129 E 18th St
One of the oldest drinking establishments in the city, it’s the birthplace of O. Henry’s famous “The Gift of the Magi” story.
Yes, William Sydney Porter, better known to the world by his pen name “O. Henry,” lived nearby at 55 Irving Place. Yes, like so many writers, he drank a lot, and Pete’s Tavern was his regular spot. Here, he wrote one of his best-known and most touching stories – “The Gift of the Magi.”
O. Henry, originally from North Carolina, moved to Texas to lead the quiet life of a regular family man with a prosaic job at a local bank. However, his story took a turn worthy of an adventure novel. Having been accused of embezzlement, he fled to Honduras to avoid going to prison. When he returned on his own volition to see his dying wife, he had to face justice. The next three years of his life were spent in prison, where he started writing under various pseudonyms including “O. Henry”.
Like many aspiring writers, he ended up close to where the publishers were – in New York City. O. Henry lived there for less than a decade, during which he wrote 381 stories. (He died in 1910 at the age of 47 from cirrhosis of the liver and other health complications). He was hired by the New York World to write one story a week. Rumor has it that “The Gift of the Magi” was written in just a few hours before the deadline in the now well-marked booth in Pete’s Tavern.
Opened as a tavern in 1864, Pete’s Tavern claims to be the NYC’s oldest continuously operating bar and restaurant, disputing this distinction with another venerable drinking establishment – McSorley’s. The oldest or not, this place has been satisfying people’s thirst since Lincoln was president. Back then, it served food and drink, offered lodgings upstairs, and in the back had a stable for weary horses. Amazingly, everything inside the tavern is still the same as it was when it opened: the tin ceiling, the chandeliers, the tiled floor, and the rosewood curved bar.
Pete’s Tavern remained open during the Prohibition, camouflaging as a flower shop. The front entrance was locked, but you could enter the “flower shop” from the side entrance on 18th Street. Then you would open the “refrigerator’”door and viola! you were right in the bar. The reason Pete’s Tavern managed to successfully disguise itself as a flower shop without being disturbed by the police was that it happened to be the favorite drinking spot of numerous corrupt and powerful Tammany Hall politicians.
Stop by for Happy Hour, Monday through Friday, and enjoy $5 wines and beers with complimentary hors d’oeuvres passed out at the bar.