We think that working from home is a hot new trend, but in fact the office and the factory are the new kids on the block; historically, most people in trades worked from home or lived on top of the store. That’s why a trip to New York’s Tenement Museum on Orchard Street is so interesting; you can see how people lived and worked in the 19th and early 20th century. Upstairs, people worked from their apartments, but starting in 1865, when the lower east side was mostly German, you could hang out in Schneider’s bar.
What’s interesting about the bar scene of the time is that there were so many of them; this map of the area just to the north of Schneider’s bar shows hundreds of them. As the tour guide at the Tenement Museum noted, bars were the Starbucks of the day, the place you go to meet, to get away from your tiny apartment, to do business if you don’t have an office. In a city of small living spaces, they acted as the community living room.
Today it might be thought of as the "third space", described by Ray Oldenburg, who "calls one's "first place" the home and those that one lives with. The "second place" is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are "anchors" of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction." But then, when the first and second spaces were in a single room upstairs, it probably was far more important.
They worked like restaurants too, giving away Caroline Schneider's food to patrons. But you had to buy a beer for a nickel to get the food, hence the origin of the famous economic concept TANSTAAFL, short for "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch"
Writing in Slate, Rebecca Onion notes that there are a lot fewer bars on the Lower East Side now than there were then, only 47 compared to 346 in 1880. But the population density is a lot lower too; people were packed in a lot more tightly than they are today, and drinking beer was not as big a thing among the Jews that replaced the Germans.
In an earlier post, Every Complete Neighborhood Needs a Good Local Bar, I wrote that “in cities, people can live in smaller spaces because the city is your living room, your recreation room, your media room, all those places that people building into their suburban houses.”
You went to Schneider’s for discussions, for meetings, for food, for music, for games. It is remarkable how in cities, how little has changed in 150 years.
And the funny thing is, if you hung some of those vintage hipster incandescent light bulbs over the bar it wouldn't even look out of place today. See also in the Guardian: Same old, same old. How the hipster aesthetic is taking over the world.