Starr Gazing
   


Dr. Dan Starr
Retired Director of Athletics and Professor Emeritus of American History at Canisius College.
starr@canisius.edu

   

Hofbrauhaus, New to the Greater Buffalo Waterfront Area

The greater Buffalo waterfront area just keeps growing. The Buffalo Renaissance has been going on for a decade and the momentum is still there. In fact, so much has been taking place that the nomenclature has had to change.

Early on, Harbor Place and Canalside were used. Inner Harbor and Outer Harbor entered the picture and so did Riverfest, Ralph Wilson/LaSalle Park, Larkinville, and more. These are all part of what now might best be labeled: the Greater Buffalo Waterfront Area, or GBWA.

During this same, recent, rather frenzied decade, the media has flooded us with stories about the opening of several new breweries. Craft beer is the craze. Some of the new craft breweries are small, simply functioning as part of a local tavern. Others are substantial with large vats producing quantities of marketable beer. Among the best are Flying Bison, Resurgence, Big Ditch, and Beltline.

Now coming to the Queen City is a brewery direct from Munich, a franchise of the legendary Hofbrauhaus. It’s no surprise that there are several Hofbrauhaus throughout Germany. There is also one in China (I recall that Germans settled in the Shantung Province 150 years ago) and one in Brazil. The Internet claims that Buffalo will be the 9th in the U.S. Appropriately, the franchises are in areas where German immigrants have settled, such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. One is in Las Vegas (maybe Howard Hughes was part German).

Though the untiring efforts of Kevin Townsel (he is the managing partner), the Buffalo Hofbrauhaus will become a reality on Scott Street, not far from the Seneca Casino and the Cobblestone District. Actually, the Hofbrauhaus will be in the two-story Fairmont building on the North side of Scott Street. Across the street, the eight-story Fairmont building, once a cold storage facility, has been restored and is an office/apartment complex.

Brewmaster Townsell recently gave me a tour of the new facility. It is very large. There are 13 mammoth steel vats for making 13 German-style brews. The main hall will hold 500 patrons seated at 20-foot tables. They will be encouraged to stand on the benches and belt out German songs. Ein Prosit will be a constant! It will be sung about every 20 minutes. Ein Prosit may be interpreted variously. It can mean any of the following: “To your good health,” “Cheers,” “A drinking toast to you,” and “All good things to you.”

The Munich look will prevail: waiters and waitresses in dirndls and lederhosen will serve beer in steins. There will be German fare; bratwurst, sauerbraten, and schnitzel will be featured. Joe McLaughlin, a frequent visitor to Germany, notes that Limburger, rye bread, and onions will be available.

My visit to the Hofbrauhaus brought back memories. While visiting the site of the 300-person beer garden, I glanced at the fields and old railroad track areas to the north. Nostalgia set in; my thoughts went back some 70 years ago. Circa 1951, just before I was drafted into the Army, I had a job at the Fairmont Creamery. Fairmont at the time was a very big name nationally in the dairy industry, home based in Omaha Nebraska.

My job, on the second floor of what will soon be the Hofbrauhaus, was making cheese. I worked with Gus, an ex-marine of World War II. We ran the agitators that churned the ingredients (mainly milk) in large 25-foot vats. Our job was to keep stirring and paddling the ingredients into the agitators and to do so constantly. Curds formed and developed; then we put them into containers and into wheels that would then be aged into big rounds of cheddar cheese.

Eventually, we would load the finished product into railroad boxcars alongside the building. The railroad tracks were precisely where the New York State Thruway (the 90) is today, just a few feet from the building. Now, instead of producing rounds of cheddar, the big steel vats in the Hofbrauhaus will be producing German beer.

Gus, my co-worker, was a colorful character. He had drifted for a few years after his military service. He constantly said, “Hey, Danny” and “You know what I mean, Danny.” A hundred times a day, he would say “Hey, Danny” etc.

One day, as I looked out beyond the railroad tracks, I noticed some canvas or blankets amidst the tall vegetation and bushes a few hundred yards or so in the distance. I mentioned this to Gus. He promptly said, “You know, Danny, that’s the Hobo Jungle.” Gus knew about hobos; he may have been one himself. He said the hobos there would only stay a day or two and then they would hop a freight headed west, “You know what I mean Danny?” Local historian Jacek Wysocki notes that the railroad could have been either the Erie Lackawanna or the Nickel Plate. That railroad land is still there – empty (see photo), more or less between the thruway and Seneca Street. It is just fields; no tall vegetation to support a hobo jungle. The hobos are gone.

Ah, the Hobos! Jeff MacGregor, in the latest Smithsonian magazine, has a lengthy article on “The Great American Hobo.” There is a nostalgic flavor to the story. MacGregor notes that hobos were homeless by choice. Unlike the tramp or the bum, the hobo was an itinerant worker who travelled to find work. Hobos came on the American scene in the late 19th century as the United States was industrialized and connected by railroads. As any schoolboy knows, Chicago was the rail center of the country and, thus, was the hobo capital. Young men worked briefly in Chicago’s stockyards then caught a train west.

There have been some famous hobos; Jack London was one. He wrote The Road in 1907, recounting his experiences as a hobo in the 1890s when he was only 18. He described the life of a hobo colorfully and painfully. Once, when in Niagara Falls, he was arrested, simply for being out on the street late at night, presumably as a vagrant. The “justice” system was most unjust. He ended up serving a month in the Erie County Pen, which he says could not have been much different than hell. When released, London visited a local tavern (could have been Ulrichs!), found out when the next rain was headed west, “caught on,” and off he went to California and beyond.

By the end of World War II, the hobo culture was fading quickly, in part because railroads were transitioning from steam to diesel. The hobos, even though they were often young, athletic types, found it was much more difficult to “catch on” with a diesel than the steam engine.

Hobo nostalgia lingered on. The over-70 age group will fondly recall Red Skelton as “Freddie the Freeloader,” a throwback to the hobo of yesteryear. Jack Kerouac’s classic, On the Road, published in 1957, offers some resemblances of hoboism. MacGregor says Woody Guthrie’s music is where the hobo survives.

I don’t think that Kevin Townsell will have to worry about hobos standing on the benches in the Hofbrauhaus, tossing down a few prize German lagers while singing Ein Prosit.

 

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