Just how did the Ear Inn, which celebrates its bicentennial this year, get that peculiar name?
For decades, patrons called the unnamed Hudson Square watering hole The Green Door after its entryway. Then former road manager Martin Sheridan and Richard Hayman bought the business in 1977 and made a cosmetic adjustment to the existing neon “BAR” sign. Painting over the B’s curves, they christened their establishment the Ear Inn and sidestepped a lengthy Landmark Preservation Commission review process.
It’s that creative spirit Sheridan, 67, hopes to preserve at his tavern and in his neighborhood. ”Over the years, we’ve had so many artists, poets, writers," the first-generation Irish immigrant said. “It’s a place you can still bring your music, your art, your poetry," he added, noting the Ear Inn still hosts live music three nights a week, as well as poetry readings and art exhibitions.
As a performance venue and haunt for locals, Ear Inn offers all the props you could hope for: lining the walls is an eclectic collection of historic memorabilia, many items of a nautical nature and many donated by regular customers — including an old diving helmet, at least two captain's wheels, centuries-old glass gallon jugs, an X-ray receptionist sign and a plastic, larger-than-life ear.
On Saturday, the pub celebrated its 200th anniversary by throwing a block party with live music, food and drinks. (All proceeds from the day went toward toward the Ear Inn's effort to help raise $350,000 for the nonprofit God's Love We Deliver, which is using the money to feed the hungry in lower Manhattan.)
In honor of that occasion, Sheridan gave us a thorough lesson on the history of his pub, which all began with the construction of the building at 326 Spring St. in 1817.
The house at that address...
... was erected for James Brown, an African-American who fought under George Washington in the Revolutionary War and later made his living as a tobacconist. Legend has it that he is the single person of color depicted in the Emmanuel Leutze painting of Washington's Delaware River crossing (pictured). Brown's two-and-a-half-story house is today a rare example of the typical Federal-period store in which the shopkeeper lived above his store.
In Brown’s era, the Hudson River shoreline …
... was only five feet away from his door. During his lifetime, New Yorkers filled in the river with landfill to pave West Street and build new piers to accommodate shipping vessels importing goods to and exporting them from Manhattan.
In the late 1800s, 326 Spring St. was home to a liquor dealership
Irish immigrant Thomas Cloke brewed his own beer and distilled his own corn whisky, selling it to sailors, pirates and immigrant gang members. His family owned the building for more than 100 years, and relatives still pay the occasional visit, Sheridan told us.
As for the upstairs apartment…
...it's served many purposes over the years. It functioned at different junctures in time as a boarding house, a smuggler's den, a brothel and a doctor's office, Sheridan and his business partner discovered as they were repairing the building's roof. "We found abortion kits in the roof that were from the brothel," he recalled. "During this time, we also found a five-shooter gun stuck in the chimney, most likely for the girls upstairs who needed protection, which was very common in those days."
Sheridan and Hayman donated many of the artifacts they found during that renovation, and during the next-door construction of Philip Johnson's Urban Glass House, to the New York Historical Society on the Upper West Side.
After Prohibition ...
....the downstairs floor became a clubhouse for sailors, a place where they could eat, drink and gamble without any women around. The watering hole's motto was "Known from coast to coast."
"The longshoremen came in and signed up at 4 in the morning, and then were out by 11 in the morning. So the place was only open for five hours," recalled Sheridan, who lived around the corner at the time.
Sheridan and Heyman bought the business in 1977...
...welcoming women into the fold, but maintaining a low-key vibe. The owners have always given their celebrity clients -- from musician John Lennon to actor Paul Rudd -- their space, but Sheridan is proud of hosting exhibitions for the likes of British painter Cecily Brown and multi-media artist Sari Dienes on the second floor. You'll also find live music at the bar three nights a week.
When you go, order ...
... a beer and the burger everyone raves about. The $11 8-ounce Pat LaFrieda patty is served with home fries and salad, and it's better than J.G. Melon's, allegedly. Soak up 200 years of history in a building landmarked by the city in 1969, and feel free to leave your own ephemeral mark, with one of the crayons provided, on your paper tablecloth.