….. dating back to 1794
The Bridge Cafe is located at 279 Water Street in a¬†building dating back to 1794. That was the year that¬†Newell Narme opened a ‘grocery and wine and porter¬†bottler’ in the wooden building, which at that time was two-and-a-half stories with a peaked roof.”

“In 1794, the portion of Water Street running through¬†this neighborhood and the buildings on its east side¬†marked the East River’s western edge, and Lawrence’s wharf occupied the space near where the restaurant’s kitchen now stands. In 1888 the exterior of the building was altered to its present form.”

“In 1801 Peter and Janet Laing bought the store and ran a grocery until the building was purchased in 1826 by Charles G. Ferris. Ferris was an attorney who leased the property (directly and through his estate) to a variety of saloon and boarding house operators, until 1905 when it was purchased by Maurice Hyland.”

“Laing was a mariner and ship captain before buying¬†279 Walter Street. In 1812 his name appeared as witness on an indictment against a ‘disorderly house’ (brothel) at 15 Dover Street, across the street. 15 Dover was demolished when the Brooklyn Bridge was built.”

“The 1794 date is significant because from that date¬†the building has been ‘the site of a food and/or drinking establishment on the same site in New York,’ as well as the oldest business in New York City. Chase Manhattan can only trace its origin to 1799. When Henry Williams opened his porter house here in 1847, he began the unbroken record of 279 Water Street as a ‘drinking establishment’–the oldest in New York City (eclipsing McSorley’s Old Ale House).”

“Williams had competition within the building because Ferris rented out the back room (known as 16 Dover Street) to Mr. James McGinnis, from 1850 to 1858, where he ran his porter house called ‘Empire House.’ The literature of mid-19th century describes this part of Water Street as having a continuous string of saloons and brothels–in some¬†buildings, on every floor.”

“From 1858 into 1859 John Henry Stelling and¬†William Brosnan sold liquors here. Then, in 1859, Thomas Norton appeared as a lessee and porter housekeeper, and remained until 1881. Norton must have attracted attention, because the crusading reform lawyer, Frank Moss, had the following to say¬†in his 1897 book, The American Metropolis, ‘At 279 Water Street was Tom Norton’s a Bagnio (brothel) filled with river pirates and Water Street Hage. Norton made a fortune with dance halls.’ Norton was a mate on a black ball packet ship, according to Frank Moss. The building was indicted by the¬†district attorney in April 1879 as a ‘disorderly house’¬†(the legal term for brothel in the 19th century).”

“From 1881 to 1890, a parade of saloon operators moved in and out. Then, in 1891, Jeremiah J. Cronin arrived, along with John Murphy, to run a liquor establishment. (Their 1896 saloon license hangs on the wall.) Cronin was a New York City alderman–today’s councilman–from 1898 to 1902. He was¬†swept out of the city council in a reform movement in 1901. Peter J. Boyle ran a saloon here from 1902 until 1922, when the McCormack family leased and later bought the property. During Prohibition, the place was run as a restaurant and sold ‘cider,’ but beer was available, supplied by a Brooklyn bootlegger named Charlie Brennan.”

“The current owners bought the building in 1979, and renamed it the Bridge Cafe . They upgraded the restaurant and bar, but kept the charming 1920s interior. The menu is outstanding. The restaurant received a one-star rating from The New York Times several years ago. Ed Koch, while he was mayor, regularly had lunch here, and declared it as “his favorite restaurant.”
–New York Times, Sunday, November 19, 1995
The research that resulted in the above account was done by Richard McDermott, publisher of The New York Chronicle,
(718) 423-8738.