Location: 279 Water Street
From Schermerhorn Row to the Thomas Carpenter house, the South Street Seaport boasts not only New York’s oldest buildings, but also one of its oldest drinking establishments, a pirate bar located at 279 Water Street, but now thanks to Hurricane Sandy, the Bridge Café may have to be shuttered for good.
Booze and Blood by the Bucket
Constructed in 1794, this blood red, three story sagging wood framed structure on the corner of Dover and Water Street once housed the Hole-In-The-Wall-Saloon, a vicious den of 19th century depravity. Between the years of 1859 and 1881, the heyday of the East River pirates, the bar served up booze and blood by the bucket. In The American Metropolis, Reverend Parkhurst’s gangbusting Attorney Frank Moss called the bar:
…a bagnio [brothel] filled with river pirates and Water Street hags.
The Infamous Gallus Mag
In 1874 the Brooklyn Eagle had this to say about the bar:
It was there that thieves and junkmen would meet to ‘put up jobs;’ it was there that men were drugged and robbed and women beaten…it was there that young thieves became graduates in crime.
And it was there that folk legend Gallus Mag bludgeoned her way onto the scene. It is impossible to separate fact from fiction in the history of Mag, the noted six foot tall cockney bouncer, who kept a small sack filled with wet sand for knocking out sailors on her belt.
A Distinguished Thief
Gallus’s real name was Mag Perry, but Water Streeters called her Gallus on account of the very un-lady like suspenders (galluses) she wore. Gallus ran the Hole In The Wall with her husband Jack, the distinguished thief whose greatest claim to fame, other beating a fourteen year prison sentence, was when he swiped Josh Ward’s championship rowing belt.
Jack ran the front of the house, tending bar and robbing and drugging sailors, while Gallus worked clean up, biting off the ears and fingers of obstreperous bar flies. She kept those grisly trophies in a pickling jar on a shelf behind the bar that is still there today.
The Bridge Cafe
Around the 1880s the name of the bar was changed to the Bridge café, on account of the massive Brooklyn Bridge at the café’s doorstep. Before Hurricane Sandy the restaurant was akin to stepping back into the days of steam and sail, replete with an 1810 tin ceiling and an ancient mahogany bar.
Now the Bridge Café needs help. During hurricane Sandy the dining room was filled with over three feet of water, but there’s good news, according to this New York 1 article the café plans to reopen in two months. So when they reopen, why not drop in at the Bridge Café, grab a soft-shelled crab sandwich and tell them Gallus Mag sent ya?