Van Olinda on the American Tavern. Part III.

[Continues from Part II].

A Brew so Rich it Could…

The Pike and Capron saloon, formerly at State and Lodge streets in Albany, New York, was another old-time resort recalled by Edgar S. Van Olinda, long-time columnist for the city’s Times-Union. He mentions it in many columns, sometimes reworking an older piece, but often adding new details.

The saloon was across the street from today’s Hilton Hotel in the city. I stayed at the Hilton many times on visits to Albany 40 years ago. The Hudson is behind the hotel on the other side, and we often got a room with a view of that broad river, vital to city commerce, especially in the past.

Van Olinda’s story of January 12, 1942 recalled particulars of four or five old-time saloons including Pike and Capron’s. He was actually quoting the memories of a reader who wrote in to recall the fine old days.

As adverted to earlier, Van Olinda was engaging in a form of social or popular history. The tone is warm, indulgent, forgiving – light but revealing of many details, some to ponder.

His correspondent was prompted by Van Olinda having written of the improvising tendencies of jazz music. (Music was one of Van Olinda’s beats). The reader noted that around 1900 “Hungarian” bands in saloons did something similar, so the same gas-lamp era I have been discussing.

The letter included this remark:

“And of course we remembered Pike and Capron’s; the casks ranged in rows behind the bar; the wholesome smell of malt and hops that seemed to permeate the atmosphere more pungently there than anywhere else—and the rich porter, for which the place was noted—so black and syrupy that it would float nails…”.

The currently popular “dry Irish stout” of craft and mass market brewing doesn’t sound very close, but that was then, this is now.

The passage reminds us too that porter was popular in some Albany saloons, not just the better known ale, or the lager that finally got the better of both.

Van Olinda’s correspondent conveyed other interesting memories, including eating a “famous” ground beef sandwich. As so often in this history, one finds a blend of British and Central European influences. The sandwich is explained this way:

“Speaking of Grandpre’s—did you ever eat one of their famous raw beef sandwiches? It was the grandpappy of the modern sissified cooked hamburger so popular nowadays. Consisting of about a quarter of a pound of ground raw meat, topped with a layer of sliced Spanish onion plentifully sprinkled with salt and pepper and packed between thick slices of rye bread full of caraway seeds”.

The statement that the hamburger derived from (the often German) steak tartare is very interesting from a culinary historical standpoint, and might well be correct. Plumbing memory further, the correspondent added:

“…[There] was a tiny saloon (not a ‘Tavern’ or ‘Grill’, Bacchus forbid!) located opposite the Union station, called Dockendorf’s, where we used to pause for refreshment while waiting for a trolley to take us home after a hot, stuffy day at the office. [No A/C then]. At one end of the Lilliputian bar was a huge copper roaster from the cover of which a chain ran up through a ring in the ceiling and down again within convenient reach of the gent in shirtsleeves whose sole duty it was to make FREE sandwiches for the customers. With one’s appetite whetted by a tall, frosty glass of beer with a creamy collar intact it was a fascinating experience to watch the cover of this roaster go up, exposing a huge side of steaming beef—to see the rare slices curl under the big carving knife, and the pure gravy poured over the completed sandwich which came skimming down in its saucer over the polished mahogany to stop under one’s very nose. Never since has a snack or a drink tasted so good to us”.

He had that right, surely.

Another piece of Van Olinda’s, on April 17, 1946, remembered the “still ale” of Pike and Capron, a beer type I discussed earlier in these pages. He also eulogized the long-time owner of Pike and Capron’s, Peter De Groot, who died that year at 88.

In yet a further column, a late one of May 31,1970 when Van Olinda himself had to be close to 88, he recalled the “musty ale” of Carey’s in the nearby Colonie. Van Olinda linked its offering of the unusually-named beer, and its roast beef sandwiches, to the English origins of the owners.

I chronicled American musty ale in this article of issue #169, Journal of the Brewery History Society. I won’t quarrel very far with Van Olinda as to its British origins, as my article attests.

Porter, still ale, musty ale – some of the drinks of the pre-Prohibition American Northeast. And the toothsome beef “snacks” to go with it, sometimes coming without charge.

Emblems of a past, irrecoverable time, save through the evocative words of an American regional journalist, Edgar S. Van Olinda.

We continue with Part IV.


















Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.