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A History of The Ear Inn, the Oldest Bar in New York City

Picture of Julia Goicochea
Updated: 18 January 2018

Getting through life in New York City can require a little liquid courage (or therapy). After 150+ years, the oldest bar in New York City, Ear Inn, is still a favorite spot of NYC locals. Here’s why its tale is one worth toasting to.

By the time the bar poured its first drink in the mid-1800s, the building had served many different purposes. Constructed around 1770, it first belonged to James Brown, a Revolutionary War-era African aide to George Washington. Over the years, the upstairs apartment would go on to become a boarding house, doctor’s office, smuggler’s den, and even a brothel. It wasn’t until Brown passed away, however, that the house became a home away from home for sailors from around the world.

Selling home-brewed beer and crocks of corn, the bar, nameless at the time, quickly solidified itself as a must-stop port for sailors. Around the turn of the century, the brewery evolved into a restaurant and dining room and some twenty years later, into a speakeasy. After prohibition, the bar ‘reopened,’ still without a name but now boasting a global reputation. The men-only clubhouse featuring drink, food, and gambling was known round the world simply as ‘The Green Door’.

Not much has changed in a hundred years or so— and that’s just what patrons prefer. The two and a half-story Federal-style townhouse remains undisturbed, and rumor has it some patrons, like friendly ghost ‘Mickey,’ are still regulars around here. The bar was finally given a name in the late 1970s when its current owners took over. Hoping to simplify the mandatory signage review by the Landmark Commission, owners Martin Sheridan and Richard ‘Rip’ Hayman covered parts of the neon ‘BAR’ sign that was already in place. Thus, the ‘EAR’ Inn, home of rich historic value (and a mean burger menu), was born.