From the “Hole-in-the-Wall” to the Bridge Café — Gallus Mag to Hurricane Sandy

Photo: R. Spilman

Photo: R. Spilman

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.

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8 Responses to From the “Hole-in-the-Wall” to the Bridge Café — Gallus Mag to Hurricane Sandy

  1. Phil says:

    If I had the money to fly to NY, that would benthe first place I’d stop for a drink!

  2. World Famous says:

    Nasty and myself would have their best bar stool occupants!

  3. Mighty Casey says:

    DAMN – that was one of my favorite bars in NYC for most of the years I lived there. My heart’s broken that it took such epic damage, but I can’t say I’m surprised. That whole area got Katrina-ed. Sandy was an epic bitch …

  4. Rick Spilman says:

    The last time I passed by, which was on a Sunday, I couldn’t tell if work was going on inside. It didn’t look abandoned. I am keeping my fingers crossed. Perhaps in two more months.

  5. Rick Spilman says:

    Casey, I just heard that the Bridge cafe may be opening in a matter of weeks.

  6. Pingback: This Week’s Top New York History News | The New York History Blog

  7. James says:

    The Hole in the Wall was on Roosevelt St, not Water St. That mistake was made in “Gangs of New York” by Herbert Asbury.

  8. Rick Spilman says:

    There have been several locations given for the “Hole in the Wall.” I also agree that Asbury was not always a reliable source. Do you have a good reference for the Roosevelt address? Most sources put the “Hole in the Wall” on the corner of Water and Dover streets, which is the Bridge is located, although it could have been on any of the other three corners. I have come across a reference in the Brooklyn Eagle of 1874 which identifies the bar as on Dover Street and then refers to it later in another paragraph as another Water Street dive.

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