Saturday, 13 December 2008


The Bridge Cafe at 279 Water Street

When the Brooklyn Bridge first blocked Water Street from sunlight in 1883, this bar/restaurant had already been serving the local population for almost a century - in more ways than one. An 1860 NYC census lists 279 Water Street as the home of six Irish prostitutes. According to a NY Times article, the Bridge Cafe has been a "drinking establishment" since 1847, thus making it the oldest continually running bar in NYC. Only a few blocks from the South Street Seaport, it is decidedly not a tourist trap, after all, Ed Koch held court here twice a week at his private table during his mayorship

In the early days the customers were dock workers, prostitutes and their 'friends', and assorted low life. Nowadays, the very good food and convivial atmosphere attracts locals, financial types (if there's any left who can afford a meal after the toxic debit farrago), politicians and tourists.

Built in 1794, the Bridge Cafe was a stopping point for pirates, as before land reclamation it fronted the East River, and also had one of the most famous (or should that be infamous) bouncers in New York. Gallus Mag was a 6-foot-tall female bouncer, who figures prominently in NYC folklore. Herbert Asbury's book "The Gangs of New York" describes her thus:-

"It was her custom, after she'd felled an obstreperous customer with her club, to clutch his ear between her teeth and so drag him to the floor, amid the frenzied cheers of the onlookers. If her victim protested she bit his ear off, and having cast the fellow into the street she carefully deposited the detached member in a jar of alcohol behind the bar.......She was one of the most feared denizens on the waterfront and the police of the time shudderingly described her as the most savage female they'd ever encountered."

I'd give the pickled walnuts on sale from jars on the bar a miss if I were you.

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