The Pub Of The Future

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In 1911, a great brewers’ congress was held at the Coliseum in Chicago. The event was described in some detail in the October 31, 1911 issue of the Buffalo Courier. (See 5347.pdf).

A star attraction was the “Public House of the Future”, a concept of the pub intended to respond to the ever-growing Prohibition forces. The innocuous-sounding “public house” – the term saloon was anathema – reflected ideas Dr. Max Henius, a main organizer of the Exposition, advocated with other leading figures of the brewing industry.

Here is an extract from the Courier’s story, it indicates the kind of drinking Henius and his colleagues thought proper for America, an engineering that would would keep America healthy and moral but preserve their industry:

…. The feature that drew the largest crowds and excited the greatest interest seemed to be the “bier stube” and here the visitors gathered and had explained to them “The Public House of the Future,” as Dr. Max Henius, secretary of the exposition calls it, “having no bar, no tips, no solicitation, no whiskey, gin, wine or strong beverages of kind”, “and where only beer and soft drinks were served with refreshments.”

“One object of this exposition”, explained Rudolph Brand, president of the exposition, in his opening remarks, “is to teach the American people how to drink beer properly and how to abolish the saloon bar, how to abolish the tipping evil and how to solve the so-called problem of the “drink evil.” The “bier stube” is his solution of all these problems.

Secretary Wilson, honorary president of the exposition, whose acceptance caused severe criticism, is not yet in the city. He will address the convention next Wednesday.



Another article, in the Chicago Daily Tribune (see pg. 7), underlined a main purpose of the Exposition: to lobby for a form of  alcohol which would protect the public from the dangers of drink yet save the industry.

The Trib’s journalist duly reported these views, observing dryly that they read like a Temperance tract.

This attitude of brewers was a complex mix of motives and psychology.

In part, it represented a simple defensive trade move.

But also, the brewers IMO had partly internalized the hostility to liquor of the saloon-busting Carrie Nations. An unconscious psychology developed: maybe they are too strong, let’s join them. Today some might call it the Stockholm Syndrome.

Third, I think the conversation between the brewing industry and Americans reflected an underlying cultural tension.

The brewers seemed to display an attitude of condescension toward their adopted country.* Dr. Henius comes across as not a little superior, as does Rudolf Brand in his comments above. British-born but Belgian-resident George Johnson, editor of a Belgian brewery journal, took a swipe at both the American bar and English pub, regarding them as of a piece. The not-subtle message: We will teach America how to drink. Rule 1, drink only beer. Rule 2, drink this kind of beer. Rule 3, drink it where we tell you.

The dispensers of this noblesse oblige spoke in the name of a superior European ethos. The idea was, Americans were clueless about drinking, getting smashed all the time on whiskey, gin, and mixed drinks or if they drank beer, gulping it too cold and then darting out for their next appointment. The bars were too loud and nourished violence or other vice. The Europeans, guardians of an age-old civilisation, would teach the Yankees how to deal with alcohol and save the land from total Prohibition.

This was 1911, only three years before the Europe of old graces and measured behaviour would plunge into a maelstrom of war and catastrophe the like of which had never been seen.

Do you see the irony of Americans being lectured? By comparison, the brass knuckles of the saloon, or for that matter the bovver boys of the English alehouse the saloon descends from, were a two-bit sideshow.

The brewers were out of line telling Americans how to conduct themselves. Contemporary news accounts reflect this resentment but only mildly, given the Weltanschauung so to speak.

In defense of Henius and his colleagues, one might say their normal instincts were overwhelmed by the alcohol frenzy created by anti-drink propaganda. It was the crusade of the day, similar in intensity and occasional unreality to the modern climate change movement.

An index of the mania was taking knocks at Agricultural Secretary James Wilson for agreeing to appear at the convention. The atmosphere in which that could happen was expressed in an apothegm in one of Henius’s books. He said brewing was not viewed as lawful, but rather something not unlawful. The nuance explains the presumption of those who opposed the appearance of an agriculture secretary at an event whose participants supported the American farmer.

Doctor Max and his colleagues would have been better off standing up four-square to the bluenoses. It might have staved off Volstead and would have signalled moral clarity.

It was not to be, and in a few years an iron curtain clanged shut on one bourbon, one Scotch, one beer or any of them. It lasted half a generation, with repercussions the country lives with to this day.

Note re images: the images above were sourced from listings of postcards on Ebay here and here. They are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property of or in the images belong solely to their lawful owners or authorized licensees. All feedback welcomed.

*By adopted, I intend reference to the fact that American brewing in 1911 was significantly dominated by Americans of relatively recent German, Austrian, Alsatian, or other northern European ancestry. Henius was Danish-born and raised, for example. 95% of the beer brewed in that year was lager, introduced to America by people mostly of German background.The German influence on American brewing was still strong before WW I. I apprehend as well that a related sociological influence, i.e., in the matter of drinking habits and the effects of drinking and bars, was as profound.