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Pete’s Tavern


LitNerd Wednesday!

In the eternal race to be the oldest bar in New York City it’s hard to top McSorely’s. Besides it’s timelessly sodden old age it has some great literary lineage — just read McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, a series of portraits of bar patrons by Joseph Mitchell if you want to get a taste of what it was before the modern day onslaught of tourists. Just a few blocks north is the second oldest bar or if you ask them THE oldest, Pete’s Tavern “The Tavern O. Henry Made Famous” — that’s a lovely tag line but a bit of a stretch.


Is that a cameo from the White Horse Tavern in the upper right? Let’s say it is.

Located at 129 East 18th Street on the corner of Irving Place, it was a bar in some form since 1864 except for it’s brief status as a flower shop during Prohibition — booze selling flower shops were huge in the 1920s. From 1903 to 1907 writer William Sydney Porter lived across the street at 55 Irving Place — you may know him from his pen name O. Henry or at the very least if you’re really into candy bars.

At the time it was known as Healey’s and according to the bar’s lore he wrote what would be everyone’s high school english assignment, Gift of the Magi, in the second booth from the entrance, a fact the bar really beats you over the head with. Cool story but totally false according to Porter’s friend who confirmed he actually wrote it at his place across the street. Hey, who cares about technicalities — he did drink a lot and he lived across the street so it’s almost a definite he enjoyed many beverages here — that counts in this LitNerd’s book.

What: Pete’s Tavern

Who: O. Henry

Where: 129 East 18th Street

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