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Buffalo’s Keepers of Beer, Wine, and Spirits

The keepers of beer, spirits, and the like, never served just alcohol. These houses of alternative worship were often co-located; taverns also served dinner, and saloons offered pool or card tables. Sometimes, they offered rooms for boarders from the local factory and, if fancy, were called hotels. It is an occupation that has had people of all backgrounds enter into regardless of gender.

The Napoleon Hotel and Saloon, 191 Main Street. Same block as the News and Courier companies, today is One Seneca Tower | Image courtesy

The French have always been interested in the Buffalo region, with many from France and Canada moving across borders to start anew here. Napoleon Prenevau arrived in Buffalo by 1893 and opened The Napoleon Hotel and Saloon at 191 Main Street. It appears, the hotel and saloon were housed along with his brother Lewis’s cigar shop. Also shown on old maps and directories is Charles H and William H. Northrop’s Print and Book Manufacturer shop at the same address. It was a smart set up, and a roaring business with hotels in Buffalo catering to numerous conventions and symposiums.

Being the parent Napoleon was, he sent his kids Margaret and Beatrice to boarding school at Mount St. Josephs, established in 1891. One could easily assume he was focused on their gender and was ensuring they were learning how to sew, manage a house, play the piano and other lady like work… but not so much. It seems, that he was looking for a disciplined education for his children. By 1907, Margaret has a home at the large mixed-use building at 140 Seneca Street which is still standing. However, in 1914, 1917, 1918, and 1919 she is on the list of liquor license holders, and running The Napoleon Hotel and Saloon. Margaret Prenevau who was born in 1883; would stay with us for a while running her hotel, and passing in 1968. Napoleon seems to have been a great father, for instead of assuming he would sell his hotel and leave his children moveable assets” to take with them when they married, as was the tradition in British families with daughters, he saw himself in his children’s eyes. They were first and foremost his offspring, those that would carry a legacy – there was no need for their gender to precede them.

In an era where English culture was working to displace the early Dutch, German, and French culture that had become engrained in New York, parents were regularly overwriting the status quo in increase gender leveling. A cultural trait that often left traveling English in awe, and New Englanders baffled, was that we here in New York thought it normal to apprentice or teach children the application of business; whether tavern keeping, brewing or as a liquor merchant. In 1644, ‘Marritje’ [Marity] Hans, daughter of Hans Jansen, entered a three year apprenticeship and is the perfect example of this. Hans was to learn sewing but also would work for a tavern keeper in New Amsterdam, when Manhattan was just a town of 5,000 or so people. This not only stabilized her income, but would guaranty her ability to provide for a family whether married, or which often was the case, in widowhood. New York has a long culture of parents placing their female children on par with male children in the arena of business. This was reinforced by the shear number of men that were tantalized by the idea of trophy wives. Simply put, the founders of New Netherland and those that came after, found industrious women to be valuable, desirable and dare I say… sexy.

The British had just seized military control over the Province from the Dutch in 1664, and sovereign control in 1667. Some might think the American-Continentals would throw off their fashions and culture and rush to adopt the new governor’s English ways… but fortunately, they didn’t. Lord Rensselaer was technically a lord… but who needs a title when the woman of your dreams comes with brewing capabilities?

“… I have married Maria van Cortland… I thank the good Lord for having granted me such a good partner and we shall beseech Him that He may let us live together long in peace and health… I have taken up brewing, this for the sake of my wife, as in her father’s house she always had the management thereof, knowing both how to brew the beer and how to help [train] the workers to do it.” – April of 1665, Letter from Jeremias van Rensselaer (1632 – 1674), the Albany area of New Netherland.

It wasn’t a perfect world – there was slavery, shootings, murder, and other common horrors of the 17th century, but whether you were Dutch or Italian, Norwegian or Croatian, Angolan or Creole, or even a slave… you could walk into a tavern and be served side by side with everyone else. Beer was treated as a universal right by the Dutch; that everyone should have access and be served beer… even the Catholics.

Beer was considered such an important part of life in our colony of New Netherland and later New York that it was subsidized; if you could not afford beer for you and your children, some was sent over along with a contract for a job… hint, hint. One can almost feel the conservative Puritans wreathing in their crypts at the lack of workhouses and subsidize beer, a.k.a beer-stamps, for the poor. It’s true, New York has had welfare since the 17th Century and it started with beer.

In 1674, the king of English ordered the British Governor Nichols to apply English Common law which stripped women in the Province of New York of their civil liberties granted under the Dutch. He turned women’s assets and property over to their nearest male relative. In one year, all court records were altered to reflect this new edict; married women’s property was transferred to husbands, and unmarried women’s were transferred to a relative… wherever he may be.

The guys were not exactly happy with this, as they often had professions of their own… not to mention the loss of a duel income. So, the wives continued to run their business using their husbands’ names. In the 1680s, when a merchant complained to Mr. Beeker a local political that his wive, a merchant also, had moved up from importing groceries and wine to becoming an arms dealer, his response was simply, “It is not my business, take it up with her.”

However, a precedence was in place, and this did not stop the local magistrates of New York from tinkering with British Common law, and like the Dutch before, enacted parallel rules. The legal system, by the 18th Century, had became more and more British; but the culture remained. Despite the hoops they had to jump through, roughly 1 in 3 tavern keepers were single or widowed women during the 18th Century. Local merchants such as Gerard Beekman – as per the Beekman papers – extended them lines of credit. Beekman a proud supporter of the Governor… even lent married women credit and let them carry debt which went against English law. New York literally put on the record that any single woman, widow, or women, who had husbands whose professions caused them to travel (sailors, etc.) and were found to need work were to be issued a liquor license as it was considered to be an occupation fit for females.

After the American Revolution, women of this State in general did not gain back their right to own hotels, saloons, or even taverns in their own name while married until decades later.

So, we have to wonder… did this priority on practicality, industry and money, over perceived duties of a housewife, make it to Buffalo?

There were a number of early brewers in Buffalo by 1841, including Michael Benson on Canal at Church, and Anthony Giesz a brewer and cooper at the Eagle Tavern on Pearl Street at Chippewa. However, one of the first brewers of this region was Magdalena Lena” Schenck who arrived in Buffalo in 1822-‘23 with her graag”, or hard cider. While she wouldn’t admit to selling and profiting from her work, she confirmed making barrels of graag” during a court hearing; and the census record concours with her claim. Her red brick, duel chimney, summer kitchen still stands behind the Schenck House, located at the center of Grover Cleveland Golf Course. The summer kitchen which is visible from Bailey Avenue dates from the first half of the 19th century. It is possibly the oldest surviving micro brewery in the city limits of Buffalo. It demonstrates that her husband Samuel who went all the way to Ontario, Canada to get a wife, like our 17th Century Lord Rensselaer, preferred trophy wives who come with brewing capabilities.

In the 1860 census we can see a few of our earliest “saloon keepers” in the form of Catherine Brian and Julia Mulinier. Brian, who was born in Ireland, appears to have been widowed and at 48 years olds was running a saloon in ward 8 to support her 12 year old daughter. Their personal estate was valued at $25. Her home was rented and she sublet a separate apartment to the Smith family. Ms. Mulinier from Canada was likely of German or French stock, and is found living alone at 24 years old and running her saloon. Mulinier’s estate also in ward 8 was valued at $400, though she too appears as a renter.

In 1917, the excise tax collectors came to town and listed anyone who held a license. Erie county had over 3000 men listed and 203 women, with 132 women in the City of Buffalo. Comparatively the City of Rochester had only 50 women running taverns and hotels. Our Buffalo gals had names spanning from the German sounding Barbara ‘Reisch’ of 5510 Main Street to the Italian Mary ‘Campangnano’ of 327 Germania Street, and the Polish ‘Stainislawa’ ‘Metelshi’ of 930 Grant Street. Then we have the hoteliers such as Lena M. Garbe who owned the Audubon Park Hotel at 2865 Main Street, Mary O’Niel’s hotel was at 256 Ohio Street, and Anna O’Donnell owned a hotel at 965 Williams Street.

However, one of the more interesting ones was Lucy Georgi Pandolfi who stood at a whopping 4 foot 10 inches tall. We have to give her a big “Ms. Lucy salute”, as she not only ran a tavern and made Friday dinners of large round ravioli with a touch of mint or fried fish, but raised eight children too. Her establishment was a proper Italianate three story mixed-use on Fillmore Avenue. She was producing wine from oranges, lemons, dandelions, and grapes – off the books according to court records…roughly three or so dozen barrels were discovered in the raid. One could only image the judge peering down upon little Lucy wondering how this mother of eight kids had all this time to produce so much wine!

Happy New Year’s Buffalo!

Written by Tara Mancini

Tara Mancini

Tara Mancini's interest span from Microbiology and Chemistry, Research and Development, Manufacturing, Quality Assurance, and Process Improvement Analysis to New York History, Early Civilizations and Child Development and Education.

Part of the Quality Assurance jobs was food taster, both sweet and savory. When I travel I make a point of eating everything.

Recent projects include founding the Friends of Schenck Hose in Buffalo, NY - an 1823 pioneer and farm estate - that seeks to restore and put into adaptive reuse the historic buildings to recently being awarded a patent for a new chemical production system.

Specialties: Operations, Plant Start up, R & D, Pilot plant testing, operations, quality, Sales and Marketing, Production line or plant start up, streamline production, material waste management, recycling, process improvement, Biodiesel, Renewable Energy, Project Development.

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