A Brief History of the Tavern
Welcome to ‘Pete’s Tavern’, New York City’s oldest original bar and restaurant,
located in beautiful Gramercy Park on east 18th street and Irving Place.We
would like to take you back on a tour through time and show you how
‘Pete’s’ has changed throughout the decades, yet still remains one of
New York City’s great cultural landmarks. The building, built in 1851,
originally housed the Portman Hotel where downstairs on the main floor a
“grocery and grog store” was the first drinking establishment, founded in 1864.
In 1899, it was bought by Tom and John Healy, and became “Healy’s Café”.
In 1922, it was sold to Peter D’Belles and thus the name ‘Pete’s Tavern’ has
remained forever since. The forty-foot rosewood bar, decorated back bar,
tin ceiling and tile floor are all original fixtures, which have been in place since 1864. The booths in the bar room and the cabinets above them have also been in
place since the restaurant was founded.
It was in this second booth that William Sydney Porter (pen name O.Henry),
a ‘Pete’s’ neighborhood regular, wrote the “Gift of the Magi” in 1903. O.Henry
lived down the street at 55 Irving Place from 1903-1907 and also mentioned
“Healy’s” in his short story “The Lost Blend”.
Now move further through time to 1920, when a national ban on the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol was passed. Prohibition, sometimes referred to as the “Noble Experiment”, covered everybody….well almost!!! It is thought that due to the proximity of Tammany Hall, the political machine of New York City during the early 20’s into the 30’s, that politicians turned a blind eye to the sale of alcohol at ‘Pete’s’.
They needed a watering hole, a place where they could make deals and conduct business, and where better than ‘Pete’s’ just three blocks away?! During Prohibition, ‘Pete’s Tavern’ was disguised as a florist, adorned with fresh flowers. Signs outside invited passers-by in. Enticed to purchase orchids, roses, violets and gardenias from this fake store. Patrons entering through the side door, in what is now the first dining room, who were in the know, would signal and give the password, and then be escorted through a dummy refrigerator door (whose hinges are still intact),. They would enter into the bar, where they could drink, chat and socialize, while conducting any business necessary. When Prohibition was repealed on Dec. 5th, 1933, the florist signs came down and ‘Pete’s’ remained in business.
Both our dining rooms still remain in the exact same condition as they have been
for the last two centuries. The walls are adorned with pictures of all the locals,
celebrities and great old photo’s of ‘Pete’s’ and how it used to be, while the cozy,
inviting booths still serve as an intimate place to dine for the wide variety of ‘Pete’s’
customers, the young to old, locals to tourists, and the famous to infamous. The
upstairs party room, with its beautiful hardwood floors, original brick walls and bar,
is available throughout the year for all types and sizes of parties and all our plans
can be viewed on our website.
Our outdoor café is one of the oldest original outdoor cafés in the whole of New York City,
and dates back to the early 50’s when the European tradition of dining ‘al fresco’ became
popular in New York. Be it spring, summer or fall… get away from the hustle and bustle of New York City and sit on beautiful Irving Place admiring this picturesque, historic land-marked district.
While visiting us, please take a moment to walk around, enjoy the pictures both new and old that adorn our walls, and allow the history of this New York landmark to seep in.