Writings & Whatnot by Rob Hill
The Disorderly House
16 Nov 2010Posted by on
The Bridge Cafe gets its name from being located in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. In one form or another the wood-frame building has been serving drinks since 1794. First as a grocery, then as a “disorderly house,” which was a polite way of referring to a brothel, then as a series of taverns and watering holes. The interior still retains a twenties’ speakeasy atmosphere. It is one of several bars in Manhattan that lays claim to the title of “New York’s Oldest Drinking Establishment.” And it is reportedly haunted by the ghost of Gallus Mag, the notorious bouncer who kept a jar of severed ears she’d bitten off some of the more unruly patrons.
An old man hunches over a corner table beside a family of tourists, chatting at them over his steak dinner with a little too much aggression than the setting calls for. The young daughter performs ballet pirouettes for her own amusement, often using the far wall to brake her momentum. Sepia photos of old New York threaten to drop from their mountings. The old coot watches the girl with a little too much interest. Police have been summoned for less instigation than the glint in his eye. The mother looks concerned. The father hastily signals for the check. The daughter is lost in her twirls. They escape to the safety of South Seaport and the salty old lech returns his attention to his steak, stabbing it with glee. Somehow he suits the cafe’s decor perfectly. He may well have occupied that table since the days of bootleggers and bathtub gin, a river pirate with gold teeth and a knife tucked in his boot.
Outside the cobblestone streets are slick with rain. They seemingly haven’t changed much since the days when Herman Melville strode them in search of a ship leaving port. Nearby is the location of the mansion George Washington lived in while he was President and New York the temporary Capitol. The mansion no longer stands, as it was stepped on by one of the Brooklyn Bridge pilings. As I understand it, there is a plaque commemorating the site, though it is blocked off by a construction fence and no longer accessible to the public. Some wish to have the plaque moved to a more visible location, but so far their request has been ignored on grounds that the plaque should mark the exact spot regardless of whether anyone can see it or not. Until that situation gets sorted, those longing for a whiff of Washington’s spectral presence will have to make due with the Fraunces Tavern, where the former general did much of his presidential carousing.
[Oil painting by Janet Ternoff]
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