From an old Haffen Brewery Calendar from 1904
From an old Haffen Brewery Calendar from 1904

The Bronx was brewing before Prohibition began on January 16, 1920.

In Melrose and Morrisania — what were once villages and now part of the then recently formed Bronx County in 1914 and part of New York City — 7 breweries were spread throughout the area within about 18 blocks of each other at the turn of the 20th century.

As I write this and look out my window, right behind my building, I see the houses and buildings that sit where once the Haffen Brewery sat on 152nd Street between Melrose and Courtlandt Avenues.

The Haffen Brewery was in existence since 1850 while Melrose was just an unincorporated village in Westchester County and belonged to the parents of Louis F. Haffen, The Bronx’s first borough president (served from 1898 – 1909) who was born and raised in the village that would eventually become the center of civic life of a new found county and borough of the City of New York.

Also in Melrose, just a few blocks away along St. Ann’s Avenue between 156th Streets and 161st were two breweries right next to each other:  Ebling’s Brewery (the largest of the bunch) and Hupfel’s Brewery.

The only brewery that survived (at least the structure) Prohibition was Hupfel's.  It still stands today but sitting in the middle of a block cut off from the modern world.  The building, as decayed as it is, is still a fixture in Melrose.
The only brewery that survived (at least the structure) Prohibition was Hupfel’s. It still stands today but sitting in the middle of a block cut off from the modern world. The building, as decayed as it is, is still a fixture in Melrose.
Hupfel Brewery as it appeared in 1869 in the Village of Melrose. / Image Credit Unknown
Hupfel’s Brewery as it appeared in 1869 in the Village of Melrose. / Image Credit Unknown

Further up north, entering Morrisania, along Third Avenue you had a total of 3 on between 168th Street and 169th Street — Mayer’s Brewery, North Side Brewery, and Eichler’s Brewery.  One more block north at 170th Street you had Zeltner’s Brewery.

Once Prohibition started, the breweries began to falter.  Hupfel’s went into the mushroom farming business.  North Side Brewery, Haffen’s, and Mayer’s closed shop as did Zeltner’s years down the road and only three of the remaining breweries at the time continued to brew beer but only at the allowable .5% alcohol (Ebling’s, Eichler’s, and Mayer’s).  It was an end of an era and a way of life for so many Bronxites who’s livelihoods depended on the beer industry.

5 years ago I was fortunate enough to explore the old network of beer caves that ran underneath Melrose which were used to keep the beer at the perfect temperatures all year round.  Unfortunately with the construction of the mega-development of St. Ann’s Terrace, the Ebling beer caverns and caves were filled in to build the 800 unit complex. Local legend has it that the network of caves went far beyond the breweries themselves and were used to move real beer in the black market under Prohibition but alas, those rumors have not been verified.  Considering how far they went out, it wouldn’t be surprising.

The old Ebling Beer caves were rediscovered a little over 5 years ago when construction began on St. Ann's Terrace.  Now they are no more as they were all collapsed and filled in.
The old Ebling Beer caves were rediscovered a little over 5 years ago when construction began on St. Ann’s Terrace. Now they are no more as they were all collapsed and filled in.
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The old Ebling Beer caves, now long gone as they were collapsed and filled in to construct St. Ann’s Terrace.

 

95 years later after Prohibition destroyed a way of life in this corner of The Bronx, our borough is brewing yet again.

We have Gun Hill Brewing Co., The Bronx Brewery, Port Morris Distillery, and of course, Tirado Distillerythe first legal distillery in The Bronx since Prohibition and began operating in 2011 —all brewing beer and alcohol in our borough. Slowly but surely and on a much smaller scale, the breweries are making a come-back.

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