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Raising a Glass to the Brooklyn Army Terminal’s Past

 |  NYCEDC

Summer in New York City means many things, but maybe chief among them: barbecues. Picture it—friends, the grill, some burgers and hotdogs. And, of course, a nice cold one.

But it hasn’t always been so easy to crack open a beer in America.

When Elvis Presley deployed out of the Brooklyn Army Terminal in 1958, fans swarmed the terminal trying to reach their favorite singer. But this wasn’t the first time Americans lusted after something out of reach inside the Brooklyn Army Terminal. During Prohibition, the terminal was used to house an army’s worth of confiscated liquor.

When the spirits ban passed in 1920, federal agents began seizing booze and brews across the country. Drunk on power, they ultimately confiscated millions of gallons of hooch. Construction of the Brooklyn Army Terminal had been completed in 1919, and in 1922, the Bureau of Prohibition began using Building A to stash some of the appropriated alcohol. Tens of millions of dollars’ worth of beer, whisky, champagne, and more was stored at the base. And much of it, to the chagrin of drinkers everywhere, was dumped—some right over the railroad tracks in the atrium, but most of it straight into New York Harbor.

There were, however, loopholes to Prohibition’s alcohol ban. For instance, it was still legal to drink booze you already owned. And another loophole allowed spirits to be sold pharmaceutically: like many states’ current stance on marijuana, it was acceptable to use alcohol for medicinal purposes, but not recreational ones.

In line with this policy, the Brooklyn Army Terminal actually had a large testing lab to determine the purity and quality of seized spirits. If the alcohol passed muster, it was reserved for future medicinal use by the military. The rest? You guessed it: into the harbor.

In 1933, when the noble experiment ended, the Brooklyn Army Terminal’s role as a firewater warehouse ended with it. Of course, the terminal has a long history of successful adaptation, and it was soon housing Civilian Conservation Corps workers. Now, eight decades and many adaptations later it has become the heart of innovation and manufacturing in Sunset Park.

Speaking of sunsets, this summer, while you’re out enjoying one with a cocktail in hand (or better yet, a beer or wine on NYC Ferry, on your way to the terminal’s Birthday Block Party in September), take a moment and raise a glass to the Brooklyn Army Terminal’s past.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal is celebrating 100 years in 2018. Learn more at bat.nyc.

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