This is the second installation of a three-part article Satan’s Circus: Broads, Booze and Bets.
There are many wonderful new bars in NoMad New York such as the Lobby Bar at Ace Hotel, The Nomad Hotel Bar, 40/40, SD26 Wine Bar, and the rooftop bars at 200 Fifth, 230 Fifth, and the Gansevoort Park. They are all part of a long drinking tradition in the area dating back to post-Civil War days. Some new watering holes such as the NoMad Hotel bar honor this tradition by serving drinks first concocted in the neighborhood and naming their new inventions after legendary bars in Satan’s Circus and the personalities who frequented them. However, the nightlife in Nomad today couldn’t be more different from that of the Gilded Age.
In the last half of the 19th Century, drinking in New York was different than it is now. In most of the city’s saloons, you would have been thrown out if you asked for a cocktail. It was normal for bars to post signs reading “Booze or beer, or get the heck out of here.”
This wasn’t the case in Satan’s Circus and along the Broadway corridor. That’s because this area butted up against the center of New York social life in the Gilded Age. The Madison Square Park area was home to the finest familes, the best shopping, and the finest clubs, hotels and restaurants. The theatre district was centered around the park as well as vaudeville and entertainment venues, and the park served as a political forum.
On Broadway, elegant hotels and their bars first created the Rob Roy (Fifth Avenue Hotel), the Hoffman House Cocktail and Hoffman House Fizz (Hoffman House on Broadway at 24th), the Widow’s Kiss (Holland House on Fifth Avenue at 30th), the Delmonico No. 1 (Delmonico’s on Broadway at 26th). In fact, the bars at the Fifth avenue Hotel and Hoffman House were the unofficial party headquarters of the Republicans and Democrats respectively, and the Hoffman House Bar was considered one of the finest in the world.
West of Broadway things were on the wilder side.
It’s hard to point to one pre-eminent bar in Satan’s Circus, but a good candidate would be The Star and Garter located on Sixth Avenue at 30th Street. The Star and Garter was owned in part by Daniel Kerrigan, an American pugilist who was involved in one of the longest recorded bare-knuckle boxing prize fights (a near-three and a half hour bout). He was also a longtime political organizer and “fixer” for Tammany Hall.
Holding court at the Star and Garter was the gregarious Billy Patterson, who was considered the best mixer-of-drinks in all of New York. Patterson was thought not to have an enemy in the world. But apparently that was not the case. One day as Patterson left the Star and Garter by a side entrance, someone hit him in the side of the head with a rock from a sling shot (probably an incident related to the gang wars of the 19th Century). The assailant was never found, but the phrase “Who Struck Billy Patterson?” resounded throughout the street of Satan’s Circus for many days to come. The phrase took on a life of it’s own, when it was uttered whenever people were mystified over anything. “Who Struck Billy Patterson?” could be said when an underdog won an election or a criminal disappeared without a trace.
Kerrigan wasn’t the only fighter that wound up as a New York City bar owner. Another was the famed boxer, John L. Sullivan. One of America’s most legendary bare-knuckle fighters, Sullivan was famously brought down (in a gloved match) by ‘Gentleman’ Jim Corbett in 1892.
The John L. Sullivan bar was at 1177 Broadway, between 27th and 28th Streets in the heart of today’s NoMad. Probably because of his fame and flamboyance, Sullivan became the target of the country’s most famous temperance crusader, the hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation.
Nation’s unorthodox and non-peaceful displays of protest made her a national celebrity. Taking directives from God, Nation protested the sale of liquor with violent force, chopping at bar tops, bottles and furniture.
Sullivan had proclaimed to the press that if Nation ever bothered to stop by his place, he would “thrust her into a sewer hole.” So Nation came to New York and stayed at the Victoria Hotel on 27th and Broadway, next door to Sullivan’s bar. She went to the Police Commissioner’s office and then to the Mayor’s office, where she was barred (excuse the expression). She then headed up to Sulllivan’s. Sitting in her carriage on Broadway, she sent a note in to him, but he never appeared, fearing his handsome bar would be turned to toothpicks. Nation, blunted at every turn, went to Grand Central Station and left for the West.