Alcohol. It arrived with the first Europeans and has been doing the rounds of New York to forever increasing crowds ever since. Back when Manhattan (New Amsterdam) was first settled by the Dutch in 1624, one of the first orders of business was to set up a City Hall to govern this little island. In a stroke of marketing genius, the Dutch also made it the only place that could legally sell alcohol.
Luckily for all, the rules have long since changed and out of the nearly 3,000 bars now in New York City, there are plenty that are so packed with history, the only thing that changes are the patrons. From the oldest in NYC, to former speakeasies, and the hangouts of artists and mobsters, we have put together this list of historic New York City bars and pubs. The video below only shows the 5 oldest, but our post lists 12 historic NYC bars and pubs.
54 Pearl St, Battery Park (corner of Broad Street)
Both museum and bar, if history is your thing, then this is your place. Operating since 1762, there’s great food, over 200 whiskeys and 30 craft beers and ciders. The building itself is an essential part of American Revolution history, as it served as the headquarters for George Washington, and the venue of peace negotiations with the British. It’s also perhaps the oldest surviving building in all of Manhattan. Read more about this historic landmark and about other things to see in Lower Manhattan.
279 Water St, Financial District (corner of Dover St, below Brooklyn Bridge)
Very much a look don’t touch proposition at the moment, as back in 2012 Hurricane Sandy literally put this place under by submerging it in several feet of water. The site of countless bars and restaurants over the decades, the building dates from 1794 and is New York City’s oldest with a commercial wood frame. Worth a visit if you’re planning a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and hopefully it’ll be reopening soon.
Used as a filming location for Donnie Brasco, The Sopranos, Law & Order and most movies that feature the mafia in NYC. Still very similar inside and out as to when it was first opened, of special note is the original pressed tin roof. Right in the heart of Little Italy, keep one eye open and trained on your fellow patrons, as more than a few still appear to have mob connections, or at least dress the part. it’s worth checking out the jukebox as well, which seems stuck in its own personal time warp. Check out our self-guided tour of the surrounding neighborhood to learn about more things to see in Manhattan’s Little Italy.
326 Spring St, SoHo (between Greenwich St & Washington St)
One of the last remaining federal style townhouses in New York, it was built late in the 18th century by African American businessman and revolutionary war veteran James Brown. Owing to its near-river location, in the mid 1800s it was converted into a tavern, then became a speakeasy during Prohibition in the early 1900s. For decades it was the bar with no name, and known as ‘The Green Door’ with the motto ‘known from coast to coast’. As the building has been heritage listed, actually giving it a name and erecting a sign was always going to prove problematic. So the owners settled on ‘Ear Inn’ as the name only required some slight modifications to the neon ‘BAR’ sign. Also, check out our self-guided tour of the neighborhood for more things to see in SoHo.
86 Bedford St, Greenwich Village (between Barrow St & Grove St)
Like the Bridge Cafe, Chumleys is currently undergoing renovations, as one of the walls collapsed, but it’ll hopefully re-open soon. What started out as a speakeasy in 1922 quickly became a preferred hangout for writers, poets, journalists and activists, including members of the Beat Generation. Inside are the trap doors and secret stairs which provided much of its allure, and countless American novels were written (or partly written) within it’s unstable walls including books by Will Cather, William Faulkner and John Steinbeck. Check out our self-guided tour of the West Village to learn more about this neighborhood.
Another Village bar known for it’s literary chops, thankfully this one is still open. Easily spotted thanks to its iconic electric red sign, famous patrons included Dylan Thomas, Jim Morrison, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac, who legend has it was booted out much more than once. Originally a bar for longshoreman, the bohemians and artists took over in the mid 1900s, and it’s a great place to have a dram and reminisce about all the creative types who were inspired and undone by that exact tipple. Check out our self-guided tour of the West Village to learn more about this neighborhood.
7) McSorley’s Old Ale House (1854)
15 East 7th Street, East Village
The hot rumor is that this place hasn’t once been dusted since it opened in 1854, and it is true that no piece of memorabilia has been removed since 1920, however plenty have been added. Consider the walls akin to a slowly growing onion, that’s constantly drenched with ale of which two are available, the dark and the light. One of the last ‘men only’ pubs, it was finally forced to allow in women patrons by a court order in 1970, which explains in part why the male amenities are glorious, and the women’s far less so. Always packed with tourists, it still manages to somewhat accurately recreate what it was like to down a few ales in ‘Ye Olde New York’. Read our full post on McSorley’s Old Ale House and be sure to read about more things to see in the East Village.
The inside of Pete’s also looks much as it did when it first opened, and boasts an intricately carved bar, eccentric decor and a welcome lack of televisions. There are plenty of beers to choose from, but be sure to give Pete’s speciality brew a try – the 1864 Ale. It’s additionally worth noting that most NYC bars will let you sample before making a selection and Pete’s is no exception. Current title holder in the ongoing and never-ending competition for New York City’s oldest continually operating bar and restaurant, the meals might not be cheap, but they’re well worth the asking price. Check out our self-guided tour of the area to learn about more things to see in Gramercy Park.
45 E 18th St, Gramercy (between Park Ave & Broadway)
Certainly not extravagantly named, the Old Town Bar does do what it says on the tin, as it is a very old bar with an original interior that includes carved surfaces galore, a marble and mahogany bar, lamp lightning and tiled floors all faithful to a time when most men wore suits, and none were of the ‘track’ variety. Most notably, it featured in the opening credits of Late Night with David Letterman, when the show was on NBC from 1982 to 1993. Check out our self-guided tour of the area to learn about more things to see in Gramercy Park.
This brick bar has also remain virtually unchanged, with human leg bones over the door, supposedly an Irish good luck charm, and Skippy the dog by the bar, retaining the same post he held while alive. A legendary haunt of Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Nat King Cole, Buddy Holly and countless others, characters from Mad Men frequently P.J. Clarke’s and its burgers are world renowned. On a side note, have you ever wondered what happens if an owner refuses to sell to a developer? Known as a ‘holdout’ P.J. Clarke’s is one of the most famous, and the bar has very nearly but not quite been consumed by the surrounding 47-story skyscraper.
626 11th Ave, Hell’s Kitchen (corner of West 46th)
Originally an Irish waterfront saloon, the river may have moved as land has been reclaimed, but the bar hasn’t and it’s another of the those in the longest continual operation in New York. Prohibition forced liquor sales to move from the ground floor up to the third floor, but forced no disruption in service. Also known for its extravagant old world interior and fine dining, the surrounding streets of Hell’s Kitchen are much safer than they once were, and still retain plenty of charm so well worth a wander, especially after a few drinks to get you kickstarted.
The quintessential NYC dive bar, and what exactly is a dive bar, you may ask? It’s place where the booze is cheap, and this ethos is reflected in a lack of effort in the decor, service and cleaning, especially in the bathrooms. Basically, dive bars are the best and Rudy’s in an NYC institution serving great value pitchers of beer, drink specials and free hotdogs. it first opened as a speakeasy in 1919, and has been frequented by artists and gangsters alike including Norman Mailer, Al Capone, Drew Barrymore and Paul McCartney. Where other bars on this list opt for wood carved interiors, Rudy’s prefers split vinyl booths held together with gaffer tape. Look for the six foot tall pig at the door. Learn more about what else there is to see in Hell’s Kitchen.