Many people ask why there were three or four saloons on every busy corner. At first brewers, competed for saloon business with a price war against one another, but soon brewers called a truce to this practice. They set up a trade association to set price guidelines. The breweries took advantage of a young eager immigrant labor pool, which only lacked capital to be successful. The breweries offered store fronts and bar fixtures to lease. Saloonkeepers became exclusive agents for a brewery in exchange for interest-free credit for beer. It is believed that at least 75 percent of all American saloons were tied houses (tied to a certain brewery) in late the 19th and early 20th century. Brewers owned 70 million dollars worth of saloon property in the United States by 1910. As a result, there were many saloons, each selling only its brewery’s beer.

Ulrich’s Tavern on Ellicott Street in Buffalo is one of the last operating bars that can be traced back to the tied house system. Both the Christian Weyand’s Brewery and the Phoenix Brewery owned Ulrich’s at various times between 1880 and 1910.

In the late 1890s, prohibition forces passed laws that that raised the price of liquor licenses to disproportionately high levels to drive the working man corner saloons out of business. Brewers did not sit idly bye and watch their outlets get knocked off one by one. They stepped in and paid the license fees for long-term contracts with saloons so that they would be exclusive customers of the brewery. This further strengthened the brewers' hold on the saloons.

The German saloons in New York State took a further hit when, in 1896, the Raines law came into effect. This law stated that only hotels that served food could serve alcohol on Sunday. The Germans, who worked six days a week, reserved Sunday for family and friends to get together to sit, play cards, talk, and drink lager beer. This upset the Yankee Protestants, who believed Sunday to be the Lord’s day and frowned upon the German practice of making it a day of celebration. Many Germans saloons became hotels, where they served a little food (two pieces of bread with no filling, which became known as a "Raines sandwich") so not to lose their most profitable day. By coincidence, in 1896, Ulrich’s Tavern became a hotel. In Brooklyn, the practice at one saloon was to chain two pieces of bread with a brick between them to the bar. They then moved this "sandwich" from patron to patron to comply with the law. At one time, a thief made off with the brick Raines sandwich. The police hunted down the culprit and retrieved the Raines sandwich, which they then returned to the saloon to bring it back in compliance with the law.

The old adage that there is no such thing as a free lunch was not true in the late 19th century. Almost every saloon offered a free lunch to anyone who purchased drinks. Items served at a free lunch buffet in Buffalo would have included blood sausage, sardines, pickled pig's feet, herring, salty ham, and pickled eggs, all to enhance one's appetite for beer. Bouncers watched the patrons to ensure that they continued to purchase drinks. They would give the bum’s rush to a free loader who didn’t buy beer. It is said that saloons fed more down and outers than all of the charities combined. By paying a small price, usually a nickel, a man down on his luck could eat a good meal and not have to look for charity, thus keeping his pride and dignity while getting nourishment. This practice lasted until World War I, when the practice came under fire for flouting food conservation policies, and for somehow being part of a German conspiracy to undermine American values.

In the next issue, we will look at anti-German feelings of World War I, the prohibition years in Buffalo, and how the saloon industry adapted. by Jim Daley Owner, Ulrich’s Tavern

The late 19th century was boom time for Buffalo and its brewing industry. It was then that a partnership was forged between the brewers and saloonkeepers. The saloon was the brewer’s lifeblood. From the late 19th century until the start of prohibition in 1920, saloons were the number one outlet for beer in the United States. Beer was either consumed on the saloon's premises or it taken home in growlers (small tin pails).