Food & Drink

These are Manhattan’s 10 oldest bars

Published On 09/01/2014 Published On 09/01/2014

Surviving Prohibition was basically the bar equivalent of beating the Battletoads speed-bike level. But lo and behold, these 10 bars did it (survived Prohibition, not beat the speed-bike level...).

Here's a pretty awesome look at the oldest bars in Manhattan, loaded with alcohol-soaked history so everyone will think you read things other than beer menus.
 

Pete’s Tavern

Gramercy
Opened: 1864
Surviving the Depression and two World Wars means Pete’s Tavern was established in 1864, and even stayed open during Prohibition, when it masked itself as a flower shop while still serving alcohol. Initially called Healy’s Cafe, the place didn’t get the name Pete’s Tavern until Pete Belle purchased the property in 1932. Sidle up to the intricately carved rosewood bar, and order one (or four) of the house special, the 1864 Original House Ale. 
Fun fact: O. Henry, who lived close by, wrote The Gift of the Magi here in a booth.

McSorley's Old Ale House

McSorley's Old Ale House

East Village
Opened: 1862
While the exact year McSorley’s opened is still up for debate (the sign outside reads 1854, but historian Richard McDermott claims it opened in 1862 based on public records), one thing is certain -- this over-a-century-old, cash-only, beer-only Irish ale house is really freaking old. Like, Lincoln, Babe Ruth, and Teddy Roosevelt beer’d it up here old. And because two beers are better than one, suds are served in pairs of seven to 8oz glass mugs. Just memorize two words: light and dark. It’s the only type they offer.
Fun fact: McSorley’s started out as a major bro fest -- their motto used to be “Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies”. It wasn’t until 1970 that women were allowed in (by court order).

Flickr/ Alan Levine

Ear Inn

Tribeca
Opened: 1817
More than a century ago, this Soho watering hole was a hotspot for sailors waiting for their ships to dock. Built in 1817 for James Brown (no, not that one), this watering hole didn’t get its name until 1977, when the neon “BAR” sign was painted to read “EAR” (after a music magazine that was published upstairs). It’s said a sailor ghost named Mickey pops in every now and then for a drink. And probably one of their excellent burgers.
Fun fact: Legend has it this historic bar didn’t serve drinks until the 1890s, when an Irish immigrant, Thomas Cooke, bought the place and began brewing beer and whiskey to serve seamen. The location has, at one point or another, done time as a boarding house, smuggler’s den, and even a brothel.

Facebook/ Fraunces Tavern Whiskey Society

Fraunces Tavern

Financial District
Opened: 1762
Samuel Fraunces purchased the property in 1762 from the Delancey family (who was living there), and converted it into a tavern called the Queen’s Head. It’s now part-bar, part-restaurant (you can order everything from steak to colonial-style shepherd’s pie), part-whiskey bar, and part-history museum. Earn some cool points by getting in on one of their booze clubs (Fraunces Tavern Whiskey Society FTW!), then earn some beer points by also raising a glass of Porterhouse Oyster Stout.
Fun fact: Picture your first president shot-gunning a beer at this nostalgic bar. Okay, maybe not, but our boy GW was one of its famed customers.

Facebook/ PJ Clarke's

P.J. Clarke’s

Midtown
Opened: 1884
This Midtown tavern has been pouring cold ones since 1884. To put things into perspective, it's been around longer than the Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge, and it has the classic tchotchkes to prove it (see: stuffed Skippy the dog, once the bar’s mascot). The bartenders still make a killer Manhattan, and it's worth coming hungry, too -- the signature “Cadillac” burger comes with smoked country bacon and American cheese (plus, it's served until late).
Fun fact: Its 150-year resume reads like the ultimate Throwback Thursday list: it’s where Buddy Holly proposed to his wife, Jackie Kennedy brought John Jr. and Caroline for lunch, Johnny Mercer wrote his song “One For My Baby” on a napkin, and Sinatra was to known to cap off his nights regularly.

Flickr/ Alan Turkus

White Horse Tavern

West Village
Opened: 1880
Dating back to 1880 as a hangout for longshoremen, this West Village saloon later became a popular gathering spot for literary lushes like Michael Harrington, James Baldwin, Dan Wakefield, John Ashbery, and Hunter S. Thompson.
Fun fact: Believe it or not, Dylan Thomas had his first and last 18 whiskeys here. A popular myth says that Thomas’ ghost haunts his favorite table in the room, where his picture now hangs.

Flickr/ Prayinto Photography

Landmark Tavern

Hell’s Kitchen
Opened: 1868
This Hell’s Kitchen survivor first opened its doors in 1868, serving booze to dock workers before the third floor turned into a speakeasy during Prohibition. It was eventually renovated in the early 2000s in the hands of new owners, but it still retains its historic charm, including tin ceilings and an original mahogany bar carved from a single tree. The menu lacks pretty much all pretense, with items like shepherd’s pie, Scotch eggs, potato and leek soup, and fish and chips. And definitely go for the house ale, a hoppy IPA produced by a brewery upstate.
Fun fact: The speakeasy hasn’t forgotten its past. Hollywood gangster George Raft’s ghost is said to haunt the bar (it was known to be one of his faves), along with a Confederate Civil War veteran and an Irish lassie.

Facebook/ Julius'

Julius'

West Village
Opened: 1840
First holding court as a grocery in 1840, then as a bar in 1864, today it’s one of the city’s oldest gay bars. Signs of old-age point to the ancient newspaper clippings and wall covered in signed head shots. It’s also the site of the 1966 Sip-In, where a few activists challenged the NYS Liquor Authority’s regulation that prohibited bars and restaurants from serving homosexuals. Real-talk: the best-kept secret at this joint is their juicy $6 burgers. Get the namesake with greasy onion rings.
Fun fact: Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were both fans.

Flickr/ Alan Turkus

Old Town Bar

Flatiron
Opened: 1882
Before Old Town Bar was Old Town Bar, it was known as Viemeister’s in 1882, and later as Craig’s Restaurant -- a speakeasy during Prohibition. Old Town first opened as a saloon liquoring up only dudes (again with this). Today you can pull up a seat at the 50-plus-ft mahogany bar, and grab some of the city’s top wings. Soak up the suds with a chili dog delivered to you via an antique dumbwaiter.
Fun fact: Break the seal in a 102-year-old urinal in the boy’s room. Seriously -- this might be the only time you leave a bathroom thinking, “Hmmm, that was kinda cool”.

Facebook/ Mulberry Street Bar

Mulberry Street Bar

Little Italy
Opened: 1908
Formerly called Mare Chiaro, this Little Italy bar (which opened in 1908) pays homage to its early days with an original subway tile floor, wooden bar, and tin ceiling. In 2003, Ed Welsh bought the digs to “have a place to drink for free”. Smart guy. A jukebox playing Sinatra and Elvis provides the soundtrack, and weekends bring karaoke. They had karaoke in 1908, right?
Fun fact: If you’re ever looking to take a mobster for a night out on the town, this place is it. You might recognize the spot from Donnie Brasco, Men of Honor, and The Sopranos.

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Alisha Prakash is a contributing writer at Thrillist NYC. Her mission: make Sriracha a food group. You can find more of her musings on her website or follow her on Twitter.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Pete's Tavern 129 E 18th St, New York, NY 10003 (Gramercy)

Surviving the Depression and two World Wars means Pete’s Tavern was established in 1864, and even stayed open during Prohibition, when it masked itself as a flower shop while still serving alcohol. Initially called Healy’s Cafe, the place didn’t get the name Pete’s Tavern until Pete Belle purchased the property in 1932. Sidle up to the intricately carved rosewood bar and order one (or four) of the house special, the 1864 Original House Ale.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. McSorley's Old Ale House 15 E 7th St, New York, NY 10003 (Lower East Side)

Opened in 1854, McSorley’s is the oldest still-running saloon in NYC, and was one of the last “Men Only” pubs in NY (until 1970). When you visit, you’ll truly feel like you’ve stepped into a bit of city history -- after all, you'll be sitting at the very same counter Abe Lincoln and John Lennon did. McSorley’s also keeps it real with just two beers -- the house ale, light or dark, and nothing else.

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3. Ear Inn 326 Spring St, New York, NY 10013 (Soho)

More than a century ago, this SoHo watering hole was a hotspot for sailors waiting for their ships to dock. The Ear Inn is a designated landmark of the City of New York, and the cheeseburger is a designated bar burger of the City of New York (designated by Thrillist, of course). The prime sirloin number topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion is something you absolutely have to check off your NYC burger bucket list, whether you're from here or not. It’s big, it’s juicy, and it goes perfectly with a pint.

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4. Fraunces Tavern 54 Pearl St, New York, NY 10004 (Financial District)

This Pearl St boozery/resto has something for everyone, whether you're looking for a solid adult beverage (their whiskey list is extensive and impressive) or a delicious meal (with everything from burgers to pot pie to penne).

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5. P.J. Clarke's 915 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10022 (Midtown)

A New York institution, P.J. Clarke's has delivered on the fancy cheeseburger promise since 1884. And while Midtown in the new millennia no longer projects late-20th century old money glam, the venue continues to maintain a setting of demure class. Come for the bacon cheeseburgers, stay for the exemplary cocktails.

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6. White Horse Tavern 567 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014 (West Village)

Dating back to 1880 as a hangout for longshoremen, this West Village saloon later became a popular gathering spot for literary lushes like Michael Harrington, James Baldwin, Dan Wakefield, John Ashbery, and Hunter S. Thompson; a popular myth even says that Dylan Thomas’ ghost haunts his favorite table in the room where his picture now hangs. Take your chances with a ghost run-in and enjoy the roomy West Village digs (a rarity for the neighborhood's bars) with a beer or cocktail, but remember to grab cash beforehand, since debit and credit aren't accepted.

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7. Landmark Tavern 626 11th Ave, New York, NY 10036 (Hells Kitchen)

This Hell’s Kitchen bar is one of the oldest in New York, (it opened in 1868!). It was eventually renovated in the early 2000s in the hands of new owners, but it still retains its historic charm, including tin ceilings and an original mahogany bar carved from a single tree. The menu lacks pretty much all pretense with items like Shepherd’s pie, Scotch eggs, potato and leek soup, and fish and chips.

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8. Julius' 159 W 10th St, New York, NY 10014 (West Village)

One of the oldest gay bars in New York, Julius' is a laid-back tavern in the West Village. Three dollar well drinks, five dollar burgers, and a jukebox make this spot a classic for both tourists and locals.

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9. Old Town Bar 45 E 18th St., New York, NY 10003 (Union Square)

While many other bars are trying to create it, old-school New York charm comes naturally to this institution, which has been slinging drinks since 1882 (then known as Viemeister’s). The charm, however, is not the only anachronism that makes it so popular: Old Town also boasts a mahogany bar, distressed mirrors, a dumbwaiter, and high, tin ceilings.

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10. Mulberry Street Bar 176 1/2 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013 (Little Italy)

This Little Italy bar, opened in 1908, mixes old and new with a classic wooden bar and jukebox alongside new TVs and beers on tap. Mulberry Street Bar also offers a full menu, and can boast that The Sopranos has been filmed there.

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