Dec 5, 2007

Hoisting a glass in honor of Repeal Day

The following is an article from the New York Sun dated September 6, 1930. It's the story of one family in the restaurant business—my family—and not only is it a fascinating look at hospitality and daily life in the first half of the last century, it also seems an appropriate way to honor Repeal Day.

Pier Six poem

"A recent transfer of a lease for a restaurant property in Chambers street, near Broadway, brings back memories of a family who for fifty years or more catered to the eating and drinking appetites of some of the best known men in New York. It was the house of Schmidt—headed by the father Louis, and his two sons, Ollie and George. They actually put the liquor or saloon business on the business map and conducted it as one might conduct a banking institution.

Louis Schmidt opened and ran for many years the place at 6 Center street and it was known far and wide as Pier 6. Just why this name became attached to the place is not of record. It was in this place that two sons were instructed into the mysteries of drink mixing. From the start they liked the business and stuck to it as long as Andrew Volstead kept his ideas to himself.

It must be conceded that the Schmidt menage was good when it had upward of a dozen competitors in the triangle on which now stands the Municipal Building. It was then bounded by Tryon Square on the south, on which the Staats-Zeitung Building faces; Center street, Chambers street and Park Row. In the newspaper building there was a famous rathskeller. Next door was Pier 6. Then came Leggat's hotel and bar. Two doors away was Humpy Hanover's Curio and on the corner Paddy Shea's.

Ollie Schmidt's restaurant in New York was a popular hangout for journalists and politicians.

While all these places were going full blast, the Schmidt boys and their father kept right on selling good things to eat and drink. George, the younger son, was born over the saloon on Center street and has been in business barely three blocks away from there during his life. Ollie, being older, took over the burden when his father died and continued the name of Schmidt in the purveying business.

Not far away from the Schmidt domicile was the home of the Stender family in William street, just around the corner from Spruce street. Ollie was a live wire and so was Emma Stender, the niece of the elder Kate, who established the famous Kate's, which ran until a few years ago and which went out of business because liquor was taboo in the premises. Good food could be had until the day the key turned in the door for the last time. Some years ago Ollie died. His wife, Emma, assisted by sisters, Kate and Frieda, tried to carry on. Many of the old customers stuck, although they had to forgo their accustomed whisky sour or the seductive cocktail or a schoppen of Rhine wine with their meals.

Ollie had died and Emma had followed in a few years and the load was left for Kate and Frieda. It was too much of a load with only a few hours of eating each day, and they closed the place.

Kate's restaurant in New York didn't survive Prohibition.

But to get back to the Schmidt boys. Ollie had a following. The Center street place was not magnificent as far as appointments went, but the bottled goods were of the very best. The small priced luncheons were tasty and the free lunch good. So when the place was forced to close the boys looked about to see what could be had to take over the trade who constantly reminded them they should stay in the neighborhood.

The place at 81 Chambers street long had been an established place and they took it over. Then the difference of opinions of the two brothers became known. Ollie thought the place should be closed at 7 o'clock each evening. George thought a later hour would be better. But the hour was 7 o'clock, and if a customer happened to be in the bar at that hour he was asked to take a "nightcap" on the house and everybody started away from 81 Chambers street, but the records do not show they always went directly home.

From the start the Schmidt ownership prospered, but Ollie thought he should have a place of his own and he therefore opened on Park Row at the apex of North William street, one of the handsomest cafes then to be seen in lower Manhattan. It was not a success and Ollie lost practically all he had saved and dumped into a place that was not wanted on a street of people who were rushing to catch subways and elevated trains. Brooklyn Bridge terminal was in those days a wonderful railroad terminus, but the Schmidt place did not seem to appeal.

Ollie therefore took over the William street place made so famous by Kate. City officials and newspapermen of note of other days congregated here and pleasant hours of reminiscence often brought to light interesting news stories that found their way into print. The Schmidt boys as well as the Stender girls were known to writers and public officials generally, but their support was not adequate to pay the overhead when the Volstead law became a part of the dictum of the day.

Interior shots of Ollie Schmidt's New York restaurant.

But George Schmidt stood his ground. When the law against the sale of intoxicating liquors became operative he stood by the law and never sold an illegal drink. But he did try to make his restaurant stand up a little straighter and reorganized hi place with full restaurant equipment and with this he has gone along until he decided he had been in the purveying business long enough and barely a stone's throw from the place he was born.

The Chambers street place had a couple of things to its credit that did not call for the use of alcoholic stimulant. True the corned beef and cabbage on Wednesdays have tasted a little better with a glass of real beer, but George's customers knew the value of the food and were satisfied to forgo the stimulant. On Saturday's he had a dish of pork and beans that attracted men from far and near. Men who had never called except on Saturday could be counted in the throng, for such it was, during the bean season, which seemed to run the year round.

George Schmidt has not served a drink behind a bar for many years and he probably will never mix another, but he has fond memories of his lifelong experience catering to men in public life in New York city. He has known personally Mayors and their cabinets and the writers followed him around as they did Kate and Ollie. Now he plans to retire from active daily routine and take a rest that may eventually take him up to Connecticut, where he has his eye on a cozy place that will be his home for the rest of his days.

Many years ago the Schmidts—father and sons as well as sisters-in-law—wrote their names into the hearts of good eaters and drinkers. All sorts of men—and no women—found their way into 6 Center street and the other places. One of the customers wrote a piece of poetry of fourteen verses which he had printed on good paper and was distributed to the patrons of the place. The man was retiring enough to withhold his name, but the author was known to those on the inside. On the first page titld "Pier 6" is a cut of Ollie and George Schmidt. It points out that Ollie is the owner and that George and Fred and Ollie Curtis are 'a brave quartet of bartenders, who only serve the best.'"

Now please, go out and celebrate.

4 comments:

Brewery Tours said...

Great post, I really enjoyed it. I will have to book mark this site for later.

Алексей (rewritoff) said...

It points out that Ollie is the owner and that George and Fred and Ollie Curtis are 'a brave quartet of bartenders, who only serve the best

arizona auto insurance said...

Those were better days. Yes, we did not have internet or a thousand other technological advances. But people were alot more honest and trustworthy in those days.

iddaa said...

very nice your blog..