Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Support City Paper!
Washington surveyed the District of Columbia; L’Enfant mapped its streets; Robert Portner made it livable in August. In its new exhibit, “Robert Portner: Brewer of the Gilded Age,” the Lyceum honors this pioneer in air conditioning and refrigeration. Portner was a sutler, a supplier of Army camps during the Civil War. He soon found out that Billy Yank was more interested in lager beer than cornflakes or cucumbers. So he opened a brewery in Alexandria after the war, and to control the fermentation process, he patented America’s first artificial cooling device in 1880. It worked so well that he equipped his Manassas home with a similar contraption; visitors were amazed at the polar blasts of air emanating from it in the dead of summer. Besides being the most renowned brewer in the South, thanks to the success of his Tivoli brand beer (spells “I lov it” backward), Portner was a shipbuilder, real estate magnate, and philanthropist whose bequests continue to this day. Prohibition brought down his empire, but this exhibit relives his heyday in photos, magazines, patent drawings, and colorful artifacts. At the Lyceum, 201 S. Washington St., Alexandria. FREE. (703) 838-4994. (Greg Kitsock)