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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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