German Beer Hall

The Tenement Museum has added a tour to their roster of profoundly experiential, oral history based tours.  It’s called Shop Life and adds a German element to their already Irish, Jewish, and Italian focus.

At 97 Orchard, where guides take visitors into the upstairs tenements, each floor interpreted for a different nationality or ethnic group, the basement featured stores.  In 1864, John and Caroline Schneider opened a German Beer Hall there, and the railroad style rooms are interpreted to show the saloon itself, a inner room where reformist meetings were held, and the family’s bedroom in the rear.  The rooms are very narrow, and only the front room was long enough to seat, oh, 20 people.

In 1864, there were 500 German Beer Halls in New York City and 4 on that block of Orchard St alone.  As a “tied saloon,” each one would have been associated with, or tied to, a different brewer, either in Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn.  To gain regular customers, the Schneider saloon offered a free lunch everyday.  Of course, German food is salty.  Hence, more beer!

Darryl, the exuberant guide, talked about contributions Germans made to American culture.: not only beer and a reformist spirit, but also German leisure time that allowed mixed gender outings and experiences.  In other words, women could come hang out in the beer hall alongside the men.  The museum has researched the 35 or so “regulars” who came to the saloon and developed character profiles for each.  My man from history was the Bavarian Augustus Wallace, a Civil War Veteran and musician, who played a tune or two in the saloon.

In the 1880s, after the death of Caroline Schneider, John moved the saloon across the street for a couple more years, because he didn’t like his new landlordShop Life.  Over the next 100 or so years, the basement retail space changed hands many times–Kosher butchers, underwear factory, an auction house, etc.  Here’s a picture of the auction house in action.  Look how narrow the space is and how many people, well men, are crammed in.

As always, the Tenement Museum creates an evocative experience, one where technology plays an integral part.  Technology on this tour helps visitors get to know the businesses that operated there after the German Beer Hall.  Everyone got to take one object over to a presentation table with an embedded screen.  Once the object was laid down, the table’s screen identified the object.

I picked up a brick and placed it on the table.  This represented the brick that was thrown through a kosher shopkeeper’s window during riots over the prices of kosher meat that went up 50-100% overnight.  Then fanning out all around the brick were photos.  Touch a photo, and the screen part of the table told the story of that photo.  You could also pick up an old telephone receiver to listen to the same story being told to you.

So each object mapped to a whole set of related stories.  Pretty cool museum technology.  Leave it to the Tenement Museum, which I think was one of the first to have oral histories playing in the upstairs tenements.  Fascinating, evocative, engaging.  Pretty great.

Afterward, I stopped in a restaurant a friend and I have wanted to try:  Cacio e Pepe on Second Ave between 11th and 12th Streets.  We had both been intrigued by this salad:

Insalata Mistanoci Gruyere E Grue Di Cacao                                                                          mixed green salad, walnuts, gruyere cheese, raw chocolate nibs

I have to say, it was really fun.  But nothing can top the presentation value of

Tonnarelli cacio e Pepe                                                                                                   homemade tonnarelli pasta tossed in pecorino cheese & whole black pepper

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

They bring the pasta in the middle of a huge wheel of pecorino cheese, then slosh the pasta around in the center hole that must gradually get bigger and bigger as the pasta absorbs the cheese.  They scoop a mountain onto your plate, then scrape the remaining soft cheese out of the wagon wheel and dollop it on top.

Thank goodness for half portions of both the salad and the pasta.  All I was lacking was the German lager!