While New York City is often praised for its trendy nightlife scene, the destination also offers a slew of historic bars that take you back in time while also offering a fun night out. From pre-Prohibition taverns to bars that once housed brothels to opportunities for sampling historic ales, there are an array of heritage drinking experiences worth exploring. To help you plan your itinerary, here are recommendations for New York’s best historic bars.

While New York City is often praised for its trendy nightlife scene, the destination also offers a slew of historic bars that take you back in time while also offering a fun night out. From pre-Prohibition taverns to bars that once housed brothels to opportunities for sampling historic ales, there are an array of heritage drinking experiences worth exploring. To help you plan your itinerary, here are recommendations for New York’s best historic bars.

Ear Inn

326 Spring Street, SoHo

Ear Inn
Photo: Ear Inn / Facebook

Open since 1817, the Ear Inn is one of the oldest bars in New York City. Originally a watering hole for sailors serving up corn whiskey and home-brewed beer, during Prohibition the then-no name bar became a speakeasy, boarding house and brothel. While today you’re more likely to find artist types sipping a glass of beer or wine — especially as Ear Inn often hosts art exhibitions and live music events — patrons can still enjoy a glimpse of history in this charmingly dingy venue through old bottles, photos, found objects and antiques. Like ghost stories? One of the bar’s original patrons who also lived in the upstairs of the bar was hit by a car and killed outside of the establishment. Today it is rumored his ghosts still haunts its premises.

Bridge Cafe

279 Water Street, Financial District

Bridge Cafe
Photo: Jazz Guy / Flickr

Touted as NYC’s oldest surviving tavern, the Bridge Cafe dates back to 1794 and holds an interesting history of housing a grocery store, wine and porter bottler, boarding house, saloon, liquor store, speakeasy, brothel, packing store, Hungarian restaurant and seafood restaurant over time. It was a favorite of pirates, johns and prostitutes, with a long string of owners all in the business of selling alcohol in one way or another. Along with a clap board building and charming 1920s ambiance, today’s Bridge Cafe patrons also go for their extensive whiskey selection and tasty soft shell crabs. Note: The bar is temporarily closed as they renovate after Hurricane Sandy, so check their website before stopping by.

McSorley’s Old Ale House

15 E 7th Street, East Village

McSorley’s Old Ale House
Photo: Brian Clift / Flickr

While not the oldest bar in NYC, this is probably the most popular of New York City’s historical bars. Established in 1854 by Irish immigrants, it is one of the city’s oldest saloons and still retains much of its historical charm. Along with walls showcasing old newspaper clippings, advertisements and photographs, an ancient furnace keeping the place warm and a floor coated in sawdust, McSorley’s serves only ale — light or dark — just as it did over 100 years ago. You’ll also notice a string of dried wish bones hanging above the bar, which were left behind by soldiers going off to fight in WWI to retrieve upon their return. One thing that luckily has changed over the years is their men-only policy, which was overturned in 1970.

Pete’s Tavern

129 E 18th Street, Gramercy

Pete’s Tavern
Photo: Jazz Guy / Flickr

Open since 1864, Pete’s Tavern is a favorite of those seeking a mix of heritage and great beer. Interestingly, it was in this bar that author O. Henry wrote his famous “The Gift of the Magi.” Unlike many NYC bars open in the 19th century, Pete’s Tavern survived through Prohibition under the guise of a flower shop. Today, patrons enjoy the bar’s neighborhood feel, hearty Italian-American fare, and a selection of 16 draft beers (including their famous 1864 House Ale).

Fraunces Tavern

54 Pearl Street, Financial District

Fraunces Tavern
Photo: Patrick Ashley / Flickr

For a historic bar experience that’s part pub, part museum, Fraunces Tavern is the perfect place. Originally opened in 1762 as the Queen’s Head Tavern, George Washington and his army are said to have exchanged goodbyes and ate a delicious feast after the war in this very establishment. Today at Fraunces Tavern you’ll be able to enjoy beers crafted by their in-house Porterhouse Brewing Company, sip whiskey at their fireside whiskey bar, see live music performances and fill up on American-Irish dishes like grilled pork chops, pan roasted Scottish salmon and shepherd’s pie. You’ll also be able to explore the Fraunces Tavern Museum, filled with exhibits and collections relating to New York’s Colonial America, Revolutionary War, and Early Republic heritage. Fun fact: The building Fraunces Tavern is housed in is part of the New York Freedom Trail and American Whiskey Trail.

Categories: New York City

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