mcsorley's old ale house-oldest surviving bars-washington square-nyc

A dive bar is probably not the first place one would look to find New York City’s rich history. The following places, however, are not your average bars. Most of them were around when the Brooklyn Bridge first opened in 1883. Their walls are covered in history, echoing the ghosts they have acquired over a century. They have been characters in a number of movies and books, and are in countless photographs. Their famed patrons range from George Washington to Bob Dylan, as varied as the neighborhoods where they are located, but its the neighborhood residents that have breathed life into these watering holes over the last 100+ years.

1. The Bridge Cafe

bridge cafe-oldest surviving bars-water district-nyc
Almost the entirety of this street is in the process of reconstruction after Hurricane Sandy.  

According to their website, Bridge Cafe is the oldest operating bar in New York City. The Landmarked wood frame building that houses the bar has existed since 1794, before the current bar was established in 1847 as a porter house. In a New York Times article, historian Richard McDermott attests to the building’s rich history, which includes two murders and a prosperous time throughout the Prohibition era. There’s even allegedly a ghost that haunts the bar. The cafe, which serves New American cuisine, is currently owned by Adam Weprin, whose father bought the cafe from the McCormack family in 1979.

The bar is almost directly under the Brooklyn Bridge in the South Street Seaport. One of the many restaurants and shops damaged by Hurricane Sandy, Bridge Cafe has been struggling with the process of reconstruction for the last year or so. Due to its status as a landmark, repairs must be made so that the structure remains exactly as it was, a costly endeavor. A re-opening is scheduled for December of this year.

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  1. Thys Roes says:

    Fun fact: The actual oldest bar in New York used to be on the corner of Counties Slip and Pearl Street, in what was then New Amsterdam. Since this tavern was the main social gathering spot, it would quickly become the unofficial city hall of New Amsterdam and later of New York. Both the imprints of the early Dutch tavern as well as some archeological remains of the later English tavern (after the English take over of New Amsterdam) are still there: http://goo.gl/maps/LdKII

    • michelle young says:

      Hi Josh, the article addresses the delayed reopening of Chumleys, as we were longtime patrons of the spot. we have our fingers crossed! Thanks for the link.

  2. James Taylor says:

    With reference to P.J. Clarke’s being used as a location in Annie Hall:

    Which scene is that? The part where Annie sings in the club? Because I’ve seen suggestions that it was downtown: http://www.scoutingny.com/?p=5733

    Incidentally, the final moments of that movie (where Woody and Diane part) take place in and outside what is now P.J. Clarke’s on the corner of 63rd and Amsterdam.

    Speaking of great New York movies, one place this article does not mention is the Emerald Pub in western SoHo, as featured in the brilliant Scorsese comedy, After Hours. Interestingly, in the movie the bar was renamed Terminal Bar, which was a real existing bar (on Eighth Avenue I think) glimpsed in an earlier Scorsese film, Taxi Driver.

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