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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Ear Inn

One of the best ways to experience Olde, intimate, atmospheric New York is to visit its vintage bars. There are a number vying for title as New York City's oldest, such as Fraunces Tavern, Pete's Tavern, and The Ear Inn, located on the ground floor of the James Brown House, a historic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. See more photos here.

The James Brown House is one of the very few Federal houses left in the city. It is in largely original condition of 2 1/2 stories with dormers, double splayed keystone lintels, and a gambrel roof. The construction is all wood post and beams set with pegs, with a facade of Flemish bond brick. The restaurant doors and window are late 19th century. The panel to the right of the main door is a night shudder cover to the original shop window, an 18th century-style feature unique to this building. Once there were cellar windows and fireplaces in the bar area.
It was built in 1817 for James Brown, a prosperous African-American tobacco merchant, reputed to have been an aide to General Washington during the Revolutionary War.

At the time of its construction, the house was only five feet from the Hudson River shoreline. After James Brown's death, the city was booming with ship traffic. The river was filled out to West Street. New piers were built and rebuilt ever larger. From Spring Street, ships left for California, China, and Hoboken. The proximity to the water made it popular with sailors and longshoremen. It had a brewery that was later turned into a restaurant.

The property changed hands several times. In 1890, it was purchased by an Irish immigrant named Thomas Cloke. Cloke sold the business in 1919 in anticipation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibited the sale of alcohol. During Prohibition, the restaurant became a speakeasy, while the upstairs apartment was variously a boarding house, a smugglers den, and a brothel. Ghosts have been heard and seen, in particular, “Mickey,” a sailor still waiting for his clipper ship to come in. Read more about the bar at their website here.

One of the most interesting features of this place is the sign. A Columbia University student, Rip Hayman, rented a room in the house in 1973. In 1977, Hayman and friends bought the building and christened it the Ear Inn, after a new music journal, The Ear, published upstairs. To avoid the Landmark Commission’s lengthy review on changing signage on historic buildings, portions of the letter "B" in the neon BAR sign were painted black to read EAR...


Vivien said...

It is great to read your blog with such interesting stories... Great blog!

Mary said...

Re: Jumping to conclusions...

Years ago, when I worked in the neighborhood, I assumed that the sign read EAR because of an outage in the neon light.

Thanks for the real dope!

ilovephotoblogs said...

Great site. I love NY and your collection of interesting images. I featured your site in a recent post. Keep up the awesome photography!

jus me... said...

So traditional it seems. It could be any place in the world and can fill you with a sense of familiarity :)