Despite its cutting-edge contemporary culture, New York City also boasts a rich and colorful history, from iconic landmark buildings to centuries-old cobblestone streets. Unsurprisingly, some of our greatest history is embedded within bars and pubs. We profile 12 of New York City’s oldest bars — some of which have been around for almost two centuries.
McSorley's Old Ale House
Hank's Saloon | Courtesy Kate Howley
Located in the East Village, McSorley’s is considered the oldest ‘Irish’ pub in NYC and was established in 1854. The walls are covered in memorabilia, all of which has been there since the early 20th century. Despite only allowing women onto the premises since the 1970s, this traditional ale house remains a beloved community gem. No need to worry about overwhelming choices — here, you can only choose between dark and light ale. The happy hour includes two beers for $5.
Killmeyers Old Bavaria Inn has been around for quite some time. The building itself, which dates back to the 1700s, was sold to Nicolas Killmeyer around the year 1855. In 1890, it expanded to include a hotel and mahogany bar. The current owners purchased the venue in 1995, after it had been sold to the previous owner in 1945.
The iconic Old Town Bar has been around since 1892, operating as a speakeasy during Prohibition in the 1920s. Most of the décor, including the oldest dumbwaiter (freight elevator) in NYC, is original to the location. If you wish to dine, you can climb the creaky staircase to the second floor. This bar has appeared in several films, including State of Grace and Bullets Over Broadway.
The Ear Inn wasn’t always a tavern. Built in 1817 for James Brown, an African-American Revolutionary War veteran, the first floor actually served as a tobacco store before being sold in the mid-19th century. It is unknown when this venue was first established as a bar, but the first records indicate that it was around 1835. It was sold two more times before Prohibition, where it operated as a speakeasy and a brothel. After the 1920s, the bar was simply referred to as the ‘Green Door,’ as it had no official name. In 1977, it was reopened as ‘the Ear,’ named after a music magazine with the same name.
Fraunces Tavern holds some serious historical value in New York City. Once George Washington’s headquarters, peace negotiations were made here with the British during the Revolutionary War. Later, the building was used to house federal offices in the Early Republic. The building is considered the oldest in Manhattan, and the tavern itself has been in operation since 1762. History buffs can check out the museum on the second and third floors.
Originally called ‘Mare Chiaro’, the Mulberry Street Bar has been a staple of Little Italy since 1908. Established in a time where Little Italy was heavily influenced by the mob, it is no wonder that Donny Brasco, The Godfather Part III, and The Sopranos, amongst others, have used this location as a backdrop. The building has been slightly renovated to accommodate beer on tap and television sets, but the original wooden back bar and inset mirrors remain.
The building that houses Pete’s Tavern was built in 1829 and served as the site of the Portman Hotel in 1899. It was later turned into a speakeasy during Prohibition, disguised as a flower shop. Now known as Pete’s Tavern, you can still enjoy some great American-Italian fare here alongside their famous 1864 house ale.
Historian Richard Hourahan considers Neir’s Tavern to be New York City’s oldest bar, as it was technically around three decades before McSorley’s. Once called Old Blue Pump House, Neir’s has changed a bit in the past 180 years. For starters, it no longer has a bowling alley, nor has it maintained its ballroom, which dated back to 1898. The name has changed throughout history due to several owners, and it acted as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Either way, Neir’s Tavern is one for the history books.
The White Horse Tavern opened its doors in 1880 and was originally frequented by dock workers. In the early 1950s, it became a popular spot for New York City-based writers and artists, a local favorite for Dylan Thomas, the Clancey Brothers, and Bob Dylan. While you’re unlikely to find such an impressive clientele today, as it’s now a popular spot for tourists, locals, and NYU students, the White Horse Tavern remains a fantastic piece of NYC history and a prime location for a stiff drink.
Bridge Café has been around since 1794, when it first opened as a ‘grocery and wine and porter bottler.’ Since then, it’s served as a series of eating and drinking establishments, serving as a brothel in the mid-19th century. In 1979 it became the Bridge Cafe. Unfortunately, the building suffered damages in Hurricane Sandy and has been temporarily closed ever since. It was due to re-open at some point, but patrons are still anxiously waiting.
Once frequented by the likes of Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, and Babe Ruth, this family owned bar (since 1923) is now a popular spot for nearby courthouse employees and middle-aged fans. Yankee Bar and Grill is for serious Yankees fans or for those who want to soak in some of NYC’s history. Yankee Bar and Grill, 844 River Avenue, Bronx, NY, USA +1 347 270 5410