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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16 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.

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  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.

    In 1928, Herbert Asbury’s famous book The Gangs of New York was published. Within, Asbury wrote, “A famous Water Street resort was the Hole-in-the-Wall, at the corner of Dover and Water streets run by One-Armed Charley Monell and his trusted lieutenants’ Gallus Mag and Kate Flannery.”
    Asbury went on to describe Gallus Mag as, “She was bouncer and general factotum of the Hole-in-the-Wall, and stalked fiercely about the dive with a pistol in her belt and a huge bludgeon strapped to her wrist. The dive over which Gallus Mag exercised a belligerent supervision became the most vicious resort in the city and was finally closed by Captain Thorne of the Fourth Ward police.”
    Actually, the saloon closed by Captain Thorne was called Slaughter House Point, and was located two blocks away on Water Street.
    Former New York City prison warden Charles Sutton in his 1874 book, The New York Tombs, wrote, “Charley Monnell, alias One Armed Charley, became a recognized power among the thieves and murderers of the Fourth Ward. He opened a place in Dover Street which he called the “Hole in the Wall,” and with Kate Flannery and Gallus Mag as lieutenants soon made his den attractive to his kindred spirits.” This book was apparently a major source for Asbury’s account. Neither Asbury nor Sutton provided dates for their story.
    But the New York Times on June 12, 1872, gave support to the story. The paper reported, “Joseph K. Hudson, mate of the ship Pacific, laying at Pier 9 East River, while drunk, went into the den at No. 14 Dover Street known as The Hole in the Wall and was robbed of his watch and chain by Frederick Frike and Thomas Hammond, who were held for trial at the Tombs yesterday” (No. 14 was a side entrance to 279). One Armed Charley apparently had a liquor concession in the building, there were two bars in the dance house. The city directories in the 1860s described a Charles Monell living and working as a saloon keeper in the Fourth Ward. But little more than folklore has surfaced to support the story of Gallus Mag.

  10. 279 Water Street has been standing since at least 1794. In that year a grocery-tavern opened in the then 2&1/2 story building, but there is no evidence of a brothel, that developed later.
    Slobbery Jim (James White) killed Michael Dooley (the barber?) in 361 Water Street in June 1859. The Coroner’s Inquest can be read in the New York Times June 6, 1859.

    Neither The Hole In The Wall, Gallus Mag or Patsy is mentioned in the inquest. The 12 cent Battery murder of a German immigrant is an Asbury mix up. In 1852 a German immigrant named Charles Grell was murdered at the Battery, had been robbed of $35. Slobbery Jim and Patsy were certainly not fighting about it seven years later.

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  13. Mike the Dog says:

    One of these fine days it would be great to cross the pond to take a look at 279 Water Street (the Hole in the Wall ) and number 273 (The Sportsman’s Hall) apparently the buildings have not altered a great deal in basic structure to that of a 150 years ago.

    A strange as it may seem – my interest in the buildings is the the canine history connection!. Dog fighting took place at the Sportsman’s Hall and the Rat Killing Pit at The Hole in the Wall.

    Many of the fighting dogs that took part in the pit battles were dogs that arrived with emigrants from the UK and Ireland. These dogs were the foundation of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and the Boston Terrier.

    The first ever New York Times report of a dog fight was published in 1868 and tells of a police raid at Kit Burns drinking place The Sportsman’s Hall and the subsequent prosecution at Court of Special Sessions.

  14. WW says:

    The quote above attributed to the book The New York Tombs, does not appear in that book – if anyone can find that quote, please cite the page. It may well appear in another volume, but not Charles Sutton’s – “The New York Tombs.

    You can find a digitized version here:

  15. Old Mike says:

    Try page 473.

  16. Rick Spilman says:

    The volume of Sutton’s book linked to in is incomplete, ending at around page 94. If you check the table of contents, the original book has over 600 pages. The Google Books version appears complete and the reference is on page 473. Thanks, Old Mike.

    The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and Its Mysteries