Bottles From 19th Century German Beer Garden Found at Bowery Hotel Site
CHINATOWN — Turns out the Bowery has always been a place to party.
Beneath a construction site for a glassy, 22-story hotel at 50 Bowery, archaeologists have unearthed a centuries-old history of drinking, eating and lodging — dating all the way back to George Washington.
Hundreds of 19th-century liquor bottles, plates and mugs — many of which are largely intact — were recently uncovered at a site that was once home to Atlantic Garden, a German beer garden that opened around 1860, according to Chrysalis Archaeology which is overseeing the excavation.
Archaeologists also discovered a few pieces of a stone wall that link 50 Bowery to an even older watering hole: the Colonial-era Bull’s Head Tavern, a spot where George Washington and his troops were said to have stopped in 1783.
“The Atlantic Garden was actually a tourist destination in its day — it was known for its German food and beer, and as a place for music and parties,” said Alyssa Loorya, president of Chrysalis.
"It was built over the Bull’s Head Tavern, a place where travelers, many selling their cattle, stopped in for food, drink, to socialize or spend the night.”
Items found at the site include a jug-like bottle labeled Bürgerspital Wurzburg — from what's now one of the oldest and largest German vineyards, Bürgerspital Wurzburg wine estate. Several smaller German and American "medicinal'" bottles were also found.
"They contained all sorts of elixirs that were meant to be cure-alls and promoters of long-life," Loorya said.
Plates and drinking or pouring mugs were also unearthed.
“It’s a pretty wonderful thread of historical continuity, linking past and present,” Loorya said.
“The Bowery was once the only road in and out of Manhattan, so it makes sense that these places popped up along such a major route and now you continue to see similar types of places.”
The location’s rich history, however, caused an uproar last year when the property’s owner, Alex Chu, began tearing down the 19th-century building, which had not been landmarked.
Some preservationists feared that the history would be lost in the demolition.
Loorya, however, said she and her team of archaeologists, who are regularly enlisted by the city to oversee excavation projects, have undergone the same process they would at any site.
“The developer did not by law have to have us there for the demolition or excavation, but he wants to preserve that history,” she said. “It’s part of the character of the space.”
The land where the hotel now sits, across from the Manhattan Bridge, was once part of a large swath of farmland on what was the outskirts of an early New York City. It was also in the midst of a butcher’s district, and the site of the city’s first slaughterhouse.
The Bull’s Head was opened in the 1740s by the city’s most prominent butcher, Nicholas Bayard, Loorya said.
The tavern was a place for those traveling in and out of New York selling livestock, as well as local butchers, to eat, drink and fraternize, Loorya said.
During the British control of New York, it was also a recruiting center for men willing to sign up for the King’s Army — and receive $25 in exchange for enlisting.
Later, the tavern was bought by another wealthy butcher who went on to create a prominent New York lineage — Henry Astor.
Sometime around 1825 it’s believed the tavern was razed to make way for a theater and hotel built on the site, which later closed and turned into a dealership for stoves.
German immigrant Wilhelm Kramer purchased 50 Bowery from the stove shop owners in 1858, and opened Atlantic Garden.
Along with its beer, the Atlantic Garden became known as a “fashionable” spot to listen to music, eat authentic German food, watch plays and generally party, Loorya said. It was also a place for soldiers to gather during the Civil War.
The gardens even had an “orchestration” — a massive type of mechanical organ that imitated an entire orchestra. According to Loorya, The New York Times reported back then that it was the largest "orchestration" in the world.
Revelers could also bowl and play billiards — but the environment was kept “respectable” and “family friendly,” according to a history of the site compiled by Loorya and her team.
But the Atlantic Garden also had its share of run-ins with police. The beer hall was raided several times after breaking city laws that forbade selling alcohol on Sundays.
The owner tried to find creative ways to get around the liquor issue, Loorya said, first arguing that the lager they sold was not explicitly mentioned in the laws. Later, when the law allowed for hotels that sold food to sell liquor on Sunday, the owner managed to procure a hotel license — even though it wasn't a hotel.
Eventually, as the neighborhood changed and became more rundown, and as the German population began to move away, the Atlantic Garden lost its luster. By 1916, it had closed.
Since then, the building was gutted several times and had various additions and changes made to its facade. The two-story building that remained, which was demolished last year to make way for the hotel, was home to a Duane Reade and a Chinese restaurant.
In a statement to DNAinfo New York, the developer's company, 50 Bowery Holdings LLC, said it had been working with Chrysalis since the start of the demolition to ensure "anything of historical relevance" was preserved.
The owners also said they were hoping to incorporate the artifacts in the hotel once it's complete in 2016.
"The artifacts will be documented and put into historical context, and then integrated into the development’s public spaces," the company wrote in a statement.
"We want to provide an opportunity for visitors to participate in the history of 50 Bowery, connecting its past to the present, and discover the different people and cultures that have contributed to making this city one of the greatest in the world."