A downtown Brooklyn brownstone turned Rathskeller
Editor’s Note: This post was originally run in 2015 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.
In 1887, on this odd side of Jay Street, between Willoughby and Fulton Streets, there was a row of six brown stone townhouses. They took up all of the lots on the block except the corner lots on Willoughby and Fulton. Like much of downtown Brooklyn at the time, Jay Street was a mix of buildings.
The brown stones built in the 1850s and 1860s when this was a fashionable living area of the city were slowly disappearing. They have been replaced by newer, taller, and larger buildings; Mostly shops, theaters and banks, or they have been modified and used for other purposes.
Unlike today, the Victorians did not use to waste a perfect building.
If you are smart you can still find the remaining brown bricks on our downtown streets. They are wedged between larger buildings. Many don’t look like they used to. We pass them by unnoticed every day.
In the 1880s, they were mostly apartment buildings. Some retained their stoops and original details while others lost their floor and salon floors to retail space. The building at 385 Jay Street rented 1,879 rooms. It was a great place to commute to Manhattan or to work downtown.
The first floor was retail space. In 1892 there was a hairdresser in the business. In 1900 there was a cigar shop on the first floor. On the evening of March 30, 1900 at 11:30 am, police raided the back room of the cigar shop and destroyed an illegal game of craps. They arrested 28 men. It took four cars to get her to the station.
The next morning none of them had been saved. There were probably some angry family members in Brooklyn that morning.
In 1908, this building and 48 Willoughby Street, which is perpendicular to it and shared a party wall, were combined into one property. 48 Willoughby is a similar former brick row house, also three stories high.
They opened as Engelke’s restaurant business. 48 Willoughby became Engelke’s restaurant, and at 385 Jay Street was Engelke’s Alt Deutsche Bier Stube, an old-fashioned German pub.
At this time the old brown stone was transformed into a pseudo-tudor / Germanic stucco and half-timbered beer hall. The initials under the umbrella line are definitely Germanic.
The building didn’t look like it does now, it looked much more contemporary, with more wood, lead windows and old details. The pub was on the ground floor and in the basement. According to the ad, the beer parlor was a newly renovated “Old Dutch-style” building, and nothing like it was in Brooklyn.
Ms. Engelke had her offices here, which she opened for the chapter of the local suffrage movement. The new women’s suffrage organization of the Third Senate District met here for the first time on November 18, 1909.
Unfortunately, as we all know, restaurants and bars don’t last long in this city. Brooklynites didn’t flock to the Alt Deutsche Bier Stube. The buildings were sold in 1913. At that time they belonged to the estate of V. Henry Rothschild, who was one of the original but silent partners of Abraham & Straus. In the search advertisements, reference is made to the furnishings of the restaurant and the Rathskeller in the building.
Many other companies and tenants occupied the building over the years. This included the Office of Statistics and Labor for Shoe Manufacturers, a union that had offices on the upper floor in 1915.
In 1920, the storefront and upper floors were taken over by the Paramount Engraving Company, owned by EA Bartels. He specialized in corporate and commercial stationery, printing and engraving.
In 1927, this building was the office of the Thomas Real Estate Company. Their advertising was refreshingly honest. You applied as a “real estate agent”.
Eddy Brady ran a bar here in the 1930s and 40s, and in 1972 it was one of the few health food centers in Brooklyn.
The facade and windowing have changed over the years, and today the building is an odd mix of Mock Tudor (or is that Old Dutch), modern energy efficient windows, and a blue glass panel display. The tax photo from the 1980s shows a much nicer building with large multi-pane leaded glass windows, also on the top floor, which are now covered. Under everything? Bricks and beams from the 1860s.
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
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