279 Water Street — Built in 1794, on the corner of Dover and Water Street, this is believed to be the oldest wood-frame building in Manhattan and until recently, it held the distinction of being the city’s oldest restaurant and bar in continuous operation.
Most New Yorkers knew it as the Bridge Cafe. It opened under that name in the late 1970s and was a favorite of Mayor Ed Koch. But back in 1847, the first bar opened on this site and within a short time it became one of the most notorious and depraved dens of iniquity in city history.
Prostitutes worked the brothel upstairs while real-life pirates, killers and thieves consorted and conspired in the downstairs saloon. At the “Hole-in-the-Wall” bar, as it came to be known, sailors and other out of town visitors (and more than a few locals) were often drugged, stabbed and robbed.
The Hole-in-the-Wall was the site of at least a couple of murders, including a woman who died on the barroom floor after being tricked into drinking 3 quarts of lighting fluid.
A six-foot tall barmaid named Gallus Mag was known to bite the ears and fingers off of the drunk and belligerent. She stored her trophies in a pickle jar displayed behind the bar. The building is said to be haunted, and buddy, I believe it.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the Seaport District with more than 4 feet of river water and the Bridge Cafe closed. Initially an attempt was made to reopen but the effort seems to have been abandoned.
Today the first floor bar remains empty but a neon-lit bridge remains in the dirty front window. .
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