangster in an upstairs apartment (allegedly once rented by Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky), featuring many artifacts including bullets tied to Clyde Barrow, Pretty Boy Floyd, and the Valentine's Day Massacre.  The pub connected to the theatre lobby has recently opened as William Barnacle and specializes in absinthe (and where I was poured a proper pint of Guinness by Mr. Otway himself).  And along the sidewalk in front of the pub, you'll find handprints and signatures in the cement (a la Hollywood's Chinese Theatre)... Myrna Loy, Gloria Swanson, and Dom DeLuise(?).  The night I was there, Joan Rivers added her mark (and bling).

L: William Barnacle's forecourt. C: Illegal photo (oops) showing the boarded up alley door (just right of the photo's center). R: William Barnacle.You can really feel the history around this place.  It is just riddled with strings tied to the past, and of course many of those strings are tied to booze... legal, illegal, and in-between.  Cheers, y'all!

LEMP. A Haunting History.

“This Lemp’s for You.”  If fate had played a kinder hand to the once dominant Lemp family brewing dynasty, we could indeed have been hearing that slogan instead of the famous version serenading us from our televisions today. Instead, the family suffered a tortuous series of tragedies, some of their own making, and has all but disappeared from most people’s memories. The story of their family and its rise and fall reminiscent of the most classic tragedies, is told by Stephen P. Walker in his incredibly researched book, Lemp: The Haunting History.

In 1840, German immigrant Adam Lemp opened his Western Brewery in St. Louis based on the popularity of the beer he had been brewing on a smaller scale in his grocery. In those days, brewers were much like neighborhood bakers, with local patrons picking beer up on their rounds of errands. Lemp’s decision to open a brewery was forward thinking, and took the operation to levels not commonly seen in those days. The brewery flourished, then more so once Lemp’s son, William, took control of the company. Under his leadership, the brewery grew with astounding speed, and he quickly moved to a larger facility to increase production. He chose a parcel of land directly above a series of caves his father had used to store beer. By the turn of the century, the now named William J. Lemp Brewing Co. covered 11 city blocks and produced 500,000 barrels of beer a year with distribution throughout all of North America and reaching Australia and Europe. The brewery produced six beers, the most known today being Falstaff. At this point the Lemp’s were larger and more influential than the Anheuser- Busch Brewery, who began business nearly two decades after they did.

Tragedy entered the family when Frederick Lemp, William’s heir apparent, died suddenly at age 28. Disconsolate, William fell into a deep depression and took his own life in 1904. The family soldiered on, but the tide had turned and time began to pass them by. Then the advent of Prohibition devastated the family business and they were forced to sell off assets at alarmingly low returns. William Lemp Jr., who had stepped into the leadership role after the deaths of his father and brother, became a high roller in St. Louis society and his divorce in 1920 provided scandalous gossip for the entire city. However, it was the disaster of Prohibition that defeated him. He, also, took his own life in 1922, as his sister Elsa had also done in 1920.

Despite the efforts of William Lemp III to re-introduce the brewery after Prohibition, the attempt failed. He died tragically in 1943 at age 42 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Another brother, Charles, also committed suicide in 1949.  The famous label of Falstaff Beer was purchased and continued to be sold for a while under different owners until ultimately fading away. 

All of this is told in detailed and fascinating accounts, often through written first-hand entries, by Walker. Letters of the Lemps themselves are quoted and newspaper articles of the time are reprinted. Walker also includes many examples of the famous Lemp advertising art and intricate descriptions of the lavish lifestyle and homes of the family. It’s a fascinating look at a chapter of American history, as well as brewing history, that is often overlooked.

Walker concludes with some accounts of ghostly goings on at the Lemp Mansion, which is now open as a bed and breakfast ( Considering the history of the family, it’s almost to be expected that they would continue to haunt the scene of their greatest triumphs and failures. We’ll be visiting here with our cameras, no doubt.

A great read and highly recommended:

        4 and a half pints out of 5!

        Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but readily available . A great resource for anyone interested in any aspect of the brewing industry.