Weismantel's Showboat

A longtime fixture on Jamaica Avenue just off Crescent Street, I'm still looking for more background.

Matchbook cover advertising the Showboat

George Distler Hotel and Brewery
George Distler emigrated from Bavaria, and started out as a builder in the Williamsburgh area. He established the Cypress Hills Brewery in this location in 1866. It included a hotel and restaurant. Distler was an active leader in the ward, and returned to the building business in 1878. He passed away in 1898, his last address was 47 Vermont Avenue.
Distler's Hotel and Brewery, 1877
Brian Merlis found this fantastic shot of the hotel, which we date to 1877 because the picture commemorates the 15th Anniversary of a regiment which we believe formed in 1862.
A huge thanks to Ellen Bogdanoff, who dug up this great image while doing genealogy work. Descendants of Edward Haarman believe he bought the property around 1910 and this picture is sometime around 1915. Known as Haarman's Casino Grove, it appears it featured a beer garden. ("Casino" back then meant an entertainment hall, not a gambling house.) During prohibition the place served as a local meeting hall.
John Weismantel enters the picture circa 1925-26. He is a former boxing promoter, and managed the Broadway Sporting Club. Records show a mortgage for $7,000 taken between Weismantel and Babette Haarman (Edward's wife) in February 1926. The aerial view on the left is from 1932, and simply verifies that the famous 'Showboat' did not exist yet. My suspicion is that Distler's old hotel is still being used as a restaurant/hall, and it is not until after Prohibition is repealed in 1933 that the Showboat is built. Weismantel is busted in 1930 for illegally serving alcohol on the premises, but it is not referred to as the Showboat at that time.
The earliest ads I uncover for the Showboat date to 1936; this ad for New Year's Eve appeared on Dec. 28, 1938.
A similar postcard from 1938; I enjoyed the writing on the reverse "You need your pockets full of George Washingtons here" .
The 1941 tax photos. I had licensed the one on the left for the book, but the image quality simply wasn't sharp enough. Tim O'Reilly supplied the alternate view on the right. The early postcards advertised "parking for 100 cars" which I assume was in the back.
These 2 images came from Peter Stango, and we liked the one on the left so much Brian and I scrambled to squeeze it in the book at the last minute. The large shot is from December 8, 1945. The shot on the right was taken in February 1947 at his Uncle Ray's wedding reception. If you compare the picture in the background in each shot, it would appear one was printed in reverse- Peter acknowledges the one on the right is from a slide and is probably backwards.
This 1946 image is a view of what I believe is the main banquet room. I believe the Lincoln Republican Club was not local to ENY, but headquartered in the 18th Election District.
Because the above image was so large, I have added closeups of the murals at the back of the room on the left and right.
Hard to believe I found another of there panoramic shots, also from 1946, and based on the murals it is a different room. You can even see the cars parked through the window.
Showboat, 1959
Thanks to Carol Sieranski Matteo, who submitted this image taken on her wedding day with husband Michael in 1959. Note the street address, 814 Jamaica Avenue on the glass. On the right, a marketing post card of the interior from the same era.
John Weismantel died in 1938, and his wife in 1943, but the family continued on. Peter Stango and Rod Maggio both brought to my attention that the place became Mickey Alan's Showboat (Rod supplied the 1982 menu.) Rod further tipped me off that Mickey (real name Alagna) was close with Floyd Patterson, the champion boxer. I subsequently have heard from Mickey's daughter,Mary Alagna. She explained that Mickey was a boxer who had his career cut short by injury, but he met Floyd Patterson at Greenwood Lake in the the 1950s. Mickey had a great voice and was there as a singing waiter while Floyd was up on a break from training. Floyd got antsy after awhile and wanted to do some sparring, and Mickey wound up becoming a sparring partner and long-time friend. Floyd would eventually marry Mickey's sister-in-law, Mary's Aunt Janet.

It was Mary's grandfather Nicholas who bought the Showboat from the Wesimantel's, though she is not sure when. Mickey took ownership in 1966. Mary had another great anecdote about her father; "My dad was a great singer, and also used to work the corner in Floyd's bouts once they were friends. He was meant to sing on a talk show- not sure of it was Carson or Sullivan- when Floyd was interviewed after his loss to Johansson, but Floyd was so humiliated he wouldn't go on, and my dad (foolishly, if loyally), would not go on without him." Mary helped run the Showboat in the 1990s until a fire ruined the building in 1997. .
Supermarket, 2005
Apparently when they knocked down Weismantels in the late 1990s they discovered that where they were expecting solid ground there were in fact underground chambers. The chambers consisted of extensive brickwork and the only apparent entrance was a 'secret' entrance from the kitchen. I asked Mary about the rumor - she replied; "my mom used to tell me the cellars lead to a sub-cellar which lead to a tunnel underground that would leave you out in the cemetery.. I was always strictly forbidden to investigate but I was always intrigued. " Ruthann Sabon confirmed the rumors; "When they were tearing down the old Showboat, he (her husband Chuck) had to investigate- he was amazed to find bricked walls and brick archways which were under the Showboat in pristine condition. We tried calling NYC preservation department, to get them to investigate but you know how that goes with NYC bureaucracy ... a day late and a dollar short..."
Neil Sullivan supplied the 2005 update photo of the grocery which took its place in 1999.