Tag Archives: bars

A handy guide to the most loathsome saloons on the Bowery in 1903

Many of the bars and taverns found on the Bowery today are unfortunately clean, friendly and even trendy establishments, wonderful safe places to meet with friends and family. Not a ruffian or scoundrel in sight. Where’s the fun in that?!

Of course, for most of its history, the Bowery was one of the most notorious places in America, the location of great vice and debauchery — gambling dens, brothels, dance halls, dime museums, saloons full of soused drinkers hovering around a boxing ring. For many decades, an elevated train line turned the Bowery into a shadowy haven for illicit shenanigans of all sorts.

And so may I turn your attention to an article which ran in the New York Tribune, on April 12, 1903, that touted New York’s reform efforts along the Bowery. This report proudly lists the Bowery’s most “evil resorts” which were successfully wiped away thanks to efforts by Mayor Seth Low.

While these would surely be dangerous places to visit, you can’t deny that these lurid newspaper descriptions make even the most lowly of dives seem rather interesting.

With each address, I’ve put a link to Google Maps, revealing what stands on that spot today. In many cases, the building itself is still standing:

15 Bowery “Known to the criminal ‘under world’ as Spanish Mamie’s. Took its name from the presence of a Spanish girl, the associate of many crooks. This was a dive of the lowest sort.”

19 Bowery “A back room ‘ginmill,’ the headquarters of ‘Boston Charlie,’ a well known character, and his even more notorious woman pal ‘Boston Clara.’ Boston Charlie was known as a ‘first rate cane man’, that is, a beggar who pretended to be a cripple. He served many terms in the workhouse and gave this place a reputation in his now line. It was the resort of ‘panhandlers’.”

Below: An 1880 photograph of the Bowery at Canal Street


25 Bowery The New-York Tavern.  Here was  planned a brutal robbery and assault on a Brooklyn jeweler. A low order of ‘crooks’ made this their ‘hang out.’”

101 Bowery “A common backroom resort, a place of assignation and the gathering place of ‘crooks’ of an inferior order.”

Below: The Bowery in 1915. The establishments listed below would have been on this block

Courtesy MCNY

114 Bowery “A resort of cheap pugilists, where obscene pictures were exhibited on a screen, best known as Steve Brodie’s” [Read more about Brodie’s dive bar here]

115 BoweryLittle Jumbo. This was a notorious resort and the scene of a brutal murder. Criminals and ‘panhandlers’ made it their headquarters, and sailors were the victims of all sorts of crime, from robbery to murder. It was run for the proprietor by an Italian who was discharged and replaced by an Irishman; soon after the Irishman and the Italian had a fight and the former was killed.”


119 Bowery Flynn’s ‘Black Hole.’ This notorious resort is mentioned by Josiah Flynt as a resort of all sorts of crooks. It had a wide reputation, and went out of business soon after its proprietor, Flynn, was arrested for illegal registration in the last campaign.”

Also* — “‘Eat ’Em Up Jack’ McManus’s Rapid Transit House. This was a well known dive kept by McManus, who was formerly head bouncer for McGurk [most known for the morbid McGurk’s Suicide Hall, see below]. The assertion that no ‘touch’, that is, robbery, was ever made in McGurk’s and that such business was barred there, is somewhat justified by the fact that this place was started by a former employee of McGurk, and was famous for the ‘touches’ made there. McManus was known to his ‘pals’ as a ‘strong arm’ man, one who garrotes victims he is about to rob with his crooked arm.”

287 BoweryThe Tivoli — A concert hall where women in indecent costumes sang indecent songs on the stage; where assignation was carried on openly, and solders and sailors were dragged in and later taken to disorderly houses.”

The Bowery in 1905


291 BoweryThe Volks Garden — The most notorious concert hall in the Bowery, and, like the Tivoli, a resort for prostitutes, a place of indecent stage exhibitions and the largest of its sort on the Bowery. As many as fifty women were attached to this place, and the business was carried on brazenly, numbers of ‘barkers’ and ‘pullers in’ being stationed at the door to drag people in by main force.”

295 BoweryMcGurk’s ‘Suicide Hall’ The most notorious resort in the Bowery, the ‘hangout’ of a large number of young girls. Solders and sailors frequented the place in large numbers. Carbolic acid suicies were the special of the place and gave it its name.” [Read more about it in my piece on Suicide Hall.]

*Address not specifically listed. May have shared the building with Flynn’s Black Hole

The above is an expanded excerpt from our book The Bowery Boys Adventures In Old New York, now available at bookstores everywhere.

History in the Making (9/9): So Many Vices Edition

In this blog roundup, a Bowery Boys appearance in Vice, a threat to preservation, a classic restaurant closes, the story of two hotels with very different histories and more!

In the photo above and below — From the Museum of the City of New York collection, some images of the so-called Prize Fighters Saloon (at Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street) owned by boxer James J. Corbett.


— Vice Magazine’s John Surico wrote a great piece called ‘Why New Yorkers Love New York” and interviewed the Bowery Boys for it! Also — if you want to see us dressed in ridiculous Mermaid Parade costumes, you should definitely check this out. [Vice Magazine]

— An inconceivable and dangerous threat to New York landmark preservation is being debated at City Hall today.  “Intro. 775 would for the first time impose ‘do-or-die’ timeframes for buildings and neighborhoods being considered for landmark designation. If the deadlines are not met, buildings and neighborhoods, no matter how worthy or endangered, would automatically be disqualified for designation.” [Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation]

—  Destruction update! The beloved original location of The Palm restaurant — with its quirky wall of murals — has been closed for good. “The beloved hand painted caricatures were housed on walls made of plaster, which made it impossible to remove the caricatures for preservation purposes.” [Vanishing New York]

Below: The exterior of Corbett’s Prize Fighters Saloon:

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York


— The spectacular tale of the Pierrepont Hotel in Herald Square, built in 1898 as a rare residential hotel for unmarried men.   “It is not so very long ago that the bachelor was not considered to be entitled much consideration; any old thing was good enough for him….” [Daytonian In Manhattan]

— That rather strange, kinda seedy, little-Flatiron hotel in Chelsea called the Liberty Hotel?  That building has actually been standing there for well over one hundred years. Oh if only those walls could speak! [Ephemeral New York]

— Some rather sweet and amusing images pop up in this New York Times photo essay on the first day of school through the years. [New York Times]

— “The coolest place to eat is outside a smallpox hospital.[New York Post]

TICKETS ARE GOING FAST for our live event with The Ensemblist this Sunday, September 13th, at 54 Below.  Click here for more information or go directly to 54 Below’s website to get your tickets!

Below: Another look at the interior of Corbett’s fancy saloon.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York


Turkey raffles were 19th century versions of bar trivia nights

Hopefully this young lady acquired this turkey by legitimate means.

In this week’s podcast, I feign shock at the wild party held at the old home of famed actress Charlotte Melmoth, a former school for etiquette-turned-booze hall.  To quote historian Henry Reed Stiles directly:

After [Charlotte’s] disease, the house was converted into a tavern, which became the favorite resort for the dissipated young men of the town, who there indulged in drinking, eating oysters, raffling for turkeys, geese, etc. their orgies being carried on with a freedom to which the retired character of the spot was particular conducive.”

What’s so indulgent about a raffle?  Today they’re used mostly in expos and high school fund-raisers, a relatively benign form of gambling (although governed by specific state-wide rules).  But in the 19th century, raffles were widely seen in saloons, a jovial excuse for men to get liquored up and throw their money in for a chance at a moderate prize.  In essence, it was gambling most fowl.

Below: Three victors at a local turkey raffle, 1912, location unknown (LOC)

“[T]here are many men on this fast old planet who are unable to resist the seductiveness of a turkey raffle,” the New York Sun reported in 1891.  “[P]erhaps there are enthusiasts who regard the practice of turkey raffling as not gambling, but a spirited method for the distribution of food products.”

The most common form of turkey raffle involved a game of dice.  Men paid for the privilege of rolling a pair of dice three times, and the man with the highest total score took home the turkey.

Another popular raffle method involved tossing several pennies into a hat, then dumping them out on a table.  The man who had the most pennies to come up heads would get his choice of the turkey or its cash equivalent. (Author Andrew Smith reports of one such raffle with a turkey value of 4 shillings, an approximate value of $10-$20 today.  Most took the money.)

Raffles were a quick and easy way for bartenders to get patrons to drink more. In this way, they’re very much like a weekly karaoke party or a pub trivia night.

Below: Geese also got into the game. This great 1837 painting is by Long Island artist William Sidney Mount, called “The Raffle (Raffling For The Goose).”  The scene takes place in the backroom of a tavern, the hat containing raffle tickets.  Today this painting hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A November 1887 account in the New York Evening World (reprinting an article from Buffalo) recounts the tale of a bank teller who won a six-pound turkey in a bar raffle:

“[H]is friends, many of whom he had never met before, crowded around him and congratulated him.  Then they swarmed him over to the bar and, of course, it was necessary to order some slight liquid refreshment for the gentlemen who felt some amicably disposed to him.  One hundred and fifty lagers were quickly disposed of, and the bank teller waxed hilarious.  Taking the turkey by the legs he swung it around his head in triumph……. Before he had left the place he had paid for $20* worth of liquor.”

*According to the Inflation Calculator, that’s about $500 today. 

The reputation of the turkey raffle as an instrument of vice and debauchery was such that a 1914 article in the New York Sun heralded their demise. “It has long been suspected that this form of gambling was ruining men and wrecking homes.”

Turkey raffles were finally outlawed in New York bars in 1914.  “That kind of chance taking is now classed as gambling, and every holder of a liquor license is forbidden to allow it in his place.” [source]