Buried beneath Brooklyn's congested Atlantic Avenue is a secret that lay hidden for over a century. The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, also known as the Cobble Hill Tunnel, was built in 1844 to allow the Long Island Railroad to bypass the growing thoroughfares of downtown Brooklyn on its way to the East River ferries carrying goods into Manhattan. The tunnel was supposed to be destroyed in 1861, but the unscrupulous owners decided to wall it off instead and pocket the taxpayer money allocated for the demolition. Over the years, the tunnel's location was forgotten, but it remained an important piece of local lore. News stories over the next 120 years claimed the lost tunnel was a pirate hideaway, a rum runners den, a hideout for German saboteurs, and a favorite dumping ground for gangland murders.
Bob Diamond discovered the tunnel in 1980. At the time, he was a 19-year-old engineering student who had set out on a personal quest to find the tunnel and all the secret loot hidden within. When he finally located the tunnel, climbing down a manhole and crawling deep into a space only 18 inches high, there was no pirate booty or steam locomotives to be found, but what he uncovered was one of the most dramatic and fascinating forgotten spaces in New York City.
Approximately once a month, Bob runs a tour of the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, which we went on this past weekend. Descending a manhole into a dark, subterranean passage was positively inviting to get out of Sunday's pissing rain; it was also pretty exciting to open up a manhole cover in the middle of Atlantic Avenue. There were at least 100 other visitors who joined us inside the half-mile-long tunnel, and for the next hour and half or so, Bob regaled us with stories about the tunnel's past, its rediscovery, and its future. The tunnel's two portals were formerly at Hicks Street and Boerum Place, but those entryways have been sealed off, meaning there are still areas of the tunnel yet to be explored. Bob is hoping to receive funding to open up the Hicks Street portal, as he believes a steam locomotive from the 1840s lies on the other side of the wall. Check out pictures from our tour below.
Bob now runs the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association, a group dedicated to restoring the borough's past connections to the railroads. They have worked on a variety of projects, including one to re-establish streetcar service in Brooklyn, especially to the underserved neighborhood of Red Hook. Bob has restored several vintage streetcars to working order; you can see three of them behind the Fairway Market in Red Hook. Many of Bob's streetcars were formerly stored at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but unfortunately, their current whereabouts is unknown (but we're looking into it - let us or Bob know if you have any information about this). You can learn more about BHRA's past and ongoing projects (it looks like there's growing support for their Red Hook trolley line) at their website. Forgotten NY also has some interesting information about the trolleys.
NY Craft Beer Week Comes to Red Hook: From Longshoremen to Key Lime Pie (Dipped in Chocolate, Frozen, on a Stick)
To kick off NY Craft Week, we ventured out on a dreary, drizzly September 11 to see what Red Hook had to offer. We were guided by Ian Kelley, who led the walking tour entitled "Red Hook: From Longshoremen to Key Lime Pie," accompanied by six other brave souls willing to trade dry shoes for copious amounts of beer and great company.
After a brief crossing of New York Harbor aboard the Ikea ferry, we first hit up Rocky Sullivan's for two pitchers of Six Point Craft Ales' Righteous Rye and Apollo Wheat. Then, it was back to the rain for a walk down to Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pie. There, we added a new word to our vocabulary, one that we will be using often - swingle. A swingle is a mini key lime pie (made with fresh limes), dipped in chocolate, frozen, and served on a stick. It is the most fabulous popsicle ever invented. An added bonus of a visit to Steve's is at the plant nursery next door, you can view the Statue of Liberty from the only spot in New York City where she is facing completely forward (as she is meant to be oriented in the direction of France.)
Then the real drinking started. Ian had arranged a private tour of the Six Point Craft Ales brewery, which happens to be next door to Rocky Sullivan's. After being treated to their kegerator and a small-batch brew specially made for one brewer's wedding (Hops of Love - if you're lucky, you can still find it at Pacific Standard, Swift, and soon at Huckleberry Bar), brewery owner Jeff Gorlechen took us on a tour of the whole operation. We got to taste malts, hear tales of inadequate forklifts, learn about the subtle alchemy of brewing (don't add any "bullshit" to beer), listen to the rumbling belly of the brew kettle, and drink right out of the fermentation vats (some ice cold Bengali Tiger). Many of the veteran drinkers on the tour hailed it as the "best brewery tour ever," "better than Guinness," and "I'm so wasted." So we all owe our thanks to Jeff and the brewmaster, Shane Welch, for all the unfiltered goodness of Six Point.
Somehow, Ian managed to drag us to two more bars after that - Hope & Anchor, where we recharged with some food and drank a few cans of Dale's Pale Ale (word up, Colorado - they're having an event for Craft Beer Week this Thursday), and Bait & Tackle, where we admired the taxidermy and forgot what we were drinking. We also shot some deer (the electronic kind).
In the end, what we expected to be a two-hour leisurely walk along the historic waterfront of Red Hook instead turned into a nine-hour pub crawl so far unmatched in our experience. Keep up the good work, Ian, and we hope to see you all enjoying the awesome events of Craft Beer Week.
Today there are more than 1,500 breweries in the United States. That’s the highest number of breweries this country has seen in a century.
You might think that’s a lot, but had you been around 150 years ago, there were more than double the number we have today, with well over 3,000 breweries in the U.S. in 1870. Reporting from a local perspective in the time period, one Brooklyn Daily Eagle journalist remarked that breweries were springing up everywhere in Brooklyn, “like mushrooms in the night,” and that within a fifteen mile radius of Brooklyn – including Staten Island, the Bronx, Manhattan, and parts of New Jersey - there were at least 125 lager beer breweries. It’s fanciful to imagine that breweries were popping up spontaneously like mushrooms, but of course it didn’t happen that way. Each brewer had a story that traced back to a person and a place, a family recipe and a farm – oftentimes back to Baden or Wurttemburg, Bavaria or Vienna.
Huge numbers of German-speaking immigrants arrived in the United States in the 19th century and brought with them a new malted innovation – lager beer. These people settled in cities like Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and, yes, New York City and Brooklyn, and began making and consuming the lager beer they knew and loved. Before their arrival, the American market was dominated by ales and porters – actually, most Americans didn’t drink beer at all, preferring whiskey and cider instead. But lager was here to stay; in the 50 years following the Civil War, Americans’ per capita beer consumption increased six-fold, and most of that increased consumption was of the new lager-style beers. 80% of the beer churned out by Brooklyn’s breweries was lager. Today, nearly every major national brand – such as Miller, Budweiser, and Coors – is a lager that traces its roots back to this period of German immigration.
For more on how German immigration changed the American taste for beer, stay tuned for future blog postings and join us for a Brewed in Brooklyn tour this fall!
One hundred and fifty years ago, you could find hundreds of what we now call “craft brewers” in New York City. But this period of flourishing beer of rapid expansion was followed by one of consolidation, driven by new technologies in refrigeration, bottling and transportation, and by new regulations following Prohibition. Local beer producers could no longer compete with national enterprises such as Anheuser-Busch and Pabst; they either went out of business or were bought out by these national behemoths. By 1980, this consolidation had whittled the number of brewers nationwide to less than 100, and the last remaining breweries in New York City – the iconic brands Schaefer and Rheingold – had been shuttered.
Over the next two decades, there were many abortive attempts to bring beer brewing back to the city, including New Amsterdam brewing, Zip City and Park Slope Brewery. The effort that finally took hold was Brooklyn Brewery, which started selling beer in 1989. Today you can enjoy a Brooklyn Lager, Blast, or Pennant Ale at the Brooklyn brewery on 79 N 11th St. in Williamsburg. Not only does that facility turn out a rotating selection of craft brews, but the tap room has helped revive the tradition of drinking directly from the brew house, just as German immigrants did more than a century ago. Other brewers have sprung up in New York in recent years. Six Point Craft Ales, Greenpoint Beer Works, and Chelsea Brewing Company are also making great beer in the Big Apple. In addition to breweries, beer bars that serve a wide variety of craft and locally produced brews have also been popping up around the city. Barcade in Williamsburg, Blind Tiger Ale House in the West Village, and Rattle & Hum in Midtown offer drinkers more on tap and in bottles than the tired national brands most of America’s bar patrons have become accustomed to.
The truth is that New York City is enjoying a craft beer renaissance. Not since before Prohibition have New Yorkers had such access to great craft beer from the city and surrounding region, not to mention the country. Count your blessings to have come of legal drinking age at a time like this, and with Brooklyn Lager as the 3rd-most requested tap in the city, there just isn’t any reason not to make every week Craft Beer Week.
For more on craft beer and its history in New York, please join us for a Brewed in Brooklyn Tour.
Over the Labor Day weekend, we visited the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut, also known as the "Submarine Capital of the World." The museum is now home to the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine. The museum features exhibits on the history of the submarine, and it is nearly impossible to write any chapter of America's naval history without mentioning the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Two of the first submarines to serve in the US Navy, the USS Porpoise and the USS Shark, both of the Plunger or A class, were built in nearby Elizabethport, New Jersey at the Crescent Shipyard. Both were commissioned in September 1903, and both spent time in the Brooklyn Navy Yard dry docks. Only one year after being put to sea, they were sent to Brooklyn for extensive maintenance and refitting. In 1908, the Porpoise and the Shark were disassembled and transported via the Suez Canal to the Philippines, where they served until being decommissioned in 1919.
Though no submarines were ever built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, it has served an important role in submarine warfare. During World War I, captured German U-Boats were taken to the yard where they were dismantled to gather valuable information about enemy technology. This work helped close the enormous lead held by Germany in submarine technology, a dominance which allowed Germany to sink over 11,000,000 tons of allied shipping during the war.
The USS Nautilus, though built in Connecticut, also has links to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Commissioned in 1954, the Nautilus became the first ship to reach the North Pole in 1958, cruising beneath the sea ice under nuclear power, an innovation which dramatically increased the range and stealth of submarines. Following the voyage, the ship and crew were feted in New York City, and the sub moored at the Brooklyn Navy Yard dry docks, which you can see in the newsreel footage below.
A contemporary of the Nautilus, the USS Growler, a diesel-powered, guided missile submarine, is currently a part of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum along the Hudson River waterfront in Manhattan. That ship has been on display to the public since 1989, but it rejoined the museum earlier this year after undergoing repairs and renovations at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The work was done by GMD in a dry dock built before World War II. Although the Navy Yard has been decommissioned as a military facility since 1966, ships are still repaired and serviced in the yard's three remaining dry docks, one of which visitors can see at work on our tour.
The next tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard will be Sunday, September 13, and tickets are still available (at the time of this posting, so act fast!)
This past Thursday, we took visitors from the Fort Greene Park Conservancy on a special tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The tour group included historic preservationists, a retired Army general, children of former Navy Yard workers, and people who were just plain curious about the sights behind the imposing gates along Flushing Avenue. This was one of the most enthusiastic and well-informed groups we have had on the tour, and I think I learned as much from them as (I hope) they learned from me. The tour was followed by a wonderful reception hosted by Ruth Goldstein of the Park Conservancy. The event was featured in the New York Times blog The Local on Friday.
The Fort Greene Park Conservancy works to repair and restore historic Fort Greene Park. Last year was the centennial of the Fort Greene Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, one of the most prominent features of the park - an event marking that occasion last fall was one of the first tours that Urban Oyster ever gave, and we look forward to working with the Conservancy and its members in the future. The Martyrs Monument commemorates the more than 11,000 people who died aboard British prison ships moored in New York harbor during the Revolutionary War. One of the most notorious of these ships was the Prison Ship Jersey, which was moored in Wallabout Bay, the current site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. You can learn more about the Fort Greene Park Conservancy at their website, and we encourage people to visit the Martyrs Monument.
Of course, tours would not be possible if it weren't for the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation initiating them and forming a partnership with the Brooklyn Historical Society, who brought us on board to manage the tours.
Our next Navy Yard tour will take place Sunday, September 13th at 1:30pm - tickets are still available, so book them now!