More On Billy’s Bar, New York City

Billy’s Bar – a New York Institution

Sleuthing has unearthed further information on Billy’s (the correct spelling it seems), a long-established Manhattan bar and restaurant.  I discussed the bar yesterday, including that a 1936 photo of Billy’s shows 1800s-era handpumps on the back bar.

Billy’s was founded in 1870. Initially it was on 1st Avenue approaching 56th Street, then on the southeast corner of that intersection, and finally it moved three blocks south, near 52nd Street. Unfortunately it closed in 2004, a run of 134 years.

The restaurant was noted for its American menu and was a haunt of families, major domos, celebrities. My earlier s[eculation that in 1936 the bar’s furnishings dated from pre-Prohibition times is undoubtedly correct, given that its founding year is 1870.

The food and restaurant writer, Ruth Reichl, reviewed Billy’s 21 years ago for the New York Times, see here. This is likely how it was until closing in 2004.

In the Victorian image below we see the same kind of hand pumps still in place at Billy’s in busy 1936 Manhattan, which probably were installed in 1870. Nothing in Western culture suggested greater modernity than George Gershwin’s Manhattan, yet as always, past and present are interwoven. The past isn’t even past, as William Faulkner said.

Hand pumps can be seen to this day in pubs across the British Isles and are used exactly as in Victoria’s time. Many American and Canadian bars have brought the equipment back as part of the craft brewing revival



Note re image: the image above is believed in the public domain. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.