For our fourth book club, we had all read Nickel City Drafts by Dan Murphy.
Unfortunately, the weather had decided it didn’t feel like playing along with our plans. Sure, I personally had essentially no snow, but many did. Travel wasn’t advisable, and so in the interest of safety we stayed home. We still wanted to meet however, and so we took to the internet, Alex, Scott, David and I, heading to Google Hangouts.
Certainly a bit of the je ne sais quoi was lost, especially because my internet connection was shoddy and the video cut out and the audio kept stuttering. But we had beer, and we had each other.
Kicking things off, I said that I really enjoyed the book and its conversational tone. It made for a very quick read with lots of stories and anecdotes from a city that I really couldn’t picture as my own.
Dug’s Dive, for instance. Alex and Scott brought it up as an example of something completely different from what we have today. Instead of a restaurant along the outer harbor it was a place mostly underground, run by a former slave and roughly located where Liberty Hound is today.
And Voelker’s: I pass the bowling alley every time I go to Wegmans, but during Prohibition it also functioned as a speakeasy.
Really, Prohibition was the main focus of the book. From FX Schwab’s mayoral terms to how easy it was to smuggle alcohol in from Canada, the western terminus of the Erie Canal was obviously a huge hotbed of wet sentiment.
Regarding the canal, we spent some time appreciating the gamble that gave “us” the canal instead of Black Rock. What would have happened if “they” got it? We’d probably be talking about the Buffalo neighborhood of Black Rock instead of the other way around.
Eventually the conversation drifted a bit. I told a story of Ethan and me going to he Grosvenor Room of the downtown library in search of historical recipes and more information about a widely used carbonation chart with a Buffalo copyright. We found nothing of recipes but did get some backstory on the company. I’ve forgotten most of it, but they had looked into carbonating cottage cheese. That always stuck with me.
Ne’er do wells were said to congregate in the city’s “tenderloin district,” around present-day Allentown. This caught Alex’s attention and he looked into exactly what a tenderloin district was. New York City also had one, he found, so we thought maybe it was like a meat packing district. He eventually found references to it maybe being the tender underbelly where seedy deals happened, as in a red light district and speakeasy haven.
We loved the stories in the book: my favorite was the ship captain who got suckered into visiting an underground bar where he knew he would be robbed and killed, so to save himself he frantically bought drinks for everyone until they were passed out, pulling a knife on the bartender and demanding his release.
In the end the discussion went very well. We agreed we wouldn’t want to replace our quarterly meetups with the online component, but in a pinch (or a stab, from a winter knife) it did quite well.
Looking forward: we decided our next book would stay historical, but just to be a pain in the ass about it we’re going esoteric. We’ll be reading Hops & Glory by Pete Brown, who’s probably my favorite beer writer. Here’s the catch: it’s never actually been printed in the US.
So: you can, as Talking Leaves’ Jonathon Welch suggested, go to Canada, where the UK edition was printed, or you can order from the Book Depository, which has it in stock and offers free worldwide shipping.
Once you’ve read the book we’ll meet February 18, again at 7 pm. The location is to be determined, he said with a mischevious twinkle in his eye. That sounds more important than it is. Find the book — on your own this time — and come have a beer or two with us, wherever that may be!
Not at the Hangout? Want to add your opinions of Nickel City Drafts? Let’s continue the conversation!