Poured with Pride in Brooklyn
From the beginning, of course, I wanted to sell beer, but I also wanted to be part of Brooklyn. To me, the two goals were connected. I first visited New York with my mom and grandma in 1957 for the Billy Graham Crusades at Madison Square Garden. They got saved seven nights in a row; I fell asleep. We went to the last Brooklyn Dodger game at Ebbets Field and something about those shady brownstone-lined streets captivated me.
Thirty years later, I was living in Brooklyn and dreaming of a brewery. It was not the most auspicious of times. Crime was rife and the “dese and dose” Brooklyn accent was the butt of jokes. But Brooklyn was the home of Norman Mailer, Walt Whitman, Mae West and Neil Diamond, and it was the town that gave Jackie Robinson a chance. I thought it was a great place.
On March 30, 1988, we delivered Brooklyn Lager to five customers. One was Teddy’s Bar in the Williamsburg neighborhood. Teddy’s opened as a tied house in the 1870s, and the stained glass windows still promoted “Peter Doelger’s Extra Beer.” It was owned by a former union organizer, Felice Kirby, and her husband Glenn, a plumber. Felice was involved in all sorts of local causes and we donated beer to help fight plans for a garbage transfer station and later a power plant.
During the day, Teddy’s had an older clientele of Italians and Poles. A bookie set up shop at the bar every morning. Eddie Doyle, the red-nosed bartender, believed in our beer, and made everyone try it. Families congregated at dinnertime. Later, a strange mix of people known as “artists” showed up, along with Spanish-speaking kids from the Southside. On some nights, Hassidic Jews would be there in their funny outfits. I felt proud to be part of the scene: I felt even better when someone ordered a Brooklyn Lager.
Pierogi 2000, an art gallery, served our beer at their openings. Eventually, we sold beer to Bamonte’s, a red sauce Italian restaurant where the feds taped John Gotti’s meetings. The President of Brooklyn appointed me to Community Board #1, the local governing body.
The prized local account was Peter Luger’s Steak House, founded in 1887 and well known to lovers of red meat. I visited Luger’s owner Amy Rubenstein and tried to sell her our lager. She turned me down.
“Mr. Hindy, we don’t change things very often here at Peter Luger’s,” she said. “The last time we changed our beer was when they started making Lowenbrau in Rhode Island. We dropped Lowenbrau and took on Beck’s.”
I think that was in the 70s.
I visited Amy once a year after that and told her of the medals we won and showed clippings about our contributions to parks, charities and arts groups. At that time, we were brewing our beer in Utica, NY. We had a large warehouse in Williamsburg.
One day, Amy said: “I read in the paper that you were going to build a brewery in the neighborhood.”
“Yes,” I said. “That is my goal.”
“Well, when you build your brewery, we will take your beer,” she said. OK, so all I had to do was invest a few million dollars in this struggling neighborhood, and Amy would try the beer.
In 1991, Mug’s Ale House opened a few blocks from Teddy’s. Then came the Thai Café, owned by a Thai man named David and his Italian wife Anna. From then on, it was a blur. Today, there are 300 great bars, clubs and restaurants in Williamsburg. There are dozens of art galleries and cool shops. Somewhere along the way, the “artists” became “hipsters.” Now there are apartment towers going up in every vacant lot.
On May 28, 1996, a proud day, Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined us in cutting the ribbon to open our brewery in Williamsburg. The day after, I got a call from Amy Rubenstein. “Mr. Hindy, do you remember 200 years ago when I told you I would buy your beer if you built a brewery in Williamsburg?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, I see in the paper that you did it,” she said. “Bring me five kegs.”
Steve Hindy is the founder of the Brooklyn Brewery.