[Author’s Note: Beer Relics is a series I created for the Delaware Valley Beer Blogs page. Sadly that endeavor didn’t take off so I’m bringing the posts I wrote over here, and hopefully once a month I’ll be adding a new one. Beer Relics are things collecting dust in my basement that I’ve acquired over 20+ years of craft beer pursuit. They can be anything from menus, to glasses, to labels, etc.]
One of the events that helped propel me on my trip down the craft beer trail was an annual pub run trip into NYC that a friend of mine and I would make on Black Friday. These trips had only two purposes, first to hit as many pubs/bars as we could in a day and second, to enjoy the diversity of these establishments that at the time we could only find in New York. It was during our second trip in 1993 that we walked into Zip City Brewing Company.
Opened in 1991, and located in the same building that had once housed the National Temperance League, Zip City was known as one of the first brew pubs in Manhattan and one of the first to put the polished copper brewing equipment center stage where it was visible to everyone in the bar. The brewery focused on German-style lagers initially (at least during the time we frequented it) and expanded to other styles later on.
We walked into Zip City on Black Friday, November 26th, 1993 to find a Pilsner, Dunkel and Vienna on draft. As my eyes drifted down the lunch special sheet, they were stopped by a short, unassuming line – “Beer To Go (November 26th)”. Growlers are common place now, but back then you didn’t stumble upon them very often, if at all. In fact, from what I can remember this was my first chance to actually purchase a growler of beer. Of course, the fact that I was in the middle of Manhattan, only half way finished our pub run, and ~150 miles from home, made the prospect of actually getting the growler home intact seem especially daunting (I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief when I finally got it safely tucked into the car).
However, after confirming with the bartender that it was indeed the first day for growler sales at Zip City, I threw caution to the wind and soon he was filling up a round, brown glass jug with 2 liters of unpasteurized, unfiltered Vienna. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask the bartender if it was the first growler sold that day. The place was empty except for us, and having the first growler to walk out of Zip City would have made this story sweeter. But I had two liters of beer to take home, and for me at the time, that was good enough.
Over the next four or five years, we revisited Zip City a couple of times. I really enjoyed the location with its gleaming kettles, its two floor mezzanine layout and its confusing bathrooms that simply sported signs that said, “THEM” and “US” (you had to look closely at the beer sign that was on the door to figure out which you were supposed to be). On one visit we were joined by a table of women dressed as cows. That’s always good for a story.
Unfortunately the story of Zip City Brewing does not have a happy ending. After one hard winter, owner Kirby Shyer found himself low on money and facing a shifting market. Towards the end of the 1990’s in NYC, brew pubs were falling out of favor. People from common beer drinkers to financial analysts were declaring that the novelty of microbrews had warn out. Others insisted that some brewpubs were charging to much for their beer, and stayed with less expensive, macro produced beers. Some cited inconsistent product and favored the specialty craft beer bars that were cropping up which allowed customers to try a variety of different beers from a variety of different breweries.
On April 7th 1997, after almost seven years of being in business (marking Zip City as the longest continuously open brewpub at that time), in which Kirby Shyer had seen many other establishments open and consequently close down, he opened a valve and dumped 3,100 gallons of his Belgian Tripel onto the street. Soon the last gallons of beer were flowing down a storm drain on 18th Street, taking Zip City with it forever.