31 January 2012

Coney Island Rathskeller Uncovered

For whatever reason, rathskellers—the breed of German, subterranean beer cellars—have always been a source of fascination to me. Perhaps it's because they're a bygone form of watering hole, once common in cities across America, now scarce. Perhaps because they speak to the German part of me (my mother was partly of German heritage). Perhaps because I like old bars of all sorts. Perhaps because I love saying the word "rathskeller." Probably a combination of all these things.

I have visited ancient, and beautiful, rathskellers in Germany, Chapel Hill and Louisville. But I didn't think any still existed in New York. Today's news from the Coney Island-focused blog Amusing the Zillion doesn't prove they do. But it does show that remnants of one rathskeller are still around.

ATZ reports that the menu from a long-closed rathskeller, which once existed under the boardwalk in the 1940s and '50s, has been found on a basement wall of the Brooklyn Beach Shop. The menu lists prices for food, soda and beer. Ten cents would get you a brewski back then. Apparently, rathskellers were common enough in Coney back then that there were such things as "rathskeller acts."

If you'd like to see the picture, you can go check out the blog. Or this one. Or just enjoy this photo of the old rathskeller in the basement of the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville. (above) Or this one, of the Dakota Inn Rathskeller in Detroit.


Kent said...

I'm well acquainted with the Rathskeller in Chapel Hill. Alas, another victim of homogenization. Some folks are trying to re-open it, but I would imagine that to bring it up to current codes would be staggering.

Enjoying the blog as always.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I really enjoyed your text about the rathskellers.
As a born and raised German I only have to say that it's pronounced "Ratskeller" ;-)
Best regards,

Ed said...

The student bar at Washington University in St. Louis, when I was a graduate student there in the 1990s, was a rathskeller called, of all things, "The Rathskeller". I remembered being impressed because my undergraduate university, didn't have a place on campus where students could drink (other than their dorm rules). The fact that it was a rathskeller didn't register as much. I hope its still there.

r185 said...

There is actually a rathskeller in the State Capitol Bld in Minneapolis - it may be the only Capitol Building with one. I had a snack there several years ago (http://www.architecture-restoration.com/MN_State_Capitol_Caf.html).

upstate Johnny G said...

great article Brooks, as usual! Terrible that almost none of these have survived. And lest anyone think that 'ratskeller' has anything to do with rats in a cellar, these places got their name because they were in or near the local municipal building, or "rathuis", as I understand it.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thanks, JG. Love that there are all these rathskeller lovers out there!