A look inside some of NYC's oldest institutions
This month, Katz’s Deli celebrated 125 years of piling pastrami high on the Lower East Side. The deli is New York City’s oldest in operation and part of a group of institutions that still do what they do best since the days when horse-drawn carriages shuttled people through unpaved streets.
These are businesses, venues and community mainstays that have survived, if with few interruptions, new competition and the tumult of change in the country’s largest city for more than a century.
Bar: Bridge Café
279 Water St.
McSorley’s Old Ale House
15 E. 7th St.
McSorley’s Old Ale House boasts of being the oldest place in New York City to grab a drink, as the suds have been slung there since 1854. But an amateur historian, Richard McDermott, claimed to discover that Bridge Café occupies a space at 279 Water St. that has been selling booze since 1794, when it was a grocer and “wine and porter bottler,” according to the bar’s website.
“We got them beat by a lot,” Bridge Café owner Adam Weprin said of McSorley’s.
In response, Bill Wander, who researched McSorley’s history for the bar, maintained that McSorley’s is oldest, saying the space at 279 Water St. was dry for five years during Prohibition. Wander disputed that a trucking company that occupied the space during that time was a front for a speakeasy. McSorley’s is said to have served alcohol through Prohibition. “McSorley’s was declared the oldest the day after Prohibition [ended],” Wander said.
Still, Weprin contends that alcohol was always flowing at 279 Water St., whether operating as a bordello or the trucking company, ostensibly. “Under my reign, we’ve never had better alcohol served,” said Weprin, whose family started the Bridge Café in the historic space in 1979.
The location’s history put pressure on Weprin to repair and reopen Bridge Café, which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy. He hopes to be open in the fall.
Performing arts institution: Brooklyn Academy of Music
321 Ashland Pl.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music is not only New York City’s oldest performing arts institution, but America’s as well, dating to September 1861.
“It started as a home for art with a capital ‘A,’ with opera, classical music, and then theater and dance,” said Louie Fleck, who works with the BAM Hamm Archives.
BAM has delivered performances of all stripes over the past 151 years in part due to its “ability to adapt to needs of the community in the broad sense of the word,” Fleck said.
Bike maker: Worksman Cycles
94-15 100th St.
Worksman Trading Corporation is America’s oldest bicycle manufacturer, based in Ozone Park. The company, better known as Worksman Cycles, was founded in 1898 and continues to provide industrial-grade tricycles, specialty bicycles, and food vending carts, like ones used by Good Humor.
“You know those ever-present halal carts? A lot of those are ours,” said Wayne Sosin, president of the company since 2007.
Originally situated in lower Manhattan, the company moved to Greenpoint in the 1960s, and then to its home in Ozone Park in 1979.
Place of worship: Old Quaker Meeting House
137-16 Northern Blvd.
The Old Quaker Meeting House in Flushing is the oldest place of worship in the boroughs, built in 1694, three decades after the English renamed New Amsterdam to New York.
Today, the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers, continue to hold an hour of silent worship at the Meeting House, which has a sign out front noting all are welcome to come in and pray.
“It’s been in continuous use, except for the time it was occupied by the British during the Revolutionary War,” said Wendy Burns, a clerk with the Religious Society of Friends, which maintains the Meeting House.
The Meeting House remains as modest as it was during the 17th century when it served as a refuge for persecuted Quakers.
“It is very plain and very simple. That was the Quaker way — and still is,” Burns said.
Steakhouse: Old Homestead
56 Ninth Ave.
Old Homestead was originally a location for traders sailing into New York to dine with their goods, though President Andrew Johnson celebrated narrowly escaping impeachment by one vote in 1868, the year that the 56 Ninth Ave. restaurant was established.
“Steakhouses come and go in New York City, but Old Homestead Steakhouse has become an icon because of its longevity,” said Steve Mangione, a spokesman for the steakhouse.
Barber shop: Paul Molé
1034 Lexington Ave.
A man who sits in Paul Molé Barber Shop on the Upper East Side, the city’s oldest, can walk out looking as sharp as the customers in the decades old photographs that adorn the walls.
“The styles haven’t changed,” said owner Adrian Wood, who has been with Paul Molé for 40 years. “A good haircut is a good haircut.”
The barber shop was established in 1913 under Joseph Molé, who opened for business down the block from where it stands today on Lexington Avenue and East 74th Street.
32 Spring St.
Over a century ago, when the chichi boutiques of SoHo were factories, the Italian immigrants who worked there would come into Lombardi’s for a slice of pizza, tied with brown paper and string.
“They would take the pizza back to the factories and heat them up in the ovens used to keep them warm ... and that was lunch,” said John Brescio, the owner of Lombardi’s.
Located at 32 Spring St. in NoLita, Lombardi’s is the oldest operating pizzeria in America. New York licensed Lombardi’s in 1905, officially making it America’s first pizzeria.
Engine No. 5
340 E. 14th St.
Central Park Precinct
86th Street and Traverse Road, Central Park
The oldest FDNY firehouse still battling blazes today is Engine Company 5, which was first organized in September 1865. The station house, located at 340 E. 14th St., was built between 1880 and 1881 by architect Napoleon Lebrun, who designed many firehouses in the city in the late 19th century.
For the NYPD, the headquarters of the officers patrolling Central Park are located in the oldest precinct in the city. The Central Park Precinct was established in 1936 out of a redesigned High Victorian Gothic horse stable built in 1870. The latest renovation on the historic site was completed in March.