I met my two best friends about 30 years ago in New York City while working at an industrial design firm on East 19th Street off Broadway. One of our favorite local Gramercy Park hangouts was Pete’s Tavern. We went there on many occasions–often sitting outside to sip a cold beer and watch the parade of people hustling by. Pete's is still in operation today and I get in a visit periodically for a drink, and an hour or so, of reminiscing.
Worth noting that at the time of writing this, Pete’s Tavern is listed as “temporarily closed” on Yelp as result of Covid-19 with a message stating “We apologize but at this time for the safety of our patrons, our staff, and the rest of the community we have decided to close our doors temporarily.”
The Early Years Pete’s Tavern resides in a building at the corner of 18th Street and Irving Place built in 1829. From It was originally the Portman Hotel, and it is believed that it was a grocery and grog store (yep, grog!) at some point, and that liquor was sold at that location as early as 1851. It wasn’t an official tavern however until 1864. Imagine, 1864. Lincoln was president at this time and the civil war was raging! Our New York City served as a source for troops and supplies (beer?) for the Union Army. I'd imagine they spent a bit of time socializing at Pete's.
In 1899, The tavern was purchased by brothers Tom and John Healy and opened under the name Healy’s Café in 1899. It operated under the name until it was purchased in 1932 by Pete Belles who changed the name to Pete’s Tavern. Despite the changes in ownership, and the prohibition, Pete’s Tavern has remained largely unaltered. The interior, including the original rosewood bar, booths, pressed tin ceiling and floor tiles remain as a testament to its heritage.
The Tavern operated under the name Healy's Café until it was purchased in 1932 by Pete Belles who changed the name to Pete’s Tavern.
Not the Candy Bar
Pete’s Tavern enjoys other claims to fame. On its awning, windows, menus and matchbooks, it advertises to be “The Tavern O. Henry Made Famous.” I don't mean the nutty candy bar. The story goes that O. Henry, the writer, lived not too far from the Tavern on Irving Place and frequented Pete’s from 1903 to 1907. He, apparently, wrote “The Gift of the Magi” and Pete’s has a plaque marking the booth O. Henry sat in as he wrote the story.
The walls are decorated with framed news clips, assorted ephemera, and numerous photographs of the celebrities who have dined there, including Mike Meyers, Bruce Willis, Natalie Portman, James Gandolfini, Zack Braff, Harvey Keitel, Johnny Depp, and Tom Cruise, to name a few.
As Seen on TV
The chances are you've seen Pete's even if you've never been there. Huh?
Pete’s is known as a location for a number of films and television shows. The Tavern appeared in movies including Two for the Seesaw, Ragtime, Endless Love, Across the Sea of Time, and The Guru. It was the backdrop for infamous Sex and the City episode, The Ick Factor, where Miranda Hobbs proposes to her boyfriend Steve Brady.
Lastly, it was used as a backdrop for a Seinfeld Season 5 episode, The Sniffling Accountant, when Detective-Kramer set up a sting involving Jerry’s accountant. And, it also made an appearance in Law and Order, Nurse Jackie and Spin City.
It’s easy to see why Pete’s Tavern has staying power. And, I do believe that once we are through the current pandemic Pete’s will re-emerge and add even more to its walls, to its story, and to New York City history. I know I will be planning to meet with my dear friends when it does!
I hope to see you there!