Of Big Birds and Less Big (but Interesting) Beers
I mentioned on Twitter yesterday a long-closed bar and restaurant in Plattsburgh, New York, Brodi’s. That was in fact the spelling, not the more commonly encountered Brodie or Brody.
Using digitized news and other sources, I pieced its history pretty well. First though, how did I know about the place? I grew up in Montreal, about 70 miles to the north over the international border. On weekends sometimes we drove down to hear the music and drink a beer, as Brodi’s was known for its live bands. Even the jukebox was great as it was a golden era for rock and roll, so you couldn’t miss.
At that time, traffic was much lighter than now, we did the trip in about an hour and half allowing for the border (usually just a wave-through). We might leave at 6:30 pm., spend a couple of hours in Plattsburgh, and were back before midnight. We used to eat something first, or after, so the actual time at Brodi’s may have been just an hour or ninety minutes.
From the centre of Plattsburgh you had to drive over a bridge, past Air Force barracks on South Peru Street. Brody’s was on McKinley Street and the area today is fully urbanized but at the time was quite sparse in buildings and amenities.
Brodi’s was a hangout for airmen of Plattsburgh Air Force Base, a Strategic Air Command base for the “big birds”. Of course the war was on and there was a lot of activity in Plattsburgh.
I recall going to Brodi’s only with Charles, a good friend who now lives in Las Vegas. This was between 1970 and 1973. After I got married I don’t think I went there again, maybe once or twice. We still made the drive but usually during the day for shopping and to try different restaurants. The first McDonald’s I went to was in Plattsburgh and I still remember the taste, the pink mayonnaise from the Big Mac.
My early interest in beer was definitely kindled at Brodi’s. The reason simply was the different beer range one saw – brands like Genesee, Piel, Utica Club, Ballantine, Schaefer, Budweiser, Pabst. The glowing curved signs made an impression as well.
I can’t recall ever drinking a dark beer at Brodi’s, but even regular lager and ale seemed noticeably different to Canadian beers. Unlike today when mass market brands are available internationally, each region had its own brands. Eastern Canada as a whole had a different style of beer than lager or even ale in the U.S. In fact, Michael Weiner, in his 1978 Taster’s Guide to Beer, states that “Canadian sparkling ale” was a distinctive type as worthy of notice as other international styles of renown.
Had the style been maintained in its mid-20th century integrity, it may have sustained the Canadian industry longer than actually occurred. Signature brands were Molson Export Ale, Labatt 50, O’Keefe Ale, Brading Ale, Labatt India Pale Ale, Molson Stock Ale. But in time the brands got lighter or were supplanted by light-tasting lagers. Finally American brands appeared, Budweiser and Miller Lite were the first. Ironically, today that older Canadian style can be tasted again via the craft brewers, Beau’s Lugtread Ale is a good example.
Despite circa 1970 Canadian ale being ostensibly better than American beer, one is always attracted by the new, or different, so I tried the beers at Brodi’s and liked them for that reason. I remember Schaefer being particularly good with a lingering bitterness in the throat.
Brodi’s was originally owned by Mike and Beatrice Brodi, now deceased. It started as a ranch-style bar and steakhouse, outside the centre of Plattsburgh, with a later addition for dancing, which became the nucleus of the club.
According to this 1975 news report in the North Countryman of Elizabethtown, NY the founders sold Brodi’s in 1969 to two brothers in a band, Deane and Dale Tremblay. In turn they sold it in 1973, so the time I recall at Brodi’s was under their ownership. It makes sense as the music was particularly good and clearly it is their house band I recall.
Here is something I have no recollection of, but in retrospect may have helped to stimulate my interest in beer history. The North Countryman states that Dale Tremblay liked Genesee Beer and:
While playing at Brodi’s, [Dale] and bass player Spencer Bosworth (also a staunch Genesee man) would often do important spoofs of the Genny ads.
I must have seen these, and would have known the ads because Plattsburgh TV stations could be viewed in Montreal via aerial antennas and Rediffusion.
It was a way of looking at beer differently, anyway. It’s funny the things you learn 50 years down the road.
On Google Maps you can see well the geography and how we travelled there. Plattsburgh is between broad Lake Champlain (Vermont to the other side) and Interstate #87, which took us down from Montreal. The big airfield in the centre was the Air Force’s, and is now Plattsburgh International Airport.
The site of Brodi’s is now a dancing school. As far as I can tell, the buildings are original. I’ll elaborate in a future post.
For a second part to this post, see here.
Note re image: the image above is from the April 25, 1970 issue of the Press-Republican in Plattsburgh, NY, sourced via Fulton Newspapers, see here. All intellectual property therein belongs to solely to its lawful owners, as applicable, and is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.