The warm and wood-filled environment we’ve created makes many people think of us as the quintessential winter pub, which, indeed, we are. But most of us are ready for spring now, and as daylight savings time approaches, we dream of cold beers and friendly beer gardens.
If you ever stop by the Civil Life on the odd seventy-degree day in January or February, you’ll see our beer garden teeming with happy drinkers with friends, family, and even dogs. You’ll see six flags flying representing six great brewing nations, including (thanks to all of our outstanding craft breweries) the good old U.S. of A.
As you might guess, beer gardens got their start in Germany. It was most likely over the course of the sixteenth century that the beer garden got its first start, but it was the nineteenth century that saw the establishment of what we now think of as a beer garden. At first, breweries stored their barrels of beer in cool underground caves. It became common practice to plant shade trees over these caves to help keep the beer cool. If you have a nice shade tree, someone is going to pull up a chair, or better still a table and several chairs. And since the property belongs to a brewery, beer is going to be served to those shade-loving folks. There might as well be snacks and maybe some entertainment in the form of live music. It sounds like the making of a perfect summer afternoon.
It was such a perfect scenario, in fact, that German immigrants brought the custom with them when they emigrated in large numbers to Saint Louis during the nineteenth century. The brewers still needed to store their beer in underground caves, and our river city turned out to have a lot of lovely limestone caves where you could store plenty of barrels of tasty beer. The practice of planting trees above these caves and creating beer gardens continued in the new world. With over forty breweries in Saint Louis in the mid-nineteenth century, that was a lot of pleasant spots to enjoy a beer on a summer day. (Take note, beer drinkers: keep that pint in the shade. Sunlight and hops don’t mix. That delicious beer can become skunked in minutes!)
Many people think that Castle Clinton in Manhattan was the first American beer garden. It was established in 1824. According to Frances Hurd Stadler, the first beer garden in the United States was considerably west of Manhattan: “June 10, 1823: St. Louisans avoided the heat by visiting the city’s first beer garden, the Vauxhall Garden on Fourth between Plum and Poplar. St. Louis is credited with being the first city in America to develop outdoor restaurants and theaters.”
By 1854, the Uhrig Brewery set up an elaborate beer garden above their caves at Jefferson and Washington. That same year, Joseph Schnaider moved to Saint Louis where he founded Chouteau Avenue Brewing. Schnaider’s Beer Garden became one of the citiy’s most celebrated (and photographed) beer gardens.
By the early twentieth century, beer gardens were losing their popularity and prohibition did them in entirely. But American craft breweries are reviving this outstanding tradition. We no longer need underground caves to store our beer. At the Civil Life, though, we retain many features of the first German beer gardens, including gravel, communal tables, and of course great beer and food.
Beer garden season is almost here. You don’t have to fly to Bavaria to enjoy it. The best beer garden around is right in Tower Grove in beautiful South Saint Louis. Come down and celebrate the beginning of spring with us. Prost!
The Civil Blog has returned. It is predominantly authored by Civil Life Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley, who can be found tending to our bar patrons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He is also responsible for tending to our draft lines, which is recognized as one of our most important tasks. Special guest writers will appear from time to time. We hope reading this blog will give you much insight about the Civil Life and most importantly help you understand a bit more about all of us that work here and the beers we put our hearts into.