The Bridge Cafe today

The Bridge Café 279 Water Street (corner of Dover Street)

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 foundation.

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 week.

24 University Place in the 50s

24 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 Goldberg, 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 in those days was a poor area and dangerous because of the several welfare and single-room occupancy hotels in the area, and 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 antique 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 known to patronize the Cedar Tavern.  D.A. Pennebaker, Dylan, and Bob Neuwirth met there to plan the shooting of Don't Look Back.

Chumley's today
Chumley’s 86 Bedford St. (between Grove and Barrow Sts.)

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 Street. 

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” generations. 

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.”

The walls were decorated with the covers of books that were worked on there, and because of its history, it is a stop on many literary tours.

In April, 2007, the chimney inside collapsed, causing the bar to temporarily shut down along with a few surrounding buildings. Construction dragged on for 9 1/2 years, but the storied speakeasy finally reopened its doors in November 2016.

P. J. Clarke's today
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 movie 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. 

In 1964, 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 Paulo, Brazil.

326 Spring St today
The Ear Inn 326 Spring Street near Greenwhich Street

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 longshoremen. 

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.

Fraunces Tavern today
Fraunces Tavern 54 Pearl Street (corner of Broad Street)

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 originally did. 

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 is 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 today

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”.

McSorley's today

Woody Guthrie at McSorley's
Photo by Eric Schaal

McSorley’s Old Ale House
15 E. 7th St. (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues)

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. 

Abraham Lincoln visited here after giving his famous Cooper Union address in 1860, and a chair where he supposedly sat is kept behind the bar. 

Since 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.  Anyone who touches them is 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 today
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 course Sinatra.
Johnny Depp meets Al Pacino here 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 today
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 plus years. 

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. 

The 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 and 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 opening credits.

129 E 18th St, today

Pete’s Tavern 129 E. 18th Street (corner of Irving Place)

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.”  

Pete’s 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 owned
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.

Vasac Hall, 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), Frankie "Five Angels" Pentangelli is nearly garroted here before a cop walking by ignites a shoot-out on the corner outside, 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, The Verdict, 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 Village. 

The White Horse today
The Whitehorse Tavern 567 Hudson Street (corner of 11th Street)

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. 

The notorious 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. Vincent’s hospital.

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.  The night Belushi died, fellow Saturday Night Live cast member Dan Akroyd is said to have visited near closing time, had the doors locked, and bought everyone in the bar a round.