At this point it’s almost impossible for NYC to get any cooler. That is until you realize that there is an enormous wine cellar located under the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Yes, this magnificent portal to the most hipster neighborhood in America actually protects massive quantities of the establishment’s preferred drink. Oh, the irony.
It’s too bad you probably won’t get to ever see these cellars.
How Long Have These Cellars Been Hiding?
Brooklyn Bridge’s wine cellars were inaugurated in 1876, a full seven years before the bridge was even opened for travel. Built as an economic compromise, these cellars operated for decades and housed some of New York’s choicest wines.
The engineer who designed this unforgettable water crossing was named Washington Roebling. He rightly hypothesized that by installing cellars below one of the most well-used waterways in the tristate area, the city could help pay for the $15 million project.
Already on the Brooklyn shore of the East River, Rackey’s Wine Company was running a good business, and on the Manhattan side, Luyties & Co., successfully sold liquor to thirsty New Yorkers. Naturally, turning these two established alcohol spots into cellars below the bridge was an ingeniously perfect fit.
Who Used These Cellars?
Dark and consistently cool at 60 degrees, these caverns were housed below the 60,000-ton granite entrances. Due to their ideal temperature, the popularity of these cellars quickly grew, and their interior began to reflect the heritage of the vintages they housed. The winding passageways of the labyrinth were named after French streets and their walls were adorned with illustrations of provincial Europe.
Known as the Blue Grotto, a statue of the Virgin Mary stood at the entrance, along with the inscription,
“Who loveth not wine, women and song, he remaineth a fool his whole life long.”
This trend continued until America began grappling with the moral implications of alcohol.
Beginning in the early 1900s, Prohibition took hold of the country squeezing out alcohol purveyors – including those under the Brooklyn Bridge. During this era, the caverns were converted into newspaper storage and remained so until 1934.
Why You Can’t Catch a Glimpse
In 1934, Prohibition ended and the cellars were inaugurated with a grandeur worthy of their former glory. For just a few years the so-named Blue Grotto was reborn. However, after World War II, the city of New York took over permanent management of the cellars. This meant that the caverns were no longer easily accessible to the public.
Since the change in ownership, few have been allowed in. Nevertheless there have been a lucky few. Those who manage to enter the extraordinary space claim to be able to decipher a last homage inscribed on the walls in the 1930s.
It reads, “Legend of Oechs Cellars: These cellars were built in 1876, about seven years prior to the official opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. From their inception, they housed the choicest wines in New York City.”
And maybe once again they will.