How 7 New York City Bars Managed To Stay Open For More Than A Century


Photo: Flickr – Nicki Ishmael

The New York City restaurant scene is brutal. Only 20% survive after five years.So how do bars manage to stay around for decades — even centuries?

Good management, amazing bartenders and pure luck seem to have more to do with it than anything else. After all, many long-standing “dive” bars serve more rail drinks than anything else. 

Though it’s arguable what bars have been in New York longest, we’ve toured seven that are in the running.

The White Horse Tavern opened in 1880

This West Village staple is one of the oldest full service bars in Manhattan. Despite being the lowest rated bar of any of the New York's old guard, it maintains its status as a critics pick and trendy tourist destination.

In the 1950s and 60s, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson could be seen knocking back drinks at the White Horse

Dylan Thomas, who notoriously drank himself under the table and died a few days later, was a frequent patron.

Today, NYU students and tourists looking to follow in the footsteps of their favourite Beat writer have kept the White Horse in business despite floundering reviews.

Pete's Tavern became an official drinking establishment in 1864

Originally the Portman Hotel, Pete's has gone through several iterations to be called the 'oldest continuously operating restaurant and bar in New York City.'

Management doesn't let something like not technically being a designated New York City landmark or on the National Register of Historic Places stop Pete's from being declared an 'official historic landmark.'

You can drink the bar's own 1864 Ale while sitting in the same booth writer O. Henry did. And tons of television shows and movies have been shot there, from Seinfeld to Endless Love. It's a nostalgia factor that works pretty well for a bar that's been open almost 150 years.

P.J. Hanley's opened in Brooklyn in 1874

P.J. Hanley's is one of the few stalwarts to survive Great Depressions, Great Recessions, and Brooklyn's incredible rising rents. Al Capone was one of its famous customers.

'We've changed with the times and with the neighbourhood,' she continues. 'This place used to close at 11 -- now things don't get started here on the weekends until after 12.'

'At the same time, people have been coming here their whole lives. The only reason you won't see them anymore is because they've passed away.'

McSorley's Old Ale House was established in 1854 — according to McSorley's

McSorley's is another bar that claims to be the oldest continuously-operated saloon in NYC. The bar says it was opened in 1854, despite research that says there was no bar at that site by that year.

Located in the East Village, McSorley's can make other historical claims, such as being the oldest Irish tavern in New York that has served Abraham Lincoln and John Lennon.

It was also one of the last bars to allow women inside (after being ordered to do so in 1970)

Sawdust floors and old newspaper clippings give people the feeling of stepping back in time when they walk through the doors of McSorley's. The bar serves ale that comes in pairs (order one, get two) and liverwurst sandwiches, making it the ultimate old man's bar.

The Bridge Cafe has been around since 1794

This place is older than the Brooklyn Bridge, which stands just a few feet from the bar's Water Street address. This is considered the oldest business in NYC, though it only became an official drinking establishment in 1847.

It's also gone through several iterations — as a brothel, a grocery store, and the twice-weekly board room of mayor Ed Koch

The New York Times has called the menu 'outstanding,' which shows that a bar can't stay in business based on liquor alone. It continues to draw politicians, drinkers and soft-shell crab enthusiasts from all over the city.

The Ear Inn has been around since 1817

Whether you call it The Green Door, The James Brown House or The Ear Inn, this place has been around a while. It was similar to the taverns of its time in that it didn't allow women and its beer and liquor were home-brewed.

Though it also lays claim to being the oldest bar in the city, The Ear didn't start serving drinks until the 1890s.

Though it's located in the trendy SoHo neighbourhood, it asks that people refrain from using cell phones inside to preserve the old-school feel

Old Town Bar has been around since 1892

Old Town, just north of Union Square, houses a 55-foot long bar and 16 foot high ceilings.

All types of New Yorkers live and work in the area around Union Square, and it's one of the best neighborhoods in the city for relaxing after work. People come for the drinks, for the food (the hamburgers have been called 'some of the city's tastiest'), and perhaps to be seen; after all, Old Town was named one of the best bars in America by Esquire.

During Prohibition, the bar was a speakeasy frequented by Tammany Hall politicians

Looking for more historical value in your gastronomy?

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