We’ve lost a lot of good old-school bars over the years (RIP Milady’s, we loved you so). But Old Town Bar, located on East 18th Street by Gramercy Park, has been holding strong since 1892, having served over the years as a German-American salon, an alleged speakeasy, a blue-collar hangout, and a pivotal location in Whit Stillman’s film The Last Days of Disco. Last weekend Old Town celebrated its 125th anniversary, and in anticipation, we spoke with bar owner Gerry Meagher about Old Town’s history, Union Square in the Bad Old Days, and those famous urinals.
Can you tell us a little about the bar’s history? How did it get its name?
It started in 1892 and it was originally, like a lot of taverns in New York in the 1890s, a German-American place. It was originally owned by Jacob Berckel. [He and his manager] ran one of the original salons. We have a card that was sent to us by the manager from the 1890s, it was a business card they used in those days.
Jacob Berckel ran it, from what we understand, to the early part of the 20th century. And then it was taken over by a fellow named Viemeister, who was another German-American. It continued as an old-style German-American tavern up until Prohibition, around 1918, when it became Craig’s Restaurant. We don’t have it verified that they serving liquor in those days. There are some booths you pull out, and what we were told is that liquor was put underneath the booths whenever there was a raid, which the bar was usually told about in advance. So it seemed to operate as sort of a speakeasy in those days. After Prohibition, in 1933, it became The Old Town Bar & Restaurant, which was taken over by another German-American family, the Lohdens.