The Ear Inn, one of the oldest drinking establishments in New York City, resides in a building constructed in the downtown area in the late 18th Century for a gentleman named James Brown. No, not the Godfather of Soul (although that too would be amazing!), but for an African officer during the Revolutionary War who was the wartime aide to none other than General George Washington himself. It is believed that Washington and Brown are memorialized in the painting of Washington’s Delaware River crossing. Post-war, Brown found his fortune in the tobacco trade and was neighbor to John Adams and Aaron Burr. Mind you that this is all prior to the abolishment of slavery in the U.S.!
It is believed that Washington and Brown are memorialized in the painting of Washington's Delaware river crossing.
The House That Brown Built
Located in what was then known as Lower Greenwich, a mixed-race working class neighborhood just south of Greenwich Village, the building stood among similar houses adorned with Flemish-bond brickwork, keystone lintel capped windows, and a gambrel dormered roof. Brown purchased the house at 326 Spring Street in 1817 for $2,000 (worth $5.5 million today) and opened a tobacco shop in the first floor, catering to the sailors and dock workers along the river.
When Brown sold the building in 1830, it became a pharmacy and a grocery store. Robert Nixon and Charles Lowere took over the building in 1851. Prior to the building being turned into a brewery serving home-brewed beer and whisky, it served as a boarding house, a doctor’s office, a brothel, a smuggler’s den, and a “lady-free” clubhouse. The building was subsequently sold to an Irish immigrant named Thomas Cloke, who turned the downstairs floor into a tavern and quickly added a dining area and began serving local fare in 1917.
The building served as a boarding house, a doctor's office, a brothel, a smuggler's den, and a "lady-free" clubhouse.
The Green Door
Cloke sold the building when he realized, not a moment too soon, that the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing the sale of liquor might very well be passed. During the nationwide ban on production and sale of alcohol, a/k/a Prohibition, the bar turned into a speakeasy. The brave new owners opened a "restaurant" and continued serving alcohol. When prohibition ended, the speakeasy continued on as a tavern but for years, but never hung a sign, and remained known simply as "The Green Door."
The Birth of "The Ear"
The Ear Inn’s name was birthed in late 1970s by current owners Martin Sheridan and Richard Hayman. To avoid the bureaucratic red tape by the Landmark Commission in order to approve a formal change of signage, the duo partially covered the letter B in the outside neon sign to make look like an E. Boom! The “EAR” Inn was born.
Throughout the years, the Ear has brought in the likes John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd when they starred on SNL. Bill Murray, Matthew Broderick and John Lennon are also known to have frequented The Ear on many occasions throughout the years.
The Ear Inn continues to entertain locals and tourists alike, but has managed to maintain its cultural history and not become a tourist trap or fall to the commercialization prominent in its corporate neighborhood. We're all grateful for that!
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