No Beer Goggles Needed
The Falstaff Brewery’s history
Image provided by: The Charles L. Franck Studio Collection at The Historic New Orleans Collection. Acc no. 1979.89.7315
What is now known as the Falstaff Brewery Building on Gravier Street near South Broad Street was originally built in 1911 by the National Brewing Company. Ownership changed hands a few times over the following 25 years until St. Louis-based Falstaff Brewing Corp bought the brewery for just over $500,000 in 1936.
In two years and after $400,000 in improvements, the number of employees went from 65 to 200, and sales of Falstaff beer increased greatly, making it one of the leading plants in the South.
The brewery’s heydays were the 1940s through the 1960s. Workers were handed fresh cold beers every two hours, and the brewery’s 1,000-sqare-foot rooftop beer garden became a very popular location for business and social club meetings, class reunions and crab and shrimp boils.
Another modernization and expansion of the facility occurred in 1952, which was when the Falstaff sign topped with a weather-predicting ball was erected.
In 1978, after a decline in beer sales cut profits, workers at the brewery went on strike following a 30 percent pay cut. Despite some last-minute rallies, the brewery closed. It sat empty for the next two decades, ignored by almost everyone except for rats, vagrants and metal and wiring scavengers.
In 1997, Mickey Boes and Larry Hamm partnered to buy the brewery for $225,000, full of hopes for development, but with no real plans. A series of fires, plus some hefty environmental fines and suspect real estate transactions, led the still empty property to be put back up for sale seven years later.
In 2006, developer Ted Mondale bought the brewery for $1 million, and in two years developed it into 147 mixed-income apartments. The weather ball sign was refurbished in 2011, with identical new 10-foot-tall letters made to replace the old ones. The rooftop patio was rebuilt and opened soon after.
A 10-foot state of Gambrinus, a European cultural hero often referred to as the “patron saint of beer,” holds a beer aloft on a corner of the Falstaff Brewery. While many assume it is Falstaff, the drink-loving Shakespearian character, he is not. This statue, along with the legendary lighted weather ball perched atop the 128-foot-tall vertical neon Falstaff sign, ensure that the brewery is well represented in New Orleans photography.