20 January 2012

Pre-Prohibition Beer Culture

Reader Zack Pilgrim emailed me and asked about Ice Houses, and wondered what beer his Great-greatgrandfather would have been drinking when he lived in the Texas Hill Country. He wondered what the beer culture was like. After some thought, here's what I wrote:

In the days before Prohibition, there were three basic types of venues that sold beer: saloons, ice houses, and Biergartens.

Saloons only sold beer, and were male only establishments. In most Texas towns, like Fredericksburg, San Angelo, had several saloons on the main street. San Angelo had 12 on Concho Street, Fredericksburg had ten. Basically, one on every block. In San Angelo, the owner of the Star Saloon was Hubert Wolters, who sold beer from his brewery in the saloon until the railroad came to town, and he started selling Pabst. In Fredericksburg, when Lone Star and Pearl came to town, because of the economy of scale, they sold for a nickel a glass, while the much smaller Probst brewery was being sold at a dime a glass. That "beer war" is probably what caused the brewery to close.

I think the reason there were so many saloons, was that everyone walked everywhere. In Fredericksburg, there were four butcher shops along Main Street, several grocery stores, and hardware stores. They all catered to the folks who lived a few blocks away.

So after a hard day at work--hard manual labor, remember--they would stop in at the saloon on their way home. They would have a couple of beers with their neighbor before heading home to the wife. I heard a story from a gentleman in his late 60s who told me his grandfather had a bucket in the chicken coop from one of the saloons. His grandfather would be sent to the saloon for a refill for his father. When the saloon closed, they made it a feed bucket.

Ice houses were the 19th century equivalent of a convenience store and were primarily in South Texas. Before electricity, they sold ice and food for the neighborhood. You needed ice for the old ice boxes. My dad says the one his mom had kept ice a week. In the evening, instead of sitting in a hot house, folks would sit out under the trees and gossip and drink beer. In the late 1800s, Ice houses were likely tied houses, and only sold one brand of beer. So Great-Greatgranpa Kurz probably drank Lone Star (owned by Augustus Busch but NOT a Budweiser brewery) or Pearl. If there was a railroad in town, maybe Pabst, Budweiser, Miller, Schlitz or Lemp.

The West Alabama Ice House in Houston was on "How The States Got Their Shapes."Today, they only sell beer. And they still sit out under the oak trees and visit with their neighbors. There are a lot of places that call themselves, but I think the only places that can be called ice houses are places that once sold blocks of ice.

In Fredericksburg, where I live, there were four ice houses in town in the 60-70s: Lakeway Ice House, 87 Ice House, 290 Ice House, and Tower Ice house. They were more bar like, though they all had big freezer doors on the sidewalk. By the time I turned 18 (the legal drinking age) in 1980, The Tower Ice House had closed. I went to Lakeway, because it was near my house. It was more of a bar by then. Today only 87 Ice House is open, and they advertise themselves as more of a sports bar. I haven't been there in years.

I have seen a book about Texas Ice Houses. Here's the link for the Amazon page. It lists some of the still existing ice houses, including the ones that I don't consider ice houses.

Another type of business catered to big city beer drinkers: Biergartens. There were large biergartens in all the major cities. Frank Lloyd Wright designed Midway Gardens in Chicago, for example. The biergartens were family affairs. A way to spend a day outside of your hot home. In Austin, there was Pressler's Biergarten on the Colorado River, on the east side of town. There were several pavillions, one for families, one with alligator wrestling, one with a brass band, and more! Before TV and radio, that's how Austinites entertained themselves. The only remnant of Pressler Biergarten is Pressler Street in the city park along Lady Bird Lake. Scholtz's Garten still exists in Austin, a few blocks north of the capital. Now it's more a restaurant.

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posted by hiikeeba at 08:27


Anonymous Zack Pilgrim said...

Regarding the Texas Icehouses book- I checked out this one from the SA public library and I was disappointed- it's not a very good resource. Its a pocket-sized "book" written more like a travel/restaurant guide. Because of the contemporary focus, the information now seems a decade or so outdated.

1:08 PM  

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