Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Max Gutstein, fourth from left, holding beer bottle atop stacked cases of beer.

My grandfather, Max Gutstein, along with his partners, became the first Manhattan pub owners to reintroduce beer after prohibition ended in December, 1933. A photographer for the New York World-Telegram and Sun captured the garrulous scene outside the Tri-R Restaurant on 33rd Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, but steps from the Empire State Building. The next day, the newspaper ran the photo beneath a headline, “Beer Back On Broadway.” Tri-R, the pub’s name, apparently asked New Yorkers to try the restaurant, which featured three owners, “Tri”, who also comprised the “R” for “our.” While a copy of the newspaper has not survived, my grandfather maintained a copy of the photograph, which he handed down to my dad, Marty

My grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1914, riding in the steerage deck of a steamship toward the end of July, including the very day, July 28th, when World War I broke out in Europe. He arrived at Ellis Island known as Max Sternberg, retaining, until then, his mother’s maiden name, as authorities in Galicia did not recognize marriages between Jews. Once established in the States, he changed his last name to his father’s name. Like many poor immigrants, Max relied upon family members who had preceded him, including sisters, as well as a benevolent association comprised of villagers from his hometown, Halych. He worked in restaurants, so he could have access to food; eventually he enlisted partners to open the Tri-R, which was, by my father’s account, an everyday bar and grill.

 A casual inspection of the photograph reveals the origins of the beer that Max and his partners had obtained for the occasion. According to West Side Rag, the Lion Brewery of New York City operated for nearly 100 years on New York’s Upper West Side, occupying a large chunk of land and containing, at times, “a park, hotel, brewery, maltings, ice-houses, stables, workshops, and private residences.” The Wikipedia entry for the brewery describes its chief output as “lagered beer”, popular among German immigrants. Both sources speculate on developments that hurt the brewery’s business—the anti-saloon movement as well as prohibition. Lion Brewery closed around 1941, with the steel in its buildings eventually recycled for the (World War II) war effort.

I never knew my grandfather, Max, who passed away before I was born, but I regard this photograph as one of the most important family heirlooms, a monument to convivial community celebration. It pleases me quite a bit to see all the patrons and passers-by mugging for the camera or smiling out of some small joy. And my grandfather there, proud and safe, in the middle.

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