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Posted at 3:58 PM ET, 12/15/2010

Brickskeller memories: The robot bartender of '66

By Tim Carman

brickskeller vintage_opt.jpgA flirty moment at the Brickskeller, circa August 1975. (Craig Herndon/The Washington Post)

The Brickskeller is closing soon, although it's not exactly clear when the joint will pull its last draft. DCist says the tavern's final day will be Dec. 23, while the Washington City Paper says it'll be Dec. 18. Our own beer guru, Greg Kitsock, will soon publish an interview with the new owners, Megan Merrifield and her husband, who may have a definitive answer on the dueling closing dates.

In the meantime, however, we at AWCE would like to pay homage to the Brickskeller with a series of posts looking back at the historic beer emporium, which has been in operation since 1957. First up is this story about a robot bartender, printed on Jan. 16, 1966, and penned by staff writer Larry Weekley.

Here are the lead paragraphs from Weekley's piece:

The new bartender at the Brickskeller Restaurant, 1523 22nd St. NW, is never late for work, never talks back to rude customers and never takes a drink on the job or off. Quick, silent and efficient is he.

This paragon is a robot -- what else? And the new face behind the bar is a push-button console, rather than a mere human with a trusting smile and hairy arms.

Feliz J. Coja, owner of the Brickskeller, built the robot in an effort to solve a labor shortage, Good human bartenders, Coja has learned, are hard to find.

Labor shortage? It definitely was a different era. Craft cocktails prepared with house-made tonics and bitters, served over custom-made ice, and gently stirred by a mixologist were also decades away. The Brick's robot had a considerably less fussy approach:

Whiskey sour? Push a button. Daiquiri? Push another. Martini? Old Fashioned? Manhattan? All the human does is punch the correct button and the robot takes over.

From several shelves of bottles, each with an air-pressure suction tube in it, the electric machine sucks up the proper ingredients in the proper amounts, pours them into a cup and even shakes them up, if that is called for by the programmed recipe.

Coja invested several years and nearly $100,000 in the machine. There's no word on how long it lasted.

You can read the full story here.

By Tim Carman  | December 15, 2010; 3:58 PM ET
Categories:  Beer, Media  | Tags:  Brickskeller, Dupont Circle, Tim Carman, history  
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