The Vault

This Map Proves It: The Lower East Side Once Had Even More Bars Per Block

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This map was published in the Christian Union on Feb. 19, 1885. The newspaper, which was founded in 1870 by famed Brooklyn minister (and temperance advocate) Henry Ward Beecher, sent a reporter to the Lower East Side to locate saloons. The result was this “Beerdom” map, along with an article (PDF) presenting some cursory findings on the social effects of the Lower East Side’s drinking culture.

The editors of the Union chose this area for their experiment because of its dense population, reporting: “The streets are full, the schools are full, full are the nooks and corners of the houses.” In the 1880 census, the population of the neighborhood was 68,779 people.

The editors found that these more than 68,779 souls were served by:

19 churches and missions of all sects, 5 industrial schools, 1 free reading-room, 1 hospital, and [insert line break for maximum drama] 346 SALOONS.

Alarmist assessments of urban immigrant life were not uncommon in this era—Jacob Riis published his seminal photographs of tenement dwellers as How the Other Half Lives in 1890. But this article is far from negative about the neighborhood.

Despite the availability of beer in the area, the reporter found that people were, on the whole, fairly happy and peaceful. The editors—indulging in quite a few regional stereotypes—attributed this to the fact that many of the immigrants living there were German:

Unlike his Irish and Yankee cousins, [the German] does not make a great noise and hurrah over his cups, and wind up with a street brawl. He gathers unto himself a few kindred spirits, and together…they guzzle beer until none of them can see. In the morning they come out with queer-looking eyes, but … the whole spree has been conducted in a decent and orderly manner.

Curious, I did a Google Map search for “bars” on the Lower East Side. The red rectangle I drew on the second map, below, shows the boundaries of the old Ward 11. The number of drinking establishments in “Beerdom” has diminished significantly—from 346 to 47, by my count.

On the other hand, in the 2010 census, the entire ZIP code of 10009—an area comprising the whole Lower East Side, not just Ward 11—held 62,076 people. Although I couldn’t find population numbers specific to the old ward’s boundaries, it does seem that the number of people in the ward has diminished along with the bar tally.

I first saw this map on the wonderful blog Making Maps: DIY Cartography.

Beerdom Map

Christian Union, February 19, 1885.

Google Maps, queried for “Bars” near “Henry Street Settlement.” Access interactive version here.