A spider, caught in a flashlight beam, casts a huge shadow on the wall as its legs twist across its web. Anywhere you dare to look, cobwebs hang from the tunnel’s low, sloping ceiling.
This 120-year-old passageway once connected the Great Lakes Brewing Co.’s brewhouse to another building just to the north. Pat Conway, Great Lakes’ co-owner, has guided us through the brewhouse basement, past boxes of beer coasters, behind a water pump, past an unhinged and rusty metal door and down two concrete steps. Now, we’re walking the same 4-foot-wide, 6 1/2-foot-tall tunnel that workers for the 19th-century Schlather Brewery once walked.
A row of light fixtures, without bulbs, runs the tunnel’s length. Ten paces take us from the tunnel’s steps to its bricked-up end. A city gas pipe cuts past the far wall. The bricks are recent, erected when Dave’s Supermarket bought the Schlather site and sealed off its old underground vaults. The top bricks have already fallen out, revealing a second, rougher wall of concrete or dirt and a small space between. It looks like the sinister wall in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” a dungeon no mortal will disturb for decades.
Conway thinks the tunnel was built in the 1880s to bring heat, through steam pipes, from the Schlather Brewery’s boilers to the surviving building. He points to six long metal pegs sticking out of a side wall, lined up with six more farther down, that he thinks held the pipes. Great Lakes Brewery was once Schlather’s stables. Workers converting the building found hay in the rafters. An oversized horseshoe was dug up just outside; Schlather needed big draft horses to haul its keg-filled buggies across town.
Age dirties a good tunnel. After hard subterranean work by candlelight and flashlight, our photographer emerges with cobwebby grime on his face.
Conway knows of a second tunnel, bricked up on both sides, that ran from the Fries & Schuele building to the Elton Building, which houses the Market Avenue Wine Bar. Tunnels and alcohol make people think of speakeasies, but not so this time. The passage likely dates from when Fries & Schuele was a department store and used the former Elton Hotel building to store carpet. Today, the wine bar keeps six-packs of exotic beer by the tunnel’s old entrance, next to a brick-and-concrete wall and under the painted-over frame for a rolling door.