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Exploring the history of Geneva’s beer scene

Event showcases the best, unique Geneva has offered over the years

– By Gabriel Pietrorazio

The Finger Lakes is known for its wine, but an event this week showcased a different flavor of local history as the Geneva Historical Society hosted a history happy hour at Lake Drum Brewing Company.

Inside a jam-packed Lake Drum customers purchased beers on-tap while chatting and watching a slideshow presentation. It was an exploration of Geneva’s history through beer and bars.

John Marks, an adjunct professor of history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, who is the curator of collections and exhibits chimed in throughout the night on why he coordinated and offered this social event as an opportunity to step outside of the Geneva Historical Society building located on 543 South Main St.

“Our main building is a 543 South Main Street and for whatever reason, we’ve had a hard time attracting people,” he said. “There are programs which traditionally are in the evening, and either people didn’t want to come out after dinner, or parking or whatever the issue may be. So, we wanted to get outside the building.”

Marks said that by collaborating and hosting at Lake Drum, customers created social capital among the others in attendance, which in-turn promotes modes of informal education through sharing and retelling of local stories.

“I would say informal education, because that’s what we always try to do it in a museum is reach people when they’re on vacation or out for a drink or whatever,” he added.

In an effort to bring greater access to Geneva’s public history, while also raising their profile within the community, Marks has seen improvement among residents who are willing to contribute to the history surrounding the city’s bar and beer culture.

“I’ve had a bunch of people come up to me and tell me stories or say that they have photographs they would like to donate,” Marks continued.

Dr. Alexander Coventry came to Geneva during the 1800s and was not impressed with Geneva’s bars.

Historical records indicate that the city’s first brewery was founded prior to 1796 and soon after the beer business grew at a rapid rate in Geneva.

As business boomed, many bars battled for clients and like the frothy hops, certain pubs floated on-top, becoming iconic and beloved places that were shared among in common among consumers.

Dempsey Bar and Grille was founded prior to World War II and attracted servicemen throughout the area.

The Seneca Hotel Bar was considered as a popular spot for Hobart College students to catch a drink.

While many cherished bars remained ever popular, the city’s hotspots were still continually changing, shifting and transforming.

Dempsey was later renamed as Castle Grille and eventually evolved into Trottas Castle Lounge.

Cooley’s on South Main Street became the modern-day Beef and Brew and Pooters Pub on Seneca Street pivoted a name change to Halsey’s.

Despite constant market changes, Marks still manages to evaluate Geneva’s current bar culture as the city’s next chapter unfolds.

“I would like to see some of the traditional bars stay the same, you know, you have Sideshow, Pinkies and Trottas, places that were very much kind of blue-collar bars. I enjoy places like Lake Drum and Microclimate,” Marks added.

For Marks, balance is consistency, and he sees Geneva as a city where fermented beverage cultural tastes reflect the community diverse venue locations and physical spaces where residents come together and share pint or two, including himself.

“I love doing this. I love getting outside of my building in my office and just meeting people where they are,” he concluded.


Gabriel Pietrorazio is a senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He’s written for the Town Times of Watertown, Connecticut Times, Finger Lakes Times, and currently serves as reporter for FL1 News. Feedback, tips, and story ideas can be sent to gabriel@fingerlakes1.com.



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