The Waldorf Bar Rocks Beer Before Rock

A Proto Craft Beer bar

The Culinary Institute of America, the famed teaching and vocational school headquartered in Hyde Park, NY maintains a historic menu collection on its website.

We’ve looked at one or two of their menus in the past, and today consider the 1930s beer list of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The notation states that the date of the menu is unknown. However, various indices point to 1935.

Budweis beer labelled Nazdar was only imported with that designation in the middle Thirties. Confirmation is available from a judicial source no less, Anheuser-Busch v. Du Bois Brewing, heard in 1947:

18. With the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic at the conclusion of World War I, the name of the City of Budweis was changed to Budejovice.

19. For a short time after Repeal, during the years of 1934 and 1935, imported beer from Budejovice was sold in small quantities in this country along the Eastern seaboard under the name “Nazdar”.

20. Subsequently, the importers changed the label to “Imported Budweiser” and small amounts of imported beer so labeled, which plaintiff contended violated the 1911 contracts, were sold in this country during the years 1936-1938.

The Waldorf-Astoria hotel is currently closed for a long-term condominium conversion. It was needless to say one of America’s premier hotels, and internationally famous. Sited as it was in New York, a vibrant brewing region into the 1950s despite the depredations of Prohibition, one would expect many local heros of brewing to be represented, and they were.

Trommer was not least, being chosen also as the draft lager. Trommer was the last important New York brand to remain all-malt. The Waldorf bar stewards knew their beer, clearly. Other local/regional names of repute they selected included Schaefer, Piel’s, and Rheingold.

Horton Brewing was a new entrant, with Repeal it had bought an old plant – originally built by still-vibrant Yuengling of Pennsylvania – and made a pilsener. In 1997 the New York Times answered a reader’s question about the beer:

No Microbrewery This

Q. I have a clear 12-ounce bottle I found years ago in my backyard in Brooklyn Heights. On the bottom it says ”Horton Pilsener Brewing Co. 460 W. 128th St., New York.” Can you tell me about this brewery?

A. The brewery was built by the Yuengling Brewing Company in 1876, in the village that was then known as Manhattanville — a dense, industrial enclave in the deep valley between Morningside and Hamilton Heights near the Hudson River. Nearby were the D. F. Tiemann pigment factory (from which Tiemann Place takes its name), a worsted mill and the first buildings of Manhattan College. The giant red-brick brewery included a swimming pool and opulent parlors for entertaining dignitaries, who included King Edward VII of England.

More buildings and equipment were added after the brewery was purchased by the Bernheimer & Schwartz Brewing Company in 1903, and a 1911 advertisement for the beer depicts a brewing complex stretching from 127th to 129th Streets along Amsterdam Avenue. Prohibition closed up the brewery in 1920, and the sprawling parcel was purchased by the Horton Pilsener Brewing Company, which resumed production after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Though the plant closed long ago many of its buildings remain in commercial use. DANIEL B. SCHNEIDER

The separation of “beer” (lager in America) and “ale” (ale and stout) was another pre-Prohibition practice. In fact we see it on some menus into the 1940s, and after in a few cases.

The Waldorf’s beer selection was carefully made, covering both beer and ale of course but also notable pre-Prohibition names as well as some newcomers. There was some interest to achieve balance in this respect, clearly.

The imports represented both ale and lager again but also a stout, Guinness. The countries tapped were Germany, U.K., Holland, and Czechoslovakia, all non pareil brewing lands. Canada was represented in a manner of speaking as well, see further below.

Of the imports, the Czech Budweis would have been a rarity in New York, and Heineken. The famed Dutch lager was re-introduced with éclat to U.S. markets after 1933 by the enterprising Dutchman Leo Van Munching. See further background in this 2016 New York Times obituary of his son, Leo Van Munching, Jr.

Allsopp’s Pale Ale, the renowned Victorian pale beer, still had cachet in export markets, evidently. Two bottlings of Bass were offered thus continuing a pre-Prohibition practice of smart hotels and restaurants. One was from Burke, the Guinness bottling and distribution agency on Long Island, NY that also brewed its own brands.

There was no Ballantine India Pale Ale but probably it hadn’t been launched yet. The flagship Ballantine XXX was on the menu, indeed it was the draft ale selection.

Kent ale was an IPA made by Krueger in Newark, NJ, the regular ale was listed as well.

The list comprises some 45 beers. That would have been unusual in New York not just immediately after Prohibition but at any time until the 1960s. The breadth of choice is significant because the Waldorf was not an ethnic establishment a la Janssen Hofbrau Haus,* not a showcase for a foreign country’s specialties as, say, appeared during the 1939 World’s Fair.

The Waldorf was a mainstream albeit high-end catering establishment that made sure to offer a well-curated list of products, to use our jargon. They were into beer, in a word.

Canada was, rather oddly, absent from the list except in the form of Carling Red Cap ale. The beer was newly available in America in the 30s but brewed under license in Cleveland, OH. See further details in this website devoted to Carling U.S. history, whence this 1960s-era image is drawn:

It’s no surprise that the Wine and Food Society of New York held elaborate beer and food tastings at the Waldorf, some of which I’ve described here. The hotel applied an unusual detail to its beer offerings, the knowledge and skill behind it show. It was the perfect place to do those events.

One should emphasize that the market was not hipster. The cool crowd was gestating downtown in Greenwich Village and (frankly) trying to survive the Depression.

All beer then was a matter of conventional industrial business and marketing. Its upper reaches, as here, was concerned with solid citizens and an international elite. The only plaids you might see were the scarfs, skirts, and jackets of moneyed tourists or uptown New Yorkers frequenting the hotel’s luxe services.

It is only when established brewing forgot its roots, still evident in splendour here in the 1930s, that the poets rallied to legislate, so to speak. Today they’ve been acknowledged so the tables are reversed. But the large concerns are waking up and taking back some of the turf foregone, to the consternation of some who forget, or never knew, how it all started.

Note re images: The extracts from the Waldorf-Astoria’s wine and spirits list, and Carling label, were sourced from the links identified and given in the text. The Allsopp’s ad is from the Coaster-Beerdekel collection on Pinterest, here. All intellectual property in the sources used belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See our earlier post on this great Manhattan establishment.



1 thought on “The Waldorf Bar Rocks Beer Before Rock”

  1. The first ads for the post-Repeal Ballantine’s India Pale Ale, along with their Brown Stout, both of which were “Aged in the Wood One Year”, appeared in mid-Nov., through December, 1934 in NYC, Boston and other papers, so, yes, the menu likely predates their release. Supposedly brewing did not start up in Newark at the renovated brewery after the Badenhausen purchase until December 1933, so the one year aging would also suggest a late 1934 release.

    Some Horton ads in the immediate post-Repeal era noted the Yuengling ownership (which only lasted for about the last quarter of the 19th century) but also, perplexing claimed “…experience dating back to the Yuengling Brewhouse of 1770!” <That's their exclamation mark, but I'd also add "!" to that claim, as well.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: