The Bridge Café, a wood-frame building erected in 1794 in the
South Street Seaport, sits in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge even
though it had already been in business for almost ninety years when the
bridge was finished. In addition, when it was first built, before
massive land-fill projects dramatically expanded the surface area of
Lower Manhattan, the East River actually came up to the structure’s
The building had a famous reputation for being a brothel in the 19th
century, and an 1860 census lists 279 Water Street as being home to six
Irish prostitutes. With a working bar since 1847, it has
surpassed McSorley’s and now claims to be “the Oldest Drinking
Establishment in New York”.
Despite all it’s history, the spot
has not been much of a tourist trap, and has been frequently used for
business lunches by city politicians. When he was mayor, Ed Kotch
would have lunch with colleagues at his private table twice a
24 University Place in the 50s
University Place today
The Cedar Tavern
(closed in December 2006)
24 University Place (in its heyday)
The Cedar tavern was such an important gathering spot for many
prominent Abstract Expressionist painters and beat writers in the 50's
that it is included here, even though it recently closed and looks as
though it will not be reopened.
The Cedar Tavern was opened in 1866 on Cedar Street. In 1933 it moved
to 55 West Eight Street, and in 1945 it moved to 24 University Place.
Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Michael
and others of the New York School all patronized the bar in the 1950s
when they lived in Greenwich Village. Historians consider it an
important incubator of the Abstract Expressionist movement. It was also
popular with writers Allen
Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac,
Gregory Corso, Frank O’Hara, and LeRoi Jones. Pollock was eventually
banned from the establishment for kicking in the men’s room door, as
was Kerouac, who allegedly urinated in an ashtray.
Robert Motherwell had a studio nearby in the early 50’s, and he held a
weekly salon for artists there. The Cedar was the closest place for
them to have a drink afterwards. Pollock, DeKooning, Kline, Aristodemis
Kaldis, Phillip Guston, Al Leslie and the others liked it for its cheap
drinks and lack of tourists or middle-class squares. University Place
those days was a poor area and dangerous because of the several welfare
and single-room occupancy hotels in the area; muggings were common. The
building was sold and demolished in 1963. After a year The Cedar
reopened at at 82 University Place, which had been occupied by an
store, and built the new bar in a more upscale pub style. By this time
Pollock and Kline were gone, DeKooning was abstaining from alcohol, and
the scene never revived.
In the 1960s Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs, David Amram, and occasionally
Bob Dylan, were
patronize the Cedar Tavern. D.A. Pennebaker, Dylan, and Bob Neuwirth
met there to plan the shooting of Don't
86 Bedford St. (between Grove and
The address is on Bedford Street in the West Village, but the actual
“entrance” to this speakeasy that opened in 1922 is a door which to
this day has no exterior markings, across the block on Barrow
Its been purported that the expression “to 86” something,
meaning to hide or get rid of something, or to stop serving someone,
comes from the Prohibition days of Chumley’s when police would warn
owners to “86” everyone out the back door while Prohibition agents were
raiding. In other words, they meant to send everyone out the 86
Bedford Street back entrance.
The building itself dates back to
the 1830s and was originally a blacksmithery. According to legend, in
the pre-Civil War era, it was a place where escaped slaves could find a
haven (there was a black community on nearby Gay Street), and for a
while it became a popular gathering place for leftist radicals.
Later on it would become a legendary hangout for writers. Earnest Hemmingway and Norman Mailer used to frequent here,
and over the decades, the pub has become a gathering place for writers,
poets, journalists, and activists of the “Lost” and “Beat”
Inside the bar was a plaque dated September 22, 2000,
from The Friends of Libraries USA, stating that Chumley’s was placed on
a Literary Landmarks Register, and reads: “A celebrated haven
frequented by poets, novelists and playwrights, who helped define
twentieth century American literature. These writers include Willa Cather, E. E. Cummings, Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Ring Lardner, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neil, John Dos Passos, and John Steinbeck.”
walls were decorated with the covers of books that were worked on
and because of its history, it is a stop on many literary tours.
Unfortunately, in April, 2007, the chimney inside collapsed, causing
the bar to temporarily shut down along with a few surrounding
buildings. Construction continues, and it is unclear when the bar
P. J. Clarke's
915 3rd Ave. (corner of 55th St)
P. J. Clarke’s, which dates back to 1884, is in a small brick building
constructed in 1868. While in its heyday it was surrounded by
tenements and rumbling overhead trains that lined Third Avenue, it now
is dwarfed by skyscrapers.
It was originally a four-story
building, but lost the top two floors when the forty-seven-story
building next store went up in the late 1960s. It has a long
history of famous guests. Louis Armstrong once played in the back
room, Johnny Mercer is said to have written “One For My Baby (And One
More for the Road)” on a napkin while sitting at the bar, and Frank
Sinatra was a frequent patron. He was impressed by the massive
ceramic urinals, which are common in such 19th century staples as Old
Town Bar and McSorley’s, and once said that New York City Mayor Abe
Beam could fit inside one of them.
In the late 1950s, Nat King
Cole used to call P.J. Clarke’s bacon cheeseburger “the Cadillac of
burgers”, and in the 1975 move French Connection II, Gene Hackman’s
character Popeye Doyle requests a burger from P.J. Clarke’s when he’s
undergoing cold turkey from a forced heroin injection. The
burgers here were also the favorite food of actor Richard Harris, who
would come in and ask for the usual, six double vodkas.
Ernest Bornigne and Ethel Merman announced their plans to marry to a
stunned crowd, but the marriage went on to last only two months.
In the early 1970s, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis used to bring John, Jr.,
and Caroline for lunch on Saturdays.
The establishment was used
for Nat’s bar in the 1945 movie The Lost Weekend, it was mentioned in
Jacqueline Stone’s 1969 novel The Love Machine, and in the AMC
television series Mad Men, the employees of Sterling Cooper Advertising
Agency frequent the bar.
Years ago, Bavarian immigrant Joseph
Doelger had a brewery across the street and brewed one of New York’s
first true lager beers. His daughter was the mother of Mae West,
born in 1893.
The bar is so iconic that recently it has become a
chain, with a location at Lincoln Square and 63rd Street, one in the
financial district, three restaurants in Chicago, and a location in Sao
326 Spring St
326 Spring Street – near
This three-story building was completed in 1812, and was the home of a
black man named James Brown, who ran a tobacco shop on the ground
floor, and was a Revolutionary War veteran. Tradition says that
he is the black man in the front background rowing the boat in Emanuel
Leutze’s 1851 painting Washington Crossing the Delaware. Five
years later, in 1817, Brown opened a tavern, which, due to its location
only a few feet from the Hudson River shore before numerous landfill
projects over the decades, became very popular among sailors and
longshoremen. Brown sold the building in the mid-nineteenth
century, where it went through a number of owners before being
purchased by an Irish immigrant named Thomas Cloke, who was very
successful in his neighborhood but ultimately sold the establishment on
the eve of Prohibition. During those years the ground floor was a
speakeasy, while the upstairs changed from a boarding house, to a
headquarters for smugglers, to a brothel. When Prohibition was
repealed, the bar was re-opened, but appeared to be an establishment
without a name, simply being called “The Green Door”, with a neon sign
that read “BAR” overhead, and catering to heavy-drinking
The area would decline sharply in the coming years,
and the once bustling clientele would dwindle sharply by the time it
became one of New York City’s Landmarks Commission’s earliest
designations in 1969.
In the mid-70s, a group of struggling
artists purchased the building, and by 1977, reopened the bar.
Since there were restrictions to changing signage on historic
buildings, the new owners simply painted over part of the “B” on the
old neon sign, thus creating the “EAR Inn”, in homage to a music
magazine with the same name published upstairs.
Today, the bar is
a popular spot known, much like McSorley’s
and Old Town, for the
clutter on its walls, such as a campaign poster for Wendell Willkie,
who ran for president against FDR in 1940. Due to all it’s seen,
the bar is also believed by some to be haunted, including by a sailor
named Mickey who waits in eternity for his ship to come in.
54 Pearl Street (corner of Broad
The Fraunces Tavern block, bounded by Pearl, Water, and Broad Streets
and Coenties Slip, was listed on the National Register of Historic
Places in 1977.
The tavern itself, located on the corner of Pearl
and Broad Streets, is considered to be Manhattan’s oldest surviving
building. Major renovation was done by the Sons of the Revolution
in 1907, though, and the building is now thought to look little like it
On this sight on December 4, 1783,
General George Washington bid farewell to his officers at the end of
the American Revolution and returned to his Mount Vernon, Virginia,
home. The original building was completed in 1719 as a mansion
and was noted throughout New York for its size and quality.
But it was Samuel Fraunces, a well-to-do mulatto from Jamaica and the
steward of George Washington’s household, who turned it into a popular
tavern for groups like the Sons of Liberty in the years leading up to
the Revolutionary War.
In 1765, a British captain who tried to
smuggle tea into New York Harbor was captured and forced to give an
apology at the tavern, and during a 1775 battle at the Battery, a
cannon ball from a British ship went through the building’s roof.
When the war was all but won, American officers held “Board of Inquiry”
meetings weekly with the British here, in an attempt to return to
slavery any blacks who had fought for the British with the promise of
freedom, but ultimately the British were able to secure the freedom of
almost all Loyalist blacks in New York.
After suffering a string
of serious fires beginning in 1832, there was many calls for the tavern
to be demolished by 1900, but the building was saved mainly do to the
work of American Revolution preservation societies. On
January 24, 1975, a bomb went off in the tavern killing four and
injuring over fifty. The Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN,
which had set off other bombs in the city claimed responsibility, but
ultimately no one was ever prosecuted.
Today Fraunces Tavern is a
tourist site with a restaurant and museum, and a part of the American
Whiskey Trail, providing an educational journey along the East Coast
about the history of distilled spirits in America.
The Landmark Tavern
626 11th Ave (corner of 46th St.)
When the Landmark was originally built in 1868, it was on the
waterfront, before 12th Ave. was built over a landfill. The bar
inside was built in 1839 from a single mahogany tree and the front door
is the original speakeasy door. It is said to be inhabited by at
least two ghosts: a young Irish girl who arrived starving during the
Irish Famine, only to die on the third floor when it was a flophouse,
and a Confederate soldier who was mortally wounded in a drunken brawl
here and died in a bathtub on the second floor. During its
speakeasy days, the establishment was frequented by gangster, actor,
and Hell’s Kitchen resident George Raft. It was more recently
often shown on the sitcom “Spin City”.
Woody Guthrie at McSorley's
Photo by Eric Schaal
McSorley’s Old Ale House
15 E. 7th St. (between 2nd and 3rd
McSorley’s is said to be the oldest bar in New York,
dating back to 1854. The only drinks served, light and dark
McSorley’s Ale, have been poured for a hundred and fifty years.
Women were not allowed inside until a controversial 1970 Supreme Court
case, and after years of bartenders guarding the bathroom door, a
ladies room was finally installed in 1986.
visited here after giving his famous Cooper Union address in 1860, and
a chair where he supposedly sat is kept behind the bar.
then McSorley’s has seen a long line of famous patrons such as Teddy
Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Joe Kennedy, Woody Guthrie, Mickey
Mantle, John Lennon and
JFK. When the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994 they
took the trophy down to McSorley’s and drank out of it. Among the
souviniers on the cluttered walls is a pair of hobnail boots
Joe Kennedy got as a trophy from his bootlegging days, a pair of Harry
Houdini’s handcuffs, and wisbones on a chandalier left by young U.S.
soldiers who went off to fight in the First World War. The
wishbones that remain, among decades of gathering dust and gunk, are of
those soldiers that didn’t come back. Touch them and you’re
banned for life.
With its floor covered in sawdust and mugs of
ale served two at a time, McSorley’s continues to be a bar unaffected
by time or the outside world.
Mulberry Street Bar
176 1/2 Mulberry Street
This bar was originally called “Mare Chiaro”, Italian for “clear
water”, but the place is now known
as Mulberry Street Bar, and has been a Little Italy institution since
1908, hardly changing its social-club ambiance since that time.
It has played an important role in a neighborhood that was once heavily
mob influenced. Although, somewhat updated in 2003 with a few
plasma-screen TVs and beer on tap, it still retains its ornate wooden
back bar with inset mirrors at the top, subway floor, and press tin
ceiling and walls. Nowadays, though, the neighborhood is safer
and the bar is known more for its classic jukebox, known for such old
timers as Tony Bennett, Frankie Valli, The Four Tops, Elvis, and of
Johnny Depp meets Al
Pacinohere in Donny Brasco (see below), the
Frank Sinatra movie Contract on
Cherry Street was partially filmed here, as well as Kojac, The Pope of
Greenwhich Village, 9 ½ Weeks, Woody Allen’s Out of the Darkness
(a.k.a. Shadows and Fog) starring Madonna, Men of Honor starring Martin
Sheen, The Godfather Part III, State of Grace starring Sean Penn, and
Night and the City starring Robert Di Niro.
The establishment is
also regularly seen on The Sopranos and Law & Order.
Old Town Bar
45 E. 18th St. (between Broadway and
Park Ave. South)
Old Town Bar, dating back to 1892, is another example of a 19th century
establishment that has remained unchanged over the past one hundred
Located a block north of Union Square, the two-story
Old Town is famous for having the same ceramic tile floors, ornate
pressed tin ceilings, beveled glass cabinets and light diffusers, wood
bar, booths that have hidden compartments under the seats to store
alcohol while the police raided during Prohibition, and a dumbwaiter
which is still in use, raising and lowering food between the downstairs
bar and upstairs dining room.
During Prohibition years, it served
as a speakeasy under the protection of Tammany Hall, which was located
on 17th Street. A twin bar was built directly across on 19th
Street, but was later dismantled and moved to Massachusetts.
bar has a long history of being used by television. Scenes from
the films “The Devil’s Own”, “State of Grace”, “The Last Days of
Disco”, “Q&A”, and “Bullets Over Broadway” were shot here.
The bar has been used in “Sex in the City”, was used as the exterior
for “Riff’s” in “Mad About You”, and continues to be used for such
shows as “Law and Order” and “CSI”. Madonna strutted up and down
the bar for the music video to her song “Bad Girl”, and when David
Letterman hosted NBC’s Late Night, the camera would glide down the
length of the bar (see below), and over other New York City
buildings, during the
129 E 18th St,
129 E. 18th Street (corner of
O. Henry wrote his classic “Gift of the Magi” here
in 1904 while sitting in his favorite booth near the door. Thus
their slogan, “The bar that O. Henry made famous.”
opened it’s doors in 1864 and has been in operation ever since,
not even slowing down during Prohibition when the bar was disguised as
a flower shop. While most bars concentrate on serving standard
pub grub, Pete’s prides itself on its Italian-American cuisine.
The bar’s food and drink menus have evolved over the years to
accommodate the clientele, but the intricately carved bar, dark wooden
booths and lamppost-like lighting fixtures, as well as the house ale,
have been in place since day one.
The Stonewall Inn, 1969 Diana Davies, copyright
by New York Public Library
The Stonewall Inn today
The Stonewall Inn
53 Christopher Street (between West
4th Street & Waverly Place)
Built between 1843-1846 as stables, the building became a restaurant in
1930 until it was gutted by a fire in the mid-60s. On April 21,
1966, members of the Mattachine Society, the earliest surviving
homosexual organization in the United States, founded in 1950, staged a
sit-in at nearby Julius Bar, the oldest continually operating gay bar
in the city, one block northeast, to protest a New York State Liquor
Authority rule that stated homosexuals could not be served alcohol
because they were considered “disorderly”.
On March 18, 1967, the Stonewall Inn opened and went on to run a very
successful business as the largest gay bar in the United States,
despite the fact that, like most gay establishments at the time, police
raids were common. Mafia-owned, it attracted the most
marginalized people in the gay community – transvestites, effeminate
young men, male prostitutes and homeless youths.
In the early-morning hours of June 28, 1969, a police raid took place
that would spark a number of violent protests in the coming nights, and
within weeks Greenwich Village residents quickly organized to establish
safe-havens where gays and lesbians could be open about their
sexuality. The first time homosexuals significantly fought the police,
the events that took place here are widely regarded as the start of the
gay rights movement around the world.
The bar closed a few months after the riots, and over the next twenty
years, the building was occupied by various other establishments,
including a bagel shop, a Chinese restaurant, and a shoe store, with
many visitors and new residents of the area having no idea of its
history or connection to the riots. In the early 1990s, a new gay
bar was opened in the west half of the original, and a few years later
a popular multi-floor gay nightclub was established, but closed down in
2006 when the owner lost his lease. However, in February 2007,
the bar finished undergoing renovation and was reopened once again by
the owners of the famous Duplex Piano Bar next door, and it remains a
working gay bar to this day.
Horseshoe, 7B, today
Vazac’s, Horseshoe Bar, 7B
108 Avenue B (corner of 7th Street)
This spot in Alphabet City goes by three names: “Vazac’s”, the original
name when it opened up as a Polish catering hall in 1935; “the
Horseshoe Bar”, after the bar that wraps around the room with
thirty-one beer taps; and “7B” after the corner it’s on. The
original sign from the 1930s, which reads “Vasac Hall” and has the old
phone number, “OR4-2568”, can still be seen along the second story wall
from across the street. With it’s red brick exterior, castle like
doors on the corner, and large, multi-panned Tudor windows, one
reviewer described it as a place that Model-T Fords could be pictured
parked outside of.
In 1962, American writer Dawn Powell used it to mark the eastern edge
of New York (though she called it Vasac’s Avenue A bar) in her last
novel, The Golden Spur. Apartments were created on the second
floor a few decades ago and an ornate staircase in the back now leads
to nowhere and has since been used for storage.
In 1974's The
Godfather Part II (see link below), Pentagelli is nearly garroted here
executioners violently kick open the old doors and escape, and it was
here in 1986’s Crocadile Dundee that the Australian meets a New York
City prostitute. The bar is used for the exterior of the Life
Café in the movie Rent because the real place wasn’t considered
grundgy enough anymore. Scenes from Angel Heart and The Paper
were also filmed here, and, like Old Town, it’s a favorite spot for
shoots for New York City crime dramas.
Nowadays, this dirty, poorly lit dive bar, known for its cheep booze,
unsophisticated service, loud rock juke box and old-time games and
photo booth, is considered a last bastion of hope for punk and hard
core rockers who bemoan the ever increasing gentrification of the East
The White Horse
567 Hudson Street (corner of 11th
The White Horse, dating back to 1880, is commonly considered the second
oldest bar in New York, but is best known as the frequent hangout of
Welsh poet Dylan Thomas when
he was making poetry-reading tours later in life.
drinker is famous for saying, “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskeys, I
think that’s a record,” before dying a few days later at nearby St.
The tavern, which is made up of several small
rooms like a British pub, is decorated by several varieties of white
horses and many portraits of Thomas in his honor. Due to Thomas’
legacy, the White Horse became a common venue for beat poets in the
1950s and 60s. Bob Dylan
frequented the tavern in the early 1960s, and later on it became a
favorite spot of comedian John Belushi.
Akroyd is said to have visited
near closing time, had the doors locked, and bought everyone in the bar