3. “The Wickedest Man in NYC” at 304 Water Street

A historical image of NYC's South Street Seaport
Photo via Detroit Photographic Company in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons

The dance hall and saloon that once stood at 304 Water Street was owned by a man that the newspapers called ‘the wickedest man in New York,’ Mr. John Allen. Allen, a large muscled man, opened his first saloon in 1850 after leaving the seminary where he had studied to be a pastor. What irony! His dance hall on Water Street was a three-story brick building with green and yellow shutters. Musicians played jigs and reels, while male patrons danced with one of the 20 or so women dressed in provocative low-cut bodices and skirts.

Most of Allen’s $100,000 fortune was made from the sale of liquor that the women would ‘suggest’ their dance partners buy for them. There were also rooms and cubicles available for more intimate activities. By the spring of 1869, the Fourth Ward would experience a radical change. The most infamous merchants of sin were either jailed, dead, or were put out of business. However, it was the construction of one of the most important structures in the City, the Brooklyn Bridge, that would have the most profound effect. John Allen’s dance hall was one of the numerous buildings torn down to make way for the approaches and anchorages of the Bridge, cutting the Fourth Ward in half.