In March, we posted about “The Captain Rose House of 1773 & Kit Burns Rat Pit of 1870,” at 273 Water Street in Lower Manhattan. In addition to being the third oldest building in Manhattan, the building has a rich history as both the home of a prosperous ship captain and, one hundred years later, as Kit Burn’s notorious ‘Rat Pit.’
Just down the block at 279 Water Street is, or perhaps was, and with luck will soon be again, the oldest bar in New York, the Bridge Café. First opened in 1794 as a bar and brothel, it was frequented by sailors looking for a drink and a good time, as well as by cutthroat East River pirates. It has been the site of countless fights, robberies and several murders. The building is also said to be haunted.
The Café has been shut down since November 2012 when Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge put the neighborhood under six feet of water. The current owners have been struggling to reopen the historic establishment since then. As noted by the New York Times last October, reopening a 219-year-old building takes time. Adam Weprin, one of the owners, says “It’s gotten to the point when I tell people, ‘Two more months,’ they say, ‘That’s what you told me two months ago…’ ”
Update: We have just heard that the cafe may reopen in a matter of weeks. Great news!
In the 1850s, the establishment was called “The-Hole-in-the-Wall.” It was a bar and brothel and home to a six foot tall female bouncer known as Gallus Mag. Her nickname was taken from the unladylike suspenders, galluses, that she was fond of wearing. She was said to have had a penchant for biting off the ears or fingers of troublesome sailor patrons, before throwing them out on to the street. She allegedly kept the ears and fingers in alcohol in a jar behind the bar. The legend goes that she had an impressive collection.
The “Hole-in-the-Wall” was also a haunt of East River pirates — waterfront thugs who stole from passing ships and sailors. In 1853, Slobbery Jim was the leader of the gang of pirates known as the Daybreak Boys. His tenure was short lived, however, as he fled from justice after murdering a fellow gang member known as “Patsy the Barber” while at the “The-Hole-in-the-Wall.” They reportedly argued over the distribution of 12 cents taken from a German immigrant, who they had just robbed and murdered. Allegedly, Slobbery Jim tried to bite Patsy the Barber’s nose off while Patsy the Barber tried to cut Jim’s throat. After a lengthy fight, Jim cut Patsy’s throat before stomping him to death with his hobnail boots. Legend has it that the Slobbery Jim later served as a Captain in the Confederate Army.
Gallus Mag was said to have had a long term feud with the another waterfront pirate, Sadie the Goat. Mag apparently bit Sadie’s ear off. In later years, after they made peace, Mags is said to have returned Sadie’s by then pickled ear. According to the story, Sally wore the ear on a chain around her neck for the rest of her life.
We can only wish Adam Weprin and his compatriot’s good luck in their efforts to re-open the venerable watering hole and restaurant. While the likes of Gallus Mags, Slobbery Jim and Sadie the Goat may have been tough characters, the toughest and meanest of them all may have been Hurricane Sandy.