[Every two weeks I’ll be doing an article on a “Beer Relic”, a piece of memorabilia that’s laying around my barroom with the goal of providing some historical perspective and some personal memories ~ Ed]
One of the events that helped propel me on my trip down the craft beer trail was an annual pub run trip into NYC that a friend of mine and I would make every year on Black Friday. These trips had only two purposes, first to hit as many pubs/bars as we could in a day and second, to enjoy the diversity of these establishments that at the time we could only find in New York. It was during our second trip in 1993 that we walked into Zip City Brewing Company.
Opened in 1991, and located in the same building that had once housed the National Temperance League, Zip City was known as one of the first brew pubs in Manhattan and one of the first to put the polished copper brewing equipment up front where it was visible to everyone in the bar. The brewery focused on German-style lagers initially (at least during the time we frequented it) and expanded to other styles later on.
We walked into Zip City on Black Friday, November 26th, 1993 to find a Pilsner, Dunkel and Vienna on draft. As my eyes drifted down the lunch special sheet, they were stopped by a short, unassuming line – “Beer To Go (November 26th)”. Growlers are common place now, but back then you didn’t stumble upon them very often, if at all. In fact, from what I can remember this was my first chance to purchase a growler of beer. Of course, the fact that I was in the middle of Manhattan and ~150 miles from home, made lugging a growler full of beer around the rest of the day a little daunting (I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief when I finally got it back to the car intact).
However, after confirming with the bartender that it was indeed the first day for growler sales at Zip City, I threw caution to the wind and soon he was filling up a round, brown glass jug with 2 liters of unpasteurized, unfiltered Vienna. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask the bartender if it was the first growler sold that day. The place was empty except for us, and having the first growler to walk out of Zip City would have made this story sweeter. But I had two liters of beer to take home, and at the time, that was good enough for me.
Over the next four or five years, we revisited Zip City a couple of times. I really enjoyed the location with its gleaming kettles, its two floor mezzanine layout and its confusing bathrooms that simply sported signs that said, “THEM” and “US” (you had to look closely at the beer sign that was on the door to figure out which you were supposed to be). On one visit we were joined by a table of women dressed as cows. That’s always good for a story.
Unfortunately however the story of Zip City Brewing does not have a happy ending. After one hard winter, owner Kirby Shyer found himself low on money and facing a shifting market. Towards the end of the 1990’s in NYC, brew pubs and microbreweries were falling out of favor. People from common beer drinkers to financial analysts were declaring that the novelty of microbrews had warn out. Others insisted that the $6 or $7 dollars that microbrewies and brewpubs were charging for a beer was to much, and stayed with less expensive, macro produced beers. Some cited inconsistent product and favored the specialty craft beer bars that were cropping up which allowed customers to try a variety of different beers from a variety of different brewers.
On April 7th 1997, after seven years of being in business (marking Zip City as the longest continuously open brewpub at that time), in which Kirby Shyer had seen many other establishments open and consequently close down, he opened a valve and dumped 3,100 gallons of his Belgian Tripel onto the street. Soon the last gallons of beer were flowing down a storm drain on 18th Street, taking Zip City with it forever.