Monday, November 23, 2009

A Lower East Side Anniversary

One hundred and forty-five years ago this month, Mr. John Schneider opened his lager-beer saloon at 97 Orchard Street.

On November 11, 1864 he placed an ad in the New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung, a leading German-language newspaper, which read:

The undersigned makes announcement to his fine friends and acquaintances as well as the honorable musicians, that he has taken over by purchase the saloon of Mr. Schurlein, 97 Orchard Street. Invited to the opening, Saturday, November 12th, with a superb lunch, respectfully

                                                                                        John Schneider
                                                                                        97 Orchard Street

Why might Mr. Schneider have mentioned "honorable musicians" in his announcement?

The family had a strong connection to music. John Schneider played in a regimental band with the 8th New York Infantry Volunteers during the Civil War.  Most likely, the "honorable musicians" are those who played with him in 1860-62. His father, George, was also a respected musician on New York's German music scene. Because of his personal interest, John probably made an extra effort to provide music for his patrons on a regular basis.

Regarding German saloons on the Bowery in 1881, one observer commented, “Almost every beer saloon has a brass band, or at least a piano, violin, and coronet, and what the performers lack in finish they make up for in vigor. Through the open doors and from the cellars come outbursts of noise and merriment..." 

According to historian Madelon Powers, German immigrants were fond of mixing drink and song, and were noted for their spontaneous saloon singing. Writing about the music of German saloons in turn-of-the-century Chicago, Royal Melendy observed that, “The streets are filled with music, and the German bands go from saloon to saloon reaping a generous harvest when times are good.”1

The most common form of German-American music during the mid-to-late 19th century was choral music performed by singing societies that often met in saloon backrooms. It is likely that John Schneider’s saloon included a small stage or area where music was performed by local singing societies or mannerchor and small German bands. 

Many of the songs that became popular among German immigrants and the singing societies in which they took part expressed an ambivalence about the experience of leaving friends and family for an unknown land. Songs such as Muss I denn zum Stadtele N’Aus? (Must I Go Away from the Town?) and The Decision to Go to America; or, The Farewell Song of the Brothers expressed both an understanding of the need emigrate as well as the pain of leaving loved ones. 

Informal and spontaneous singing was also common in 19th century German saloons. When in a singing mood, patrons of Schneider’s Saloon might break into a rendition of Auch du leiber Augustin, Hi-lee! Hilo! or Die Wacht am Rhein.

Groups of saloon regulars not only broke into song for the purpose of entertainment but also as a means of strengthening group identity. Sung widely in informal settings such as the local saloon, heimathlied or “homesickness” songs not only helped German immigrants reinforce ties to the Fatherland but -- many Germans having emigrated before the creation of the German nation in 1871 -- helped contribute to a new consciousness among German immigrants, unifying these fragmented elements into an American ethnic community. 2

1 Madelon Powers, Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon, 1870-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)
2 Victor Greene, A Singing Ambivalence: Immigrants Between Old World and New (Kent State University Press, 2004).

- Research & Writing by Dave Favaloro


  1. Great info. I find it interesting that the modern "Schneider", Zum Schneider on Ave C and East 7th Street, , was founded by Sylvester Schneider who also is a musician, and also started an Oompah band to provide his patrons with traditional music (Bavarian brass, and modern songs turned Oompah). Patrons also sometimes start singing, usually along with the band. So modern Zum Schneider in many ways continues the long forgotten tradition of German saloons on the Lower East Side, and even shares the name of the best remembered place.

  2. Glad to hear Zum Schneider is carrying on the Lower East Side's German traditions!


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