Van Olinda on the American Tavern. Part II.

Saloon, Saloon, Saloon

[This series began with Part I].

In 1941 on January 30 in the Albany (NY) Times-Union, longtime columnist Edgar S. Van Olinda memorialized another old-time tavern of Albany, Irish Lord’s (source: Fulton History as linked).

The references to ale need no introduction to students of beer history. Ale and porter brewing long held sway in the Upper Hudson Valley and beyond in New York as chronicled in recent years by Craig Gravina and Alan McLeod in their (2014) Upper Hudson Valley Beer.

I covered further aspects of the story in my 2019 research paper “Fleming’s Golden Ale“, issue #178, Journal of the Brewery History Society.* Van Olinda’s account adds a granular level that just about brings aromas of sawdust and seeping hogsheads to the nostrils.

He explains Irish Lord’s was held by Thomas McKeon, its glory days being the late 19th century. Popular culture still associates the period with Gibson Girls, barbershop quartets, striped awnings, and ornamented bold lettering.

Deeper, less benign currents have been identified by historians but my images serve better to complement the perspective in Van Olinda’s account.

Irish Lord’s was located at Second Street and North Swan in Arbor Hill, then a prosperous enclave, especially the triangular Ten Broeck section which Irish Lord’s bordered. At the time a strong Irish component prevailed in the quarter. St Joseph’s Church was its lodestone, still standing but now abandoned and forlorn.

The beer Irish Lord’s served was from the storied Quinn & Nolan, later called Beverwyck, also in north Albany.** It closed finally in 1972 after 22 years of ownership by F & M Schaefer Brewery of Brooklyn, NY. While the 1941 article doesn’t specify the brewery, a 1968 column of Van Olinda that reworked the earlier piece confirms Quinn & Nolan as source of the beer.

Today Arbor Hill is a low-income community, predominantly African-American, a long-term shift that has characterized many urban centres across America. At Second and Swan a structure stands that even in 1941 had replaced the old saloon. Van Olinda knew it as St. Joseph’s Parochial School.

No longer a school, the building is currently a residence and atelier for artists, a worthy urban renewal project. It is pictured below (source Google Maps).



That is the site where at the turn of the gaslit century, Arbor Hillers, as Van Olinda called them, settled the world’s problems and assuaged personal ones. In his words:

There used to be a song currently popular during the arid days of the prohibition era which went as follows:

“Saloon, saloon, saloon. Have you forgotten so soon?
You nestled so sweet in a little
side street.
So respected, protected by cops
on the beat.
Since you left us, the world’s
been in darkness
Like a cloud passing over the moon.
With a bar and a rail, a dime and a pail,
Saloon, saloon, saloon”.

Today, those thirst emporiums are known as grills, and somehow lack the atmosphere of sawdust and spilt beer that had a peculiar attraction to the nostrils of a former generation. Such an oasis was the “Irish Lord’s” which “nestled so sweet on old Second street” and Swan during the last century and conducted with great decorum by the late Thomas McKeon. Today the place is just a fragrant memory, and only to a choice few survivors of that time who are still able to bend the elbow occasionally.

Today, the magnificent parochial school of St Joseph’s has erased the spot where so many “Arbor Hillers” were wont to go of an evening to discuss affairs of state and nation or speculate on the chances of “Gentleman Jim” Corbett staying five rounds with the great John L. Sullivan. Tom McKeon owned considerable property in the neighborhood and it is on the site of these houses that the school now stands. No fancy frills to “The Irish Lord”…

And further:

Sure, there was sawdust on the floor, but only for the purpose of allowing the boys to draw typographical maps of the battles of the Boer or Spanish-American Wars with the canes that some of the bloods used to help them up the steep ascent of Second street.

Van Olinda then lists a series of men, later prominent evidently in Albany affairs, who used to hoist ale of a night at Irish Lord’s. Their occupations and business activities are consistent with the known socio-economic status of the quarter then, especially its core of Ten Broeck as mentioned.

His words remind us the American saloon was not the resort solely of wage-earning workmen, spending money they could ill afford to the detriment of their households, but was frequented also by the aspirant middle classes.

A last flavour of old times at Irish Lord’s:

And here’s the payoff. “The Irish Lord” instituted the system of collective bargaining, and under the persuasive arguments of the boys sitting around the tables, or feet tilted on the rail, he [McKeon] has been known to charge only 25 cents a round. but “come and get it.” When the hogshead was getting low, and the genial proprietor has made his profits. the rest of the brew was “on the house”.

Now there’s a system worth reviving. Given the aura of “collective bargaining”, I’m sure our current generation of craft bars and taprooms will welcome the idea!

N.B. The American Bill Edwards, aka “The Professor”, is a musician, singer, and American music historian. His website contains the full lyrics of the song remembered by Van Olinda, with a bonus: Edwards performs in a fine tenor the song himself, to a plaintive piano. The full title as shown is “Saloon: a Mock Ballad”.

Part III follows.

Note re image: source of image above is identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property in source belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*The “Gilman” in the author credit is a typo, it should read “Gillman”.

**Quinn & Nolan, an ale brewery from its origins, was later complemented (starting before 1900) by nearby Beverwyck, a lager brewery from inception. Both were owned by the magnate and Albany politician Michael Nolan. After repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Beverwyck resumed operations, producing both ale and lager.










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