Historical Beer Gardens of NYC

In some respects, New York is as much German as American. A large part of it is a genuine reproduction of the Fatherland as regards the manners, customs, people, and language spoken. In the thickly settled sections east of the Bowery the Germans predominate, and one might live there for a year without ever hearing an English word spoken. The Germans of New York are a very steady, hard-working people, and withal very sociable. During the day they confine themselves closely to business, and at night they insist upon enjoying themselves. The huge Stadt Theatre draws several thousand within its walls whenever its doors are opened, and concerts and festivals of various kinds attract others. But the most popular of all places with this class of citizens is the beer-garden. Here one can sit and smoke, and drink beer by the gallon, listen to music, move about, meet his friends, and enjoy himself in his own way—all at a moderate cost.

From one end of the Bowery to the other, beer-gardens abound, and their brilliantly illuminated signs and transparencies form one of the most remarkable features of that curious street. Not all of them are reputable. In some there is a species of theatrical performance which is often broadly indecent. These are patronized by but few Germans, although they are mainly carried on by men of that nationality. The Rough and servant girl elements predominate in the audiences, and there is an unmistakably Irish stamp on most of the faces present.

The true beer-garden finds its highest development in the monster Atlantic Garden, which is located in the Bowery, next door to the Old Bowery Theatre. It is an immense room, with a lofty curved ceiling, handsomely frescoed, and lighted by numerous chandeliers and by brackets along the walls. It is lighted during the day from the roof. At one side is an open space planted with trees and flowers, the only mark of a garden visible. A large gallery rises above the floor at each end. That at the eastern or upper end is used as a restaurant for those who desire regular meals. The lower gallery is, like the rest of the place, for beer-drinkers only. Under the latter gallery is a shooting hall, which is usually filled with marksmen trying their skill. On the right hand side of the room is a huge orchestrion or monster music-box, and by its side is a raised platform, occupied by the orchestra employed at the place. The floor is sanded, and is lined with plain tables, six feet by two in size, to each of which is a couple of benches. The only ornaments of the immense hall are the frescoes and the chandeliers. Everything else is plain and substantial. Between the hall and the Bowery is the bar room, with its lunch counters. The fare provided at the latter is strictly German, but the former retails drinks of every description.

During the day the Atlantic does a good business through its bar and restaurant, many persons taking their meals here regularly. As night comes on, the great hall begins to fill up, and by eight o’clock the place is in its glory. From three to four thousand people, mainly Germans, may be seen here at one time, eating, drinking, smoking. Strong liquors are not sold, the drinks being beer and the lighter Rhine-wines. The German capacity for holding beer is immense. An amount sufficient to burst an American makes him only comfortable and good humored. The consumption of the article here nightly is tremendous, but there is no drunkenness. The audience is well behaved, and the noise is simply the hearty merriment of a large crowd. There is no disorder, no indecency. The place is thoroughly respectable, and the audience are interested in keeping it so. They come here with their families, spend a social, pleasant evening, meet their friends, hear the news, enjoy the music and the beer, and go home refreshed and happy. The Germans are very proud of this resort, and they would not tolerate the introduction of any feature that would make it an unfit place for their wives and daughters. It is a decided advantage to the people who frequent this place, whatever the Temperance advocates may say, that men have here a resort where they can enjoy themselves with their families, instead of seeking their pleasure away from the society of their wives and children.



The buzz and the hum of the conversation, and the laughter, are overpowering, and you wander through the vast crowd with your ears deafened by the sound. Suddenly the leader of the orchestra raps sharply on his desk, and there is a profound silence all over the hall. In an instant the orchestra breaks forth into some wonderful German melody, or some deep-voiced, strong-lunged singer sends his rich notes rolling through the hall. The auditors have suddenly lost their merriment, and are now listening pensively to the music, which is good. They sip their beer absently, and are thinking no doubt of the far-off Fatherland, for you see their features grow softer and their eyes glisten. Then, when it is all over, they burst into an enthusiastic encore, or resume their suspended conversations.

On the night of the reception of the news of Napoleon’s capitulation at Sedan, the Atlantic Garden was a sight worth seeing. The orchestra was doubled, and the music and the songs were all patriotic. The hall was packed with excited people, and the huge building fairly rocked with the cheers which went up from it. The “German’s Fatherland” and Luther’s Hymn were sung by five thousand voices, hoarse or shrill with excitement. Oceans of beer were drunk, men and women shook hands and embraced, and the excitement was kept up until long after midnight. Yet nobody was drunk, save with the excitement of the moment.

The Central Park Garden, at the corner of Seventh avenue and Fifty-ninth street, is more of an American institution than the Atlantic. It consists of a handsome hall surrounded on three sides by a gallery, and opening at the back upon grounds a moderate size, tastefully laid out, and adorned with rustic stalls and arbors for the use of guests. At the Atlantic the admission is free. Here one pays fifty cents for the privilege of entering the grounds and building. During the summer months nightly concerts, with Saturday matinées, are given here by Theodore Thomas and his famous orchestra—the finest organization of its kind in America. The music is of a high order, and is rendered in a masterly manner. Many lovers of music come to New York in the summer simply to hear these concerts.

The place is the fashionable resort of the city in the summer. The audience is equal to anything to be seen in the city. One can meet here all the celebrities who happen to be in town, and as every one is free to do as he pleases, there is no restraint to hamper one’s enjoyment. You may sit and smoke and drink, or stroll through the place the whole evening, merely greeting your acquaintances with a nod, or you may join them, and chat to your heart’s content. Refreshments and liquors of all kinds are sold to guests; but the prices are high. The Central Park Garden, or, as it is called by strangers, “Thomas’s Garden,” is the most thoroughly enjoyable place in the city in the summer.


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