Before the Brooklyn Bridge opened to traffic, it was already in use as New York City’s most unique wine cave.
As chief bridge engineer, Washington Roebling, sought to offset the bridges extraordinary $15 million cost by offering two businesses in the way of the bridge space for wine storage beneath the bridge. Roebling added two cellars, one on each shore, and rented them out to local businesses,according to NPR.
The caverns where built “beneath the ramps that lead up to the anchorages, within the arched granite and limestone approaches that span the intervening streets,” according to a period New York Times article. And that 60,000-ton granite entrances kept the spaces were dark and consistently cool.
Over the years, the caverns were expanded into “a painted labyrinth,” with lanes named after French streets—-Avenue Les Deux Oefs, Avenue Des Chateux Haut Brion. Illustrations of provincial Europe and designs of leaves and grapes were also added.
After prohibition, guest in formal wear returned to the cave to waltz and drink champagne. But by World War II, the city of New York took over permanent management of the cellars and the party beneath the bridge ended. But to this day a homage to the cellar’s history remains on the wall:
“Legend of Oechs Cellars: These cellars were built in 1876, about seven years prior to the official opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. From their inception, they housed the choicest wines in New York City.” [NPR]