GOMBERG SELTZER WORKS
WHEN SHOWN TO me by Kenny Gomberg, the third-generation co-owner of Brooklyn-based
Gomberg Seltzer Works, the seltzer-making process appears fairly straightforward. Tap water
is filtered three times: first through sand to take out solids and particles, then through a charcoal
filter that removes odors and tastes, then finally a paper filter takes out any additional solids.
The water is chilled and drawn through a machine that beats gas into the water with paddles.
Filling the old-fashioned bottles on the 100-plus-year-old machine that originated this
business requires the dexterity of a cowboy at a showdown. Gomberg grabs filled bottles and replaces
them with empties as they whiz past him on a rotating wheel. On this day, he only simulates the function.
Now that Gomberg Seltzer Works is the last in the city, servicing only 10 seltzer deliverymen, bottles
need filling just three days a week.
“This shop was one of many shops,” says Gomberg, 46, of earlier days. “There were those in Queens
and the Bronx; there were hundreds of seltzer men.”
Gomberg attributes the decline of the seltzer delivery industry to several factors. Women
entering the workplace meant empty houses, and no one to greet the seltzer man. Older customers
who passed away or moved to Florida didn’t help; neither did the one-liter bottles at the supermarket.
“But those one-liter bottles can’t compare,” says Gomberg. To the last spritz, Gomberg’s seltzer
is all big-bubbled bite. The spigot functions as a stopper, trapping the gas in the bottle and keeping
the seltzer fizzy—plus, there’s more pressure in his bottle than in store-bought seltzer
to begin with.
“Good seltzer should hurt. It’s the truth.”
Wearing an open button-down over a Pepsi sweatshirt, construction boots and jeans, Gomberg
looks at home. He should—he’s been hanging around here since he was a kid, and still manages
to find some excitement. “See these bottles here?” He points to crates of blue, green and clear bottles,
with faded names on their surfaces. Some are hand-blown, he tells me—you can tell by feeling
for a seam if they were machine-made.
In the old days, deliverymen personalized their bottles. Today, they’re anthropological
relics, clues to the past. Gomberg shows me names of erstwhile deliverymen—B. Atlas, D.
Feig, R. Chaikin—pressed into the pewter spigots.
Today, says Gomberg, “nobody has their own bottles.”
Gomberg himself does not dispatch deliverymen, who charge anywhere from $12 to $20 per case.
“They have their own business, their own route, their own customers, and they are all my customers,”
he says. One long-time seltzer man who fills his bottles at Gomberg even inspired a 1993 children’s
book by author Ken Rush, aptly titled The Seltzer Man.