Today is the birthday of was an American writer and publisher Robert Carlton Brown, who often wrote under the name Bob Brown (June 14, 1886–August 7, 1959). He was very prolific, and wrote over 1,000 pieces, and worked in “many forms from comic squibs to magazine fiction to advertising to avant-garde poetry to business news to cookbooks to political tracts to novelized memoirs to parodies and much more.” His writing was lyrical and ahead of its time, but despite his popularity during his lifetime, very little of his work, if any, is still in print or even been digitized. One of his food books, “The Complete Book of Cheese,” is an exception and you can download a copy at the Gutenberg Project. You can get a sense of his oeuvre from some of his titles, which includes What Happened to Mary (1912) [later turned into the first serial film What Happened to Mary, My Marjonary (1916), The Readies (1930), Globe-Gliding (1930), Words: I but Bend My Finger in a Beckon and Words, Birds of Words, Hop on It, Chirping (1931), Gems: a Censored Anthology (1931), Demonics (1931), and Readies for Bob Brown’s Machine (1931). He also wrote or co-wrote a number of best-selling cookbooks, including The European Cookbook (1936), 10,000 Snacks (1937), The Wine Cook Book (1941), and The Complete Book of Cheese (1955).
But the reason he’s here is because of another book he wrote, published in 1932, and dedicated to H.L. Mencken with this: “To H.L. Mencken for many reasons not the least of them BEER, B.B.” That book was called “Let Them Be Beer!”
Here’s an excerpt from BeerBooks.com:
About the beginning of this century pubcrawling was imported from London, where it had been in existence for centuries, and ws definitely adopted as a daily custom in New York City. The practice of visiting a series of saloons in succession, and having a drink or two in each before crawling on to the next, grew in popularity, every year approaching the peak of perfection, until it was suddenly knocked in the head by prohibition and fell into disuse.
In Philadelphia, with its solid, stolid Dutch drinking tradition and its splendid big beer cellars, pubcrawling was always indlulged in pleasantly in a safe and sedate manner.
But in Boston the pastime was slightly dangerous, especially if continued after closing hours, in clandestine blind pigs. A pub-crawler might sit down to imbibe in such a place and find himself in a group of Boston Irish terriers. Inadvertently he might say something about the Orange men. Suddenly bottles and broom would thicken the smoky air, cut arabesques in it, and if the outsider were not quick, the Irishman opposite would slide sidewise from his chair, whip it out from beneath him with one swift motion and bring it down bang over the pub-crawler’s head. The unfortunate victim would awake a few hours later, at the first dribbles of dawn, lying in an alley ash can with a thick clot on his brow.
The big beer town of Buffalo was always a bit too low for fastidious pub-crawling; it did not offer the finer subtleties and shadings of Manhattan.
In Portland, Maine, and other dry towns of that day, life was just one drug store after another. A damp, drab, soggy species of sub-rosa drug-store dangling. Not a bit of snap to it.
New York was the appropriate center for the strolling drinker. The whole mid-West Anheuser Busch League shipped its best beer and all outstanding pub-crawling customs to Manhattan. Pabst’s sent samples of Milwaukee drinks and drinking, Kentucky kicked in with Bourbon and toasts, Chicago showed how things were done at her home, Hofbrau and barny Bismarck, Cincinnati sent sangvereins and the South in general contributed with scuppernong and nigger gin.
Between 1900 and 1920 the booze boundaries of New York were roughly fixed in an oblong half a mile wide and six miles long. Though all sorts of drinks, from horse’s necks to sherry cobblers, were consumed in this section, it was chiefly noted for its big beer saloons, and included a brewery or two. O’Connor’s Working Girls’ Home, or perhaps McSorley’s, marked the extreme south end of the beer district — “way down south in Greenwich Village, where the artists drank their fillage.” Pabst’s Harlem came to be its fixed North Pole. On the East Side, Ehret’s old brewery over by the river, in the 50’s; and on the West Side a solid wall of saloons all along Sixth Avenue, from Fourth Street up to the Park, where the line wobbled over to Broadway and on up to Harlem.
There were Bowery beer arcades out of bounds, good suds shops and ale houses in the financial district, from the Battery up to Washington Square, splendiferous theatrical and sportive saloons in the Forties as far over as Seventh and Eighth. Even Hell’s Kitchen was not dry in those days, and there were service stations for pub-crawlers as far up as Hell Gate. The famous beer and beef steak Castle Cave stood out like a star in the West, and Terrace Garden was one of the bright Eastern Stars. Luigi’s Black Cat shed its luster under the dingy El; almost every street corner of the city was brightened by a gin mill, but the big beer belt tightened around the center of Manhattan and more ambulatory drinking was done in the three square miles of the section described than in all the rest of the town put together.
If brewery sales-managers had charted the territory at the time, there would have been a hurricane of dots, a huddle of red-headed pins around Union Square radiating out to the Brevoort, the Lafayette, the Hell Hole on Fourth Street, and on up Sixth Avenue past the Old Grapevine. McSorley’s and Scheffel Hall over east, working up to a daze of dots around Luchow’s, one particularly bright standing for Gentleman Jim Corbett’s place near by, though beer was seldom served there, except as a chaser after stronger fire-water; and another for Arensberg’s wine-stube, right on the square.
Luchow’s stuck out like a monogrammed gold buckle on that broad beer belt. Herald Square was a whirlpool of dots centering in the old Herald Square Hotel Bar and radiating out to the Hofbrau and the Kaiserhof. Times Square showed a thick cluster of dots, a hay-pile huddle around the Knickerbocker and Considine’s, in which nobody at that time would have even looked for a needle of beer.
On up Broadway to Columbus Circle. Broadway and beer have always been synonymous. The Great Way foamed White with beer tossed restlessly in a beery froth from Bowling Green to Van Cortlandt Park.
Pabst’s was set like a big iridescent bubble in the center of Columbus Circle, and a sea of brilliant beads swirled around Pabst’s Harlem Casino. Columbus was forgotten, Harlem was but a name. For a while it looked as though these two centers of night life would have to change their names to Pabst’s Best and Pabst’s Blue Ribbon, so the persistent pubcrawler could be sure exactly where he was at.
And here’s a few more excerpts:
And here’s another short biography of Brown.
Bob Brown, born Robert Carlton Brown, liked to say he had written in every genre imaginable: advertising, journalism, fiction, poetry, ethnography, screen-writing, even cookbooks. He wrote at least 1,000 pulp stories, some of which became the basis for “What Happened to Mary?” the first movie serial, released in 1912. He was on the editorial board of the radical magazine The Masses before founding a successful business magazine in Brazil. His output was so varied and his life so far-flung — he boasted of having lived in 100 cities — that some library card catalogs list him as at least two different people.
Brown was also involved in the expatriate literary community in Paris, publishing several volumes of poetry. While in France, Brown also made plans toward, and wrote a manifesto for, the development of a “reading machine” involving the magnified projection of miniaturized type printed on movable spools of tape. Arguing that such a device would enable literature to compete with cinema in a visual age, Brown published a book of “Readies” — poems by Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and others.
He contributed to leading avant-garde journals and wrote, sometimes in collaboration with his wife and mother, some 30 popular books about food and drink, including “Let There Be Beer!” (published after the repeal of Prohibition) and The Complete Book of Cheese. Bob and his family eventually established residence in Rio de Janeiro, where they lived until his wife’s death in 1952. Bob soon returned to New York where he re-married, and ran a shop called Bob Brown’s Books in Greenwich Village until his death in 1959.