Some of Greenwich Village’s oldest restaurants have seen the neighborhood through its twists and turns, and serve as historians of the village’s past through the food and service they provide. Greenwich Village was once a Lenape marshland called Sapokanican and marked by the Minetta Brook stream, which would later become the site of notable restaurants. In the early 1600s, Dutch colonists claimed the area, first calling it Noortwyk and later Grin’wich in 1713. By the end of the 18th century, Greenwich Village was a cholera hotspot and had just purchased a parcel of land to use as public gallows and a burial ground for the city’s poor: Washington Square Park. After a century of immigration and industrialism transformed the neighborhood, Greenwich Village became a bohemian enclave. From the 19th century moving forward, movements for the Beat Generation, gay rights, anti-war, and AIDS chose Greenwich Village as their home base. Today, Greenwich Village is a center for artists, New York University students, activists, and foodies alike. Many of the village’s notable characters, however, have dined in the same restaurants with menus that have shifted slightly with time. Here are 9 of Greenwich Village’s oldest restaurants.
1. Julius’ (1864)
Julius’ bar holds two historical superlatives: it is the oldest bar in Greenwich Village and the oldest gay bar in New York. The bar is also on the National Register of Historic Places as of 2016. Before it was a landmark tavern, the space was a grocery store and at one point, it was even a stagecoach shop. The building once had underground tunnels and seven entrances and exits that would be used as escape routes during prohibition raids in the 1920s and gay bars raids in the 1960s. The bar was never explicitly or exclusively a gay bar, but attracted predominantly LGBTQ+ clientele during the 1960s.
In 1966, the bar was the site of the “Sip-In,” an act of civil disobedience that sought to change homophobic liquor laws in the city. At the time, the New York State Liquor Authority prohibited bars from serving alcohol to confirmed or suspected lesbians or gay men to maintain “orderly conduct” in the post-prohibition era. During the “Sip-In,” individuals announced that they were gay in a number of bars and requested bar service. Many bars denied them drinks, including Julius’. The “Sip-In” contributed to the repeal of anti-gay liquor laws and for that reason, the bar was given historical status by the National Park Service. Today, you might just see Sarah Jessica Parker or Lady Gaga at the bar, both of whom have been spotted at Julius’. The kitchen serves an assortment of burgers and classic sandwiches in a palpably historic building.