Undiscovered New York: Drinking History in New York’s Oldest Bars

Welcome back to Gadling’s weekly series, Undiscovered New York. Don’t act surprised when I tell you we like our bars here in New York. Sure, you can grab some suds in just about any town in the United States, but New York boasts a culture of drinking that goes hand-in-hand with the manic highs and crushing lows of our obsessive-compulsive residents. Just take a look at some of New York’s most famous residents as proof.

Writer Dylan Thomas supposedly drank as many as 18 shots of whiskey one fateful night 1953 before meeting his maker. Beyond Thomas, New York has frequently played host to a literal “who’s who” of famous alcoholic artists, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote and Jackson Pollack. Tragic as their alcoholic deaths may be, their lives are inextricably linked to New York’s hard-boozing culture and legendary taverns and nightspots.

Which leads us to another question – are any of these historic watering holes still open for business? Nobody is saying 18 shots of whiskey is a good idea for anyone, but wouldn’t it be neat to throw back one or two in the same spot as Thomas? What about a bar that’s been open since the Civil War? Click below to get Gadling’s picks of New York’s best historic bars.Bar One: McSorley’s Old Ale House
When you talk about historic bars in New York City, the first name off most people’s lips is McSorley’s. Irish immigrant John McSorley first opened the doors to his legendary ale house on East 7th street in 1854. Since then the bar has played host to everyone from Abraham Lincoln to John Lennon. Females give thanks – up until 1970, McSorley’s did not permit women patrons, a policy reinforced by the bar’s slogan: “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies.” When you stop by down a few pints of McSorley’s famous ale, make sure to drink in the bar’s amazing atmosphere including sawdust-strewn floors and a huge cast-iron furnace behind the bar.

Bar Two: Chumley’s
Ah Chumley’s. Perhaps one of New York’s most famous writer bars, Chumley’s is a former speakeasy and haunt of some of New York’s most famous literary residents. An unmarked door at 86 Bedford Street hides the entrance to the preferred watering hole of such greats as William Faulkner, John Steinbeck and E.E. Cummings. Sadly, structural problems with the building forced the closure of Chumley’s in 2007. But fear not, the reconstruction is in progress – we’re all hopeful that Chumley’s will be back in business later this year.

Bar Three: White Horse Tavern
Opened in 1880, the White Horse Tavern may not be New York’s oldest bar, but it more than makes up for it with historic charm. A West Village favorite in the 50’s and 60’s, the White Horse was played host to New York’s thriving bohemian artist scene, including regulars like our friend Dylan Thomas as well as another famous Dylan (Bob) and other cool cats like Jack Kerouac and Doors frontman Jim Morrison.

Bar Four: The Ear Inn

Dating from 1817, The Ear Inn was a famous haunt for New York’s longshoremen, who passed the hours drinking pints awaiting the arrival of merchant ships on the nearby Hudson waterfront. The Ear Inn was originally owned by James Brown, aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The upstairs of The Ear Inn has an interesting history as well, serving at various points as a smuggler hideaway, a brothel and also as a boarding house. Some say the ghost of “Mickey,” a former sailor still awaiting the arrival of his ship, haunts the bar’s interior. I guess when your drink disappears suddenly you now have a built in excuse.

Bar Five: Brooklyn Inn
Manhattan does not have a monopoly on historic bars, and the Brooklyn Inn is proof. The bar’s beautiful interior is adorned with hardwood and intricate tin ceilings. Believe it or not, the carved wood bar was imported piece by piece from Germany. While you take a moment to comprehend the logistics behind such a feat, don’t forget to check out the bar’s eclectic jukebox which boasts some killer tunes for the hood’s legion of music snobs.