Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Albany Ale-less

At long last—the menu! 

While I was researching my post about the Beverwijck breweries, I came across this little gem of a menu from Stanwix Hall (thanks to the New York Public Library). Stanwix Hall was a swanky little joint on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane in downtown Albany during most of the 1880s. The gold-domed building (to the right) was built on the site of the Ganesvoort brewery in the early 19th century and remained there until it was leveled to make way for Union Station in 1899. The building housed offices, a hotel, and obviously a restaurant.

Courtesy of the NYPL Labs What's on the Menu?

This particular mid-day menu is from June 21, 1880. For those who may be confused, sometimes dinner is lunch while supper is dinner—clear? Along with delectable offerings of Chicken Croquette’s smothered in a Sauce Supreme, and a fancy pants version of Mac N’ Cheese—Macaroni lie au Fromage, a la Napolitan. The  restaurant at the Stanwix also served up a good bit of booze—from claret and hock to port and porter. Interestingly enough, there’s no mention at all of Albany made beer, let alone Albany Ale. They served Bass, Guinness, Youngers, even Rochester lager—perhaps a nod to the newly opened Genesee Brewery in that city? But, nothing local—why would a restaurant smack in the middle of a city filled with breweries not offer a locally made beer?

Here’s my theory: Local is local.

While that’s super-cool and hip today, maybe not so much 130 years ago. What’s exotic about Amsdell Brothers? Nuthin’. They’re, just up on Lancaster Street—big deal. Quinn and Nolan? Bah, I remember little Mikey Nolan when he was knee high to a tadpole. But this Guinness Stout, and these Younger’s and Bass beers must be better they’ve been imported—from Europe.

Look at the rest of the menu. Stanwix Hall offered ten varieties of champange, eight clarets and a slew of liqueurs—all imported into Albany, and none particularly cheap either. I’m equating the lack of Albany beer, not as an indicator of an industry past it’s prime but rather that Stanwix Hall may have been a bit highfalutin. I can’t blame the hotel folks, totally on this either—the grass is always greener, right? The exotic is always desirable, and if you’ve got the means, someone will always be willing to satisfy the need.

Think of it this way—it’s like the import beer craze of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Back then high-end bars and restaurants may have been just a little more inclined to sell Lowenbrau and Becks over Iron City and Rainier to their power tie wearing, Magnum P.I. mustachioed, clientele. Trade mutton chops for the moustache, a top hat for the tie and Bass for Becks—viola 1880.
Like I said, the grass is always greener. 


  1. Excellent. And not only was it built on the site of the brewery but Gansevoorts ran it. Stanwix was the fort where Gen Gansevoort made his name in that Revolution of yours.

    And there is still a Gansevoort hotel chain: http://www.gansevoorthotelgroup.com/

    Which means the family is approaching its 400 year of offering hospitality in the western hemisphere which is, let's face it, the greatest hemisphere of them all.

    1. I do have to add, by the time this menu came out, the Ganesvoot's had packed it up and headed north. Delavan Peck was running the place by the 1880s

  2. Plus, remember Albany has that slight nod to New Orleans multicultural nuttiness that not all other cities don't. It was likely a place the drinks were swankier as a harbour town and a capital city.

    1. Oh, how I wish that Albany was the New Orleans of the North. Sadly, it is not.