The Oldest Bar in New York: Review of The Bridge Café

BY PAUL from BeerClubGuide.com for The Gotham Palate

The Bridge Café
279 Water St
Financial District
212-227-3344 / bridgecafenyc.com/
Serving lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch

In 1974, a chap named Newell Narme erected a wood building at 279 Water Street, on the banks of the East River. Originally a “grocery and wine and porter bottler,” the humble pub has been through several metamorphoses since then. In 1847, when Henry Williams opened a porter house in the building, the space was officially recognized as a drinking establishment, making the building the oldest bar in New York City.

For its first century, 279 Water Street was primarily a grocery and saloon frequented by fishermen, dock workers, prostitutes and their customers; it has also been a pirate bar, a packing store, a Hungarian restaurant and a seafood restaurant.  When Henry Williams opened his bar, the building was essentially a brothel; a census revealed that several prostitutes lived in the building.

In 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was erected, forever changing the landscape of 279 Water Street. No longer did the East River flow past the building, and the area became even more disreputable. During Prohibition, the building served as a speakeasy, serving food and cider as a matter of course, but also making bootlegged beer available to its customers.

The current owners purchased the space in 1979, renaming the saloon the Bridge Café. Its proximity to Wall Street has made the Café a regular haunt for financial and political types. In fact, former mayor Ed Koch was known to frequent the Bridge Café throughout his time in office. The Café became known to the rest of the country when it was used as a set during the filming of Gangs of New York.

In 2007, the Bridge Café was the location of an EPIC paranormal investigation. The team didn’t experience any strange activity, but there are still reports of the sound footsteps, the smell of lavender, unexplained shadow movement and the persistent feeling of being watched.

Today, the Café is known for its outstanding selection of wine, scotch and bourbon—a far cry from the rum, applejack, beer and Madeira served when the bar first opened.

Executive Chef Joseph A. Kunst uses seasonal, organic, locally produced proteins, dairy, fruit and vegetables in his American Eclectic cooking. In addition to lamb, steak and buffalo, the menu consists mostly of seafood and shellfish. Start with the Steamed P.E.I. Mussels served with Andouille Sausage, Jalapeno Peppers, Cilantro, Spicy Tomato Broth ($13) and try the Grilled Wild Pacific Salmon with Ginger-Lime Vinaigrette, Avocado, Red Onion & Watercress Salad ($27) for dinner.

Paul also writes on the Beer Maven Blog at BeerClubGuide.com, a site that rates and reviews beer clubs.

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Comments

  1. Newell Narine [correct spelling] did not build 279 Water Street. He leased it from owner James H. Kip of Kip;s Bay fame. It has been selling booze since 1794. Henry Williams was one of a long string of saloon keepers. The owner gives out a detailed sheet with their history.

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