Monday, September 6, 2010
Aesthetics of Alcohol
Pabst Brewery c. 1850s. all pictures courtesy the author.
It seems that beer is a common element in my blog posts recently, a function of where I live, not what I imbibe.
After a recent tour to the Annheiser-Busch brewery in St. Louis with Diane, I've been thinking about the disappearing aesthetics of the German beer-making traditions in the Midwest.
Last night, after the terrible movie Agora, Kevin and I went over to a bar recently opened up in the Pabst Brewery complex in downtown Milwaukee.
I found a few funny pictures in the photo album laid out on the bar. I love the unpaved streets and horse-drawn carriages in the picture above.
Shuttered distribution building.
This is what the area looks like now. I prefer the lack of paving to this dumpy view.
The bar was opened in the former gift shop, with a few lovely courtyards open for outdoor drinking. The Blue Ribbon Hall had rows of heavy wooden tables laid out--they've recuperated some of the beer hall aesthetic.
Blue Ribbon Hall, partially reconditioned.
The bartender gave us a flyer for a play to be held in this space in early September. The play, presented by the Damned Theatre, is "A Rising Wind: The Sinking of the Lady Elgin", written by Edward Morgan and John Kishline. The sinking of the Elgin shifted the ethnic population of Milwaukee from Irish to German (but I'm sure the Italians benefited from it too!). I wouldn't say that the Pabst people understand the interesting social aspects of this, to them it's likely a rental, but still, I love the merging of art with such an historic place.
Blue Ribbon Hall fresco.
Around the walls of the Blue Ribbon Hall and the smaller private drinking room are grisaille (well, mostly blue and red, the Pabst colors) frescoes by the Chicago artist Edgar Miller.
Private drinking room.
The octagonal shape made me think of the Knights of the Round Table, only with a glaring fluorescent fixture ruining the atmosphere.
Ten disciplines of beer.
You can find murals in many of the well-known German places in town--from Usinger's Sausage to Von Trier's Tavern--and they vary in quality and imagination. I liked how these drew aesthetic reference from illustrated medieval manuscripts.
Beer was, before the 20th century, seen as much as a good calorie source to stave off starvation as it was drink. But perhaps this fresco goes a little far in visually equating beer consumption with The Last Supper? At least there are only 10 in the scene, not 12.
Groucho Marx at the brewery.
The Pabst Brewery closed in 1997 when corporate headquarters moved to San Antonio, Texas.
The aesthetics of place surely impacted what Pabst presented to the world. As corporations change shift to take advantage of tax laws, they lose the texture and authenticity so valued by consumers of today's disembodied world.
Dusk on a rainy Sunday night in Pabst alley.
This area at night is absolutely desolate. No homeless, no kids, no sketchy acts, just a long-neglected part of the city's history tossed aside. Given the great investments being made in reviving this kind of space, I suspect the aesthetics of beer will see a renaissance soon.