A Rochester-area staple announced Friday that it will be shutting down at the end of the calendar year, following several years of significant losses and increasing competition in the city.
That’s right, time has finally spelled the end for the beloved blue-collar bar 15 Beers on the Erie Canal.
Located along the storied canal itself, for years the bar has catered to weary laborers and overworked students alike, bringing them together as brethren to commemorate the region’s bygone era of bustling canal-based commerce, coaxed on by copious quantities of Genesee Cream Ale.
But the bar’s longtime strength — its proximity to the mighty canal — has become a weakness as the University has developed more of the real estate around itself and new bars have cropped up in places like College Town and the East and Alexander neighborhood.
The owner of the bar, Lawrence Leary, has actually owned the land on which the bar is built for over 50 years, much longer than the bar has been there. Always a lover of the history of the area and especially the canal, he tried a number of different business models through the years, always with the goal of bringing people to appreciate the waterway and have some fun while doing it.
His first idea was a petting zoo based on the local wildlife that early colonists and later canal-builders interacted with. The result — 15 Deers on the Erie Canal — was underwhelming and only lasted a year or two.
Wanting to capitalize on the scenic location of his property, Leary next opened up his property for weddings, with an onsite wedding cake shop to cut costs. That business — 15 Tiers on the Erie Canal — is actually cited by some as a forerunner of today’s “Cake Boss.” But Leary’s incarnation of the specialty wedding cake business came too early to benefit from the cash cow that is reality television. It folded within five years.
Tired of the variability of customers, especially with the changing seasons, Leary decided to get into a more stable business and started his own private practice in proctology, which actually did quite well, lasting for nearly 10 years. However, like the others, that business — 15 Rears on the Erie Canal — was shut down after it was discovered that Mr. Leary had, in fact, never attended medical school.
Looking for another steady, yearlong stream of customers and noticing that many people who had been married on his property were having kids, Leary next ventured to set up a youth organization emphasizing outdoor skills and developing leadership skills. Fifteen Peers on the Erie Canal only lasted four years, but hearing the peers’ parents arguing on the sidelines of the meetings gave Leary his next business idea.
The marriage counseling business that came next had a rough start, faltering in its first year or two as Leary discovered that a marriage on the rocks was an entirely different problem than a boat that’s run itself aground on a shallow, rocky canal-bottom.
However, 15 Tears on the Erie Canal made a turnaround, becoming Leary’s most successful venture since the proctology practice. All he had to do was start arbitrarily prescribing various pills in what has been cited by some as a forerunner to today’s “opioid crisis.” That business lasted for over 12 years before it was shut down after it became apparent that Leary had still not attended medical school.
In significant debt as a result of heavy fines for impersonating a doctor (twice), Leary decided to get into the high-risk, high-reward entertainment industry in an attempt to claw his way out of debt. His first attempt in that field was an insult comedy club, 15 Jeers on the Erie Canal, which performed poorly and closed after two years.
It was during that time, however, that Leary started converting his property to a haunted house every October, the beginning of the successful 15 Fears on the Erie Canal that has lasted to the present day and has become a longstanding tradition for many in the Rochester area.
It was after 15 Fears on the Erie Canal that Leary finally hit on what would be his most successful business ever — 15 Beers on the Erie Canal. The bar became famous for giving free beer to the winners of its weekly canal-based trivia nights and karaoke nights. But the bar began to go downhill in late 2016, when it was revealed that Leary had voted for James Monroe in the election.
Leary had always voted for James Monroe, the President in 1817 when the Erie Canal’s construction began, but in this era of increased partisan polarization supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump viewed him as a traitor and organized separate boycotts of his bar. Along with the increased competition from College Town, it was too much.
In a last ditch attempt to save the bar, Leary tried to diversify, starting a weekly LGBT night — well, you can guess the name — and starting a booze cruise that stopped at over a dozen ports along the canal. But alas, not even 15 Piers on the Erie Canal was enough to save the bar, and it will be closing down after this year’s annual 15 Fears on the Erie Canal.
It will have been Leary’s longest-lasting business, having survived for a decade and a half.