About the beginning of this century pubcrawling was imported from London, where it had been in existence for centuries, and ws definitely adopted as a daily custom in New York City. The practice of visiting a series of saloons in succession, and having a drink or two in each before crawling on to the next, grew in popularity, every year approaching the peak of perfection, until it was suddenly knocked in the head by prohibition and fell into disuse.
In Philadelphia, with its solid, stolid Dutch drinking tradition and its splendid big beer cellars, pubcrawling was always indlulged in pleasantly in a safe and sedate manner.
But in Boston the pastime was slightly dangerous, especially if continued after closing hours, in clandestine blind pigs. A pub-crawler might sit down to imbibe in such a place and find himself in a group of Boston Irish terriers. Inadvertently he might say something about the Orange men. Suddenly bottles and broom would thicken the smoky air, cut arabesques in it, and if the outsider were not quick, the Irishman opposite would slide sidewise from his chair, whip it out from beneath him with one swift motion and bring it down bang over the pub-crawler's head. The unfortunate victim would awake a few hours later, at the first dribbles of dawn, lying in an alley ash can with a thick clot on his brow.
The big beer town of Buffalo was always a bit too low for fastidious pub-crawling; it did not offer the finer subtleties and shadings of Manhattan.
In Portland, Maine, and other dry towns of that day, life was just one drug store after another. A damp, drab, soggy species of sub-rosa drug-store dangling. Not a bit of snap to it.
New York was the appropriate center for the strolling drinker. The whole mid-West Anheuser Busch League shipped its best beer and all outstanding pub-crawling customs to Manhattan. Pabst's sent samples of Milwaukee drinks and drinking, Kentucky kicked in with Bourbon and toasts, Chicago showed how things were done at her home, Hofbrau and barny Bismarck, Cincinnati sent sangvereins and the South in general contributed with scuppernong and nigger gin.
Between 1900 and 1920 the booze boundaries of New York were roughly fixed in an oblong half a mile wide and six miles long. Though all sorts of drinks, from horse's necks to sherry cobblers, were consumed in this section, it was chiefly noted for its big beer saloons, and included a brewery or two. O'Connor's Working Girls' Home, or perhaps McSorley's, marked the extreme south end of the beer district -- "way down south in Greenwich Village, where the artists drank their fillage." Pabst's Harlem came to be its fixed North Pole. On the East Side, Ehret's old brewery over by the river, in the 50's; and on the West Side a solid wall of saloons all along Sixth Avenue, from Fourth Street up to the Park, where the line wobbled over to Broadway and on up to Harlem.
There were Bowery beer arcades out of bounds, good suds shops and ale houses in the financial district, from the Battery up to Washington Square, splendiferous theatrical and sportive saloons in the Forties as far over as Seventh and Eighth. Even Hell's Kitchen was not dry in those days, and there were service stations for pub-crawlers as far up as Hell Gate. The famous beer and beef steak Castle Cave stood out like a star in the West, and Terrace Garden was one of the bright Eastern Stars. Luigi's Black Cat shed its luster under the dingy El; almost every street corner of the city was brightened by a gin mill, but the big beer belt tightened around the center of Manhattan and more ambulatory drinking was done in the three square miles of the section described than in all the rest of the town put together.
If brewery sales-managers had charted the territory at the time, there would have been a hurricane of dots, a huddle of red-headed pins around Union Square radiating out to the Brevoort, the Lafayette, the Hell Hole on Fourth Street, and on up Sixth Avenue past the Old Grapevine. McSorley's and Scheffel Hall over east, working up to a daze of dots around Luchow's, one particularly bright standing for Gentleman Jim Corbett's place near by, though beer was seldom served there, except as a chaser after stronger fire-water; and another for Arensberg's wine-stube, right on the square.
Luchow's stuck out like a monogrammed gold buckle on that broad beer belt. Herald Square was a whirlpool of dots centering in the old Herald Square Hotel Bar and radiating out to the Hofbrau and the Kaiserhof. Times Square showed a thick cluster of dots, a hay-pile huddle around the Knickerbocker and Considine's, in which nobody at that time would have even looked for a needle of beer.
On up Broadway to Columbus Circle. Broadway and beer have always been synonymous. The Great Way foamed White with beer tossed restlessly in a beery froth from Bowling Green to Van Cortlandt Park.
Pabst's was set like a big iridescent bubble in the center of Columbus Circle, and a sea of brilliant beads swirled around Pabst's Harlem Casino. Columbus was forgotten, Harlem was but a name. For a while it looked as though these two centers of night life would have to change their names to Pabst's Best and Pabst's Blue Ribbon, so the persistent pubcrawler could be sure exactly where he was at.