By using this motion-sensitive counter, visitors can access a wealth of archival photographs and recordings that tell the stories of the families who made their livelihoods at this 97 Orchard Street storefront. “The whole idea is to get people to think about commerce and how that has shaped their community, and also the history of the neighborhoods they live in,” says Polland.
When John and Caroline Schneider opened their saloon in 1864, the Lower East Side was called Kleindeutschland (“Little Germany”). It was home to the fifth-largest German-speaking population in the world at the time. By 1872, there were more than 700 saloons in the neighborhood.
The Schneiders’ saloon was a gathering place not just for the neighborhood’s German community, but for the multinational residents of 97 Orchard Street. People who lived in the apartments above would often enter via this back stairway (rebuilt by the Tenement Museum) that led directly into the bar area.
In order to entice patrons, 19th-century NYC saloon proprietors would offer a free lunch with the purchase of a drink. Using fake food, the Tenement Museum has re-created such a German buffet in convincing detail. “Clearly these were places not just where people got beer,” says Annie Polland, the museum’s vice president of programs and education. “The idea is that you can come, buy your mug of beer for 5¢, and then get a plate of food.”
In this kitchen behind the front area, Caroline Schneider would prepare food for the saloon’s patrons. “Often in the German communities and many immigrant communities, the wives did just as much work to keep up the business as their husbands,” explains Polland.
Like many store owners of the day, the Schneiders’ saloon was also their residence. Their bedroom, large compared with others in the tenement, was located directly behind the bar’s back room.
Political groups and social clubs would often hold meetings in the saloon’s back room. This Native American club is a piece of ephemera from the Improved Order of Red Men, a fraternal organization whose local branch gathered there. “They played with the idea that playing Indian was the way of becoming American,” says Polland. “Whether you were an immigrant or native-born, they all were able to take up these made-up rituals that came from Americans.”
“You’re going to have a mix of languages in a space like this, and you can see that reflected in the newspapers we reproduced,” says Polland.