10 Historic Taverns In New York City You Need To Try

May 21, 2019

10 Historic Taverns In New York City You Need To Try | The Best Old NYC Taverns
By Rich Weidman

10 Historic Taverns In New York City You Need To Try


  • Fraunces Tavern | 54 Pearl Street, New York, NY 10004 | (212) 968-1776

  • Pete’s Tavern | 129 East 18th Street, New York, NY 10003 | (212) 473-7676

  • White Horse Tavern | 567 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014 | (212) 989-3956

  • McSorley’s Old Ale House | 15 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003 | (212) 473-9148

  • Landmark Tavern | 626 11th Avenue, New York, NY 10036 | (212) 247-2562

  • Yankee Tavern | 72 East 161 Street, The Bronx, NY 10451 | (718) 292-6130

  • Neir’s Tavern | 87-48 78th Street, Woodhaven, NY 11421 | (718) 296-0600

  • P.J. Clarke’s | 915 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022 | (212) 317-1616

  • The Ear Inn | 326 Spring Street, New York, NY 10013 | (212) 226-9060

  • William Barnacle Tavern | 80 St. Marks Place, New York, NY 10003 | (212) 388-0388

  • Old Town Bar | 45 East 18th Street, New York, NY 10003 | (212) 529-6732


“A tavern is a place where madness is sold by the bottle.” – Jonathan Swift

Only in New York City can you throw down an ice-cold draft beer at the exact same historic taverns where George Washington gave a rousing farewell to his troops at the end of the American Revolutionary War (Fraunces Tavern), author O. Henry wrote his famous short story “Gift of the Magi” (Pete’s Tavern), actress Mae West first took the stage (Neir’s Tavern) and Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac got eighty-sixed multiple times (White Horse Tavern). In fact, New York City has earned its storied reputation as a drinking town for more than 250 years and, according to The New York Times, “the history of drinking in America goes straight through the heart of New York.” So take a break from all the weird things to do in NYC at night you've been checking off your instagram list, grab a pint at one of these great historic NYC taverns, and raise a glass as we toast some of NYC’s oldest and most acclaimed watering holes – the colorful taverns, legendary bars and historic dives that have contributed to the rich history of drinking in New York City. Here are the 10 historic taverns in New York City you definitely need to try:


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1 | Fraunces Tavern | “Visit for the reputation, stay for the experience.” You can’t get much more historic in terms of New York City taverns than the landmark Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan where General George Washington himself bade an emotional farewell to his troops during a “turtle feast” in 1783 at the end of the American Revolutionary War. Other notable patrons of the Tavern include John Adams, who gave this review after dining there in 1774: “The most splendid dinner I ever saw, a profusion of rich dishes.” Believed by some historians to be the oldest surviving building in Manhattan, Fraunces Tavern traces its origins to 1762 when it was opened by Samuel Fraunces (who allegedly hailed from the West Indies) as the Queen’s Head Tavern. In 1904, the Sons of the Revolution, a hereditary fraternal organization, saved the Tavern from imminent destruction and restored the building to its original glory. Today, the renovated historic Tavern offers colonial-style cuisine, more than 200 whiskeys, 130 craft beers and ciders, signature and classic cocktails, and live music on weekends. Specialty dishes include Jefferson’s Cobb Salad and George Washington’s Horseback (applewood bacon, California dates and Marcona almonds). The Tavern also features its own onsite museum that offers an extensive collection of unique historic artifacts, including a lock of Washington’s hair and one of his false teeth, as well as the world’s largest collection of the paintings of acclaimed artist John Ward Dunsmore (1856-1945). By the way, the Fraunces Tavern is one of only nine historical sites listed on the American Whiskey Trail.

WHERE: 54 Pearl Street, New York, NY 10004 | WHO: (212) 968-1776

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2 | Pete’s Tavern | “New York’s Oldest Original Bar.” Established during the Civil War in 1864 and located in the historic district of Gramercy Park, Pete’s Tavern claims to be the oldest continuously operating tavern in the Big Apple. The building that houses Pete’s was actually constructed in 1829 as the Portman Hotel. According to legend, author and Tavern regular O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), wrote his famous 1905 short story “The Gift of the Magi” while seated in the front booth at Pete’s (an outside awning exclaims, “The Tavern O. Henry Made Famous”). In addition, children’s author Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962) reportedly scrawled out a draft for the first Madeline picture book on the back of a menu while drinking here. The Tavern itself make an appearance in O. Henry’s short story “The Lost Blend.” Originally known as Healy’s Café, the Tavern became known as Pete’s after it was purchased by Peter Belles in 1922. During the Prohibition era, Pete’s Tavern served as a speakeasy disguised as a flower shop (with a fake refrigerator leading to the back room bar!). Although known for its Italian-American cuisine, Pete’s also serves Jumbo 10-Ounce Burgers and Sandwiches, as well as O. Henry Chicken Wings. During the winter holidays, Pete’s Tavern is magically transformed into simply one of the best Christmas decorated restaurants in New York City. By the way, Pete’s has made an appearance in several popular TV series over the years such as Seinfeld, Spin City, Sex and the City, Nurse Jackie, Law & Order and The Blacklist.

WHERE: 129 East 18th Street, New York, NY 10003 | WHO: (212) 473-7676

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3 | White Horse Tavern | "I've had eighteen straight whiskies. I think that's the record." These are the alleged words that famous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”) exclaimed at the White Horse Tavern (aka “The Horse”) before he headed back to room 205 at the Chelsea Hotel and tragically died at the age of 39 in 1953. A Greenwich Village landmark, the White Horse Tavern first opened in 1880 and for many years served as a gathering place for longshoremen, labor organizers and activists. During the 1950s, the Horse became a favorite among Beat Generation authors such as Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, as well as the so-called New York School of Poets that included the likes of Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery. In fact, a drunken Kerouac was reportedly kicked out of the Horse on multiple occasions. In his 1965 autobiographical novel, Desolation Angels, Kerouac details how he discovered the graffiti “GO HOME KEROUAC” scrawled on the bathroom wall of the Horse. Other famous patrons of the Horse over the years have included Bob Dylan, Anais Nin, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, John Belushi, Jim Morrison and Hunter S. Thompson. With its rich (and sometimes tragic) literary heritage, the Horse has been certified as a National Poetry Landmark by the Academy of American Poets. More specifically, New York magazine has labeled the Horse as a “nostalgic high temple of the Alcoholic Artist.” Today, the White Horse Tavern remains the perfect spot in the East Village to grab a burger and draft beer (although new ownership has many longtime patrons worried about possible changes in store to the interior of the Tavern). By the way, don’t go looking for an official White Horse Tavern website – it simply doesn’t exist.

WHERE: 567 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014 | WHO: (212) 989-3956

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4 | McSorley’s Old Ale House | “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies.” Considered the oldest Irish tavern in New York City, McSorley’s was first opened by Irish immigrant John McSorley in 1854 and has hosted (according to legend) the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, e. e. cummings (who wrote a poem called “I was sitting in mcsorley’s’), Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Woody Guthrie, John Lennon, Hunter S. Thompson and many other luminaries. The walls of McSorley’s are packed with eclectic artifacts, including an original reward poster for John Wilkes Booth, Harry Houdini’s handcuffs, a photo of Babe Ruth’s farewell from Yankee Stadium in 1948 and a gas lamp covered with turkey wishbones left by soldiers shipping off to Europe to fight in World War I. A true working man’s saloon with sawdust-covered floor, McSorley’s has always operated under the motto: “Be Good or Be Gone.” Believe it or not, women weren’t allowed inside of McSorley’s until 1970 (and a women’s restroom wasn’t installed until 1986!). McSorley’s also offers the novelty of serving only beer (either light or dark ale) throughout its entire history. Another idiosyncrasy of McSorley’s is that beers come only in pairs (order one beer and you receive two beers, etc.). In addition, McSorley’s served as a filming site for Sergio Leone’s 1984 epic gangster film, Once Upon a Time in America. Last but not least, the New York Rangers hockey team made a notorious trip to McSorley’s in 1994 to drink beer out of the Stanley Cup after defeating the Vancouver Canucks and capturing the NHL title in 1994.

WHERE: 15 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003 | WHO: (212) 473-9148

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5 | Landmark Tavern | “Classic Old New York Tavern.” Originally opened as an Irish waterfront saloon by Patrick Henry Carley in 1868 that catered to dock workers and sailors, the Landmark Tavern exudes classic old New York City charm with its tin ceiling, mahogany-paneled walls and wood-burning potbelly stoves. During the Prohibition Era, the third floor of the Landmark served as a speakeasy, while in the 1980s it was frequented by the Westies, a notorious Hell’s Kitchen gang. The Landmark Tavern also made an appearance in several episodes of the highly popular sitcom Spin City, which starred Michael J. Fox. Along with its storied history, the Landmark is said to be inhabited by several ghosts, including a young Irish immigrant girl who lived upstairs from the Tavern, a Confederate soldier who was killed in a drunken brawl here and even actor George Raft (Scarface), who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen and often patronized the Tavern. The Landmark Tavern serves delicious Irish pub fare such as Bangers & Mash, Spicy Chicken Wings, Shepherd’s Pie, Sirloin Steak Wrap and Landmark Gourmet Burger. Both aspiring and established musicians are welcome to join the lively Irish Traditional Music Session at the Landmark every Monday night between 8 PM and 11 PM. The Landmark Tavern is located 0.5 mile from the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and just a block east of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

WHERE: 626 11th Avenue, New York, NY 10036 | WHO: (212) 247-2562

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6 | Yankee Tavern | “Eat and Drink Steps from Yankee Stadium!” Billed as “The Original Sports Bar,” the venerable Yankee Tavern first opened its doors in 1927, the same year that the legendary “Murderers’ Row” lineup of the New York Yankees featured the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs and Mark Koenig (the Yankees ended up sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates to win their second World Series). In fact, just about every famous Yankee over years (including Ruth, Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle) have pulled up a stool at the bar of the Tavern at one time or another. Widely hailed as the oldest bar in the Bronx, the Tavern is ideally located near the gates of Yankee Stadium and considered a veritable Mecca among fans of the Bronx Bombers. As you might well expect, the Tavern is plastered with Yankee memorabilia, including an autographed photo of DiMaggio and a bat signed by Yogi Berra. Throngs of raucous, beer-craving Yankee fans descend upon the Tavern before and after Yankee home games (and if you can’t score tickets to the ballpark, simply relax at the Tavern and enjoy the action on one of more than a dozen flat-screen TVs).

WHERE: 72 East 161 Street, The Bronx, NY 10451 | WHO: (718) 292-6130

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7 | Neir’s Tavern | “The Most Famous Bar You’ve Never Heard Of.” That is how PBS TV has described this authentic, laid-back neighborhood tavern, which is considered the oldest bar in Queens (and quite frankly can lay claim to being one of the oldest bars in the United States). Although the establishment itself may date as far back as 1829 when it allegedly served customers of the nearby Union Course horse racing track, the bar was purchased by Louis Neir at the end of the 19th century. Neir proceeded to add a bowling alley and ballroom to the premises. Aspiring singer and actress Mae West gave her first performance at Neir’s (then known as Neir’s Social Hall). Legendary drinker W. C. Fields also hung out here. At one time or another, Neir’s was also known as the Old Blue Pump Room, Old Abbey and the Union Course Tavern. In addition, Neir’s Tavern served as a backdrop for both Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster flick Goodfellas and the 2011 Ben Stiller comedy Tower Heist. In honor of its role in cinema history, Neir’s features a Goodfella Burger, Mae West Burger, Shine Box Burger and Ben Stiller Veggie Burger.

WHERE: 87-48 78th Street, Woodhaven, NY 11421 | WHO: (718) 296-0600

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8 | P.J. Clarke’s | “The original, virtually unchanged since 1884.” Somewhat dwarfed amid towering NYC skyscrapers, P.J. Clarke’s is an old-time saloon housed in a charming two-story red-brick building that originally opened as Hennings in 1868. Patrick “Paddy” Joseph Clarke, an Irish immigrant, purchased the establishment in 1912. Notable patrons over the years have included the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Nat King Cole (who once referred to the Tavern’s bacon cheeseburger as “the Cadillac of burgers”), Richard Harris (who reportedly ordered six double vodkas at once) and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. In addition, jazz legend Louis Armstrong performed in the back room, songwriter Johnny Mercer allegedly wrote his hit song “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” on a napkin while hanging out at the bar and Buddy Holly proposed to his fiancée, Maria Elena Santiago, here in 1958. In addition, P.J. Clarke’s served as the fictional “Nat’s Bar” in the 1945 movie The Lost Weekend, which won the Best Picture Oscar, and also was used as the backdrop for a scene in the 1975 thriller The French Connection II featuring Gene Hackman as “Popeye Doyle.” Today, P.J. Clarke’s continues to serve great burgers and offers three locations in New York City, as well as franchises in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

WHERE: 915 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022 | WHO: (212) 317-1616

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9 | The Ear Inn | “Food · Grog · Music · History.” The history of The Ear Inn, one of New York City’s oldest existing taverns, can be traced back to 1817 when the two-story building was constructed by African-American Revolutionary War veteran James Brown (who is one of the soldiers depicted in Emanuel Leutze’s famous 1851 painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” according to legend). The first floor of the James Brown House was soon transformed into a tavern popular with sailors and dock workers and at one time known as The Green Door. In the 1890s, Thomas Cloke, an Irish immigrant, set up a liquor distributorship on the property, which was turned into a speakeasy during the Prohibition Era. Located in Lower Manhattan just a few blocks from the Hudson River, the tavern was renamed The Ear Inn by a group of new owners in 1977 after they decided to paint over part of the “B” in the old neon “BAR” sign in tribute to a music magazine called The Ear that was published upstairs from the tavern. The Ear Inn regularly hosts poetry readings and movie screenings, as well as live entertainment, including regular performances by the house jazz band, the EarRegulars. The James Brown House itself is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. By the way, The Ear Inn is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a sailor named Mickey.

WHERE: 326 Spring Street, New York, NY 10013 | WHO: (212) 226-9060

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10 | William Barnacle Tavern | A former speakeasy during the Prohibition Era nestled in the East Village, the William Barnacle Tavern was popular with such notorious gangsters as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. In addition, a young Frank Sinatra was allegedly a waiter here. In fact, Travel + Leisure calls the tavern a “cheap dive bar” with “some seriously rich mafia history.” After the Tavern was sold in 1964, the new owners discovered $2 million in gold certificates stashed in unopened safes in the basement. Today, the Tavern specializes in absinthe, a high-proof grain alcohol. According to the PortableNYC blog, William Barnacle Tavern is “a divey, unpretentious pub.” The building that houses the William Barnacle Tavern is also home to the Museum of the American Gangster and Theatre 80 St. Marks.

WHERE: 80 St. Marks Place, New York, NY 10003 | WHO: (212) 388-0388

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BONUS | Old Town Bar | Founded in 1892 as a German drinking hall known as Viemeisters, the Old Town Bar is a classic NYC tavern with 17-foot-high tin ceilings, a 55-foot-long wooden bar, antique cash registers, giant urinals and even a working dumbwaiter. The joint, which is located just a block north of Union Square, operated as a speakeasy during the Prohibition Era. Author Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) once called Old Town Bar “a place to talk.” Scenes from such movies as The Devil’s Own (1997), State of Grace (1990), The Last Days of Disco (1998), Q&A (1990) and Bullets Over Broadway (1994) were shot here. The Old Town Bar can also be glimpsed in several music videos, including Madonna’s “Bad Girl” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

WHERE: 45 East 18th Street, New York, NY 10003 | WHO: (212) 529-6732

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It goes without saying that these awesome historic taverns are some of the most longstanding, most hailed, hangouts ever to sport a hangover in all of Manhattan, and have rightfully earned their place among the Manhattan rooftop bars, wine bars of midtown NYC, and festive holiday drink lounges of New York City that created the city's coveted concrete cocktail culdesacs Manhattan has been long known for. If you’re crawling the urban sprawl for the first time, setting out from your hotel in midtown East NYC, remember that at Westgate New York Grand Central hotel, when you check in, there’s a lot to check out! So don the retro era wingtips, and set out for a historic adventure amid the highballs and Gibsons - there's no telling what the evening will bring with everything to do in NYC!


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