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Archive for the ‘Water Street Revival’ Category

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

The Wickedest Man’s Dance Hall and bordello at 304 Water Street circa 1868

Location: 304 Water Street

Status: Demolished

Priests, police, and just about everybody in Manhattan called John Van Allen the Wickedest Man in New York, and he reveled in it. A born self-promoter, if Allen had been alive today he probably would have had a reality television series.

 

In a twenty-year life of crime, Allen set the tabloids aflame with his wacky antics even attracting the attention of Mark Twain who described the forty-five year old dancehall owner and pimp as,

 

“A tall, plain, boney, fellow, with a good-natured look in his eye, a Water Street air all about him, and a touch of Irish in his face.”—Mark Twain

 

John Allen Wickedest Man In New York

John Allen the Wickedest Man in New York and his son, Chester, a lad “hell on reading, writing, praying and fighting.”

 

House of Rum and Prostitution

Strangely enough, Allen and his criminal brothers Westley (Wess), Theodore (The.), Martin and Jesse were the sons of a wealthy Presbyterian minister. John amassed over 113 arrests for running disorderly houses across the city, but his most infamous den was a dancehall located at 304 Water Street.

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

Known for dancing prostitutes and cheap rum, Allen’s Dancehall would earn him the title: Wickedest Man in New York

Demolished to make way for the Brooklyn Bridge in 1870, his three story bilious green, bordello offered several dance floors, an orchestra pit and booths for sex. According to Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, Allen staffed his club with twenty prostitutes dressed in,

 

“…low black bodices of satin, scarlet skirts and stockings, and red topped boots with bells affixed to the ankles.” 

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

The Wickedest Man In New York holds court in his bar.

A Breathing Hole of Hell

According to Edward Winslow Martin’s Secrets of the Great City published in 1868, Allen’s dancehall was:

 

“…a breathing hole of hell—a trap door of the bottomless pit… where lousy loafers lurk..”

 

Allen lived above his bar with his wife, seven daughters and son, Chester, a lad who according to his dad was “hell on reading, writing, praying and fighting.”

In reality, Allen probably wasn’t the wickedest man on Water Street by a long shot (the title rightly belonged to Tommy Hadden), but after his ceaseless campaigning for the title, the moniker stuck when the Allen transformed his whorehouse into New York City’s wackiest religious revival.

 

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

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Bridge Cafe, 279 Water Street, Gallus Mag, River Pirates, South Street Seaport


The Bride Café on Water Street was once known as the Hole-In-The-Wall Saloon, a vicious den of 19th century depravity.

Location: 279 Water Street

Status: Standing

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.

Bridge Cafe, 279 Water Street, Gallus Mag, River Pirates, South Street Seaport

The Bridge Café is located 279 Water Street.

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.

Bridge Cafe, 279 Water Street, Gallus Mag, River Pirates, South Street Seaport

The Bridge Café is New York City’s last standing pirate bar.

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?

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Kit Burns Rat Pit 273 Water Street

Kit Burns’ Rat Pit

Location: 273 Water Street

Status: Standing

If Michael Vick were alive in the 1860s he would have probably called Christopher “Kit” Keyburns’ Sporstman’s Hall home. A portly, jovial, pock-marked, sodden faced man, Kit operated a dog-fighting arena from this still-standing location. Now the third oldest building in Manhattan, this three story brick structure represented the heart of Water Street’s depravity. But today, the rat pit has gone the way of everything else in Manhattan—luxury housing.

 

Kit Burn's Rat Pit map 473 Water Street

Kit Burns’ Sportsmen’s Hall was located at 273 Water Street.

 

A Start in Prizefighting

 

As a boy, Kit learned to work illegal prizefights under the tutelage of the bare knuckle boxing champ Yankee Sullivan. During one noted bout, Kit corned for fellow Water Streeter, Charley Lynch, during an eighty-six-round slugfest that ended in the death of Lynch’s opponent.

 

The Original Octagon

 

Prizefights made Kit’s reputation, but his real claim to fame was the Water Street Pit, a gas light illuminated octagon, eighteen inches high, sixteen feet long, and eight feet wide.

Wooden bleachers reached the ceiling and seated up to five hundred, and according to Oliver Dryer,

“Some of our city members of congress, state senators and assemblymen and municipal magnates, are Kit’s patrons.”–Oliver Dryer

 

Kit Burns the Ratpit today 273 Water Street

The humanitarians spend another night at Kit Burns Sportsmen’s Hall.


Rat baiting was one of the more popular games where sportsmen wagered on how many rats a terrier could slaughter. Jack, Kit’s prized 12 pound black and tan terrier, set a world record when he killed 100 rats in 5 minuets 40 seconds. After Jack died, Kit stuffed the champion pup and mounted him on the bar. Hung on walls and nailed to tables, Kit’s clientele could find the taxidermied champions of the past.

 

Kit’s Fighting Black Bear

Kit even owned a fighting black bear, which he pitted against challengers of any species. When not fighting, the bear had his own seat at the bar until he fell ill. Not wont to waste the skin, Kit skinned the fighter and turned him into a rug.

 

Bears and rats were all fine and good, but the dandies really came for the dogfights. The rules were simple. Trainers matched dogs of the same weight to fight in officiated battle with a cadre of surgeons at the ready. If an animal did not make weight, the humanitarians at the pit lashed their dog to a treadmill in the basement and whipped their fighter until it sweated off the excess pounds.

 

Web Kit Burns the Ratpit today 273 Water Street

 

After weigh-ins, the coaches scrubbed their dogs with a scalding solution of water, soda, and castile soap. A taster then licked his dog from snout to paw to prevent the opposition from rubbing of their champion with numbing agents capable of weakening their opponent’s biting grip.

I tell you what, a greenhorn don’t stand any chance down here.Christopher Kit Burns

 

Fights lasted hours, usually ending in death or a thrown towel. After the mêlée, the tasters licked the dogs again in case, as Kit put it:

…a fellow takes out a handkerchief and throws the stuff on the dog while he is fighting.

 

A standing bet of $1000 held that Burn’s dog, Belcher, could best any canine on the planet.

 

The ASPCA Closes In

 

When Kit wasn’t fighting dogs and rats, he battled the police and the ASPCA. In one instance, the NYPD crashed through a skylight and arrested scores of patrons for disorderly behavior. Kit eventually lost his grudge match with the ASPCA when the police arrested him for animal cruelty in November of 1870. The rat baiter caught diphtheria and died after beating the charges. He was 39 years old.

 

Web Kit Burns the Rat Pit Today

This fourth floor was added to the Kit Burns’ building in the 1900s.

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374 Water Street

Status: Demolished

Of all the Shanghaisters of Water Street, Tommy Hadden was the best. The barkeeps in the business of shanghaiing sailors called this salty little man with a wandering eye the Lime Juicer, because he could drug drinks with chloral hydrate as easily as squeezing a wedge of lime into a mug of grog.

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Chloral Hydrate + Alcohol = The Original Mickey Finn

In his twenty-five-year-long career, the police figured that Hadden had kidnapped at least 1,000 sailors, but in addition to shanghaiing, Tommy excelled in both murder and evading the law. Like the time the Lime Juicer crushed a man’s skull with a slung shot in 1852 and walked away scot free. Hadden’s secret of how he stayed out prison was no secret at all.

The Man Who Ran Water Street

As the New York Tribune explained:

“The primary elections which he has controlled or broken up in the interests of Tammany may be counted by the score; the ballot boxes he has stuffed by hundreds; while the false votes he has cast and caused to be cast are simply innumerable.”

Although John Allen and Kit Burns often got the press, Tommy Hadden ran Water Street. Hadden’s Hotel at 374 Water Street existed as boarding house for sailors, which in the words of the New York Tribune, “…implies fleecing them; and in providing captains of ships with a man or two…” The club was little more than a filthy cellar strewn with a maze of lice infested beds that combined charm of a flop house with the stench of a saloon.

Hadden served two sentences for sailor-napping in New York, but the salty character overstepped his bounds in New Jersey in 1870 when the authorities sentenced him to ten years in state prison for an attempted shanghaiing. He was never heard from again.

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