The Ear Inn: The History of the Oldest Bar in New York

Oldest Bar in New York
Photo by Anders Jildén on

Curious to learn about the oldest Bar in New York? You’ve reached the right place. New York City is a buzzing international hub with millions of locals and tourists passing through each year. Needless to say, you can eat and drink at a new spot every night and barely scratch the surface of what the city has to offer your palette.

Many NYC residents and visitors enjoy the pleasures of a late-night meal in a city that never sleeps. For vacationers ready to step out of their routine and get out of town, many options are at their disposal.

Some of those places are quite famous such as 21 Club and The Stonewall Inn. However, there is one place that many people do not know about: The Ear Inn.

Where Is The Ear Inn Located?

The Ear Inn is at 329 Spring Street in New York. It is the oldest bar in the city, established in 1817. The historic and unassuming bar has occupied the same building, the James Brown House, all this time.

James Brown was an African American war hero in the Revolutionary War and built a townhouse with a tobacco shop on the ground floor. The building became a landmark in 1969.

How Drinking Began at The Ear Inn

The building’s ownership has changed several hands over the years but finally became a salon in 1890 under Thomas Cloke. Sailors and well-off gentlemen frequented this bar from 1817 until Prohibition began.

The townhouse evolved into a speakeasy during the Prohibition era. There were once prostitutes behind the Ear Inn and a brothel upstairs. Eventually, the bar got the moniker, The Green Door.

Check out this video to get a glimpse into the oldest Bar in New York:


Where Did the Current Name Come From?

In 1977, the building came under the ownership of Rip Hayman. Along with his pals, he covered part of the ‘B’ in the sign to make it look like an ‘E.’ He also owned the Ear Music Magazine Publishing Company in the building—hence the name change.

Why Is It Still Popular?

Being the oldest bar in New York, The Ear Inn has had its fair share of famous customers. Some visitors include Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and William Butler Yeats.

People love coming here because of the “historical character.” Tourists flock to it, and it has been a hotspot for a few celebrities. According to acclaimed British actor, Jude Law, “It’s one of the oldest in New York, I think, and it reminds me of the sort of Eugene O’Neill side to drinking whiskey—sailors and sea shanties.”

The Ear Inn celebrated its 200th anniversary in October 2016. Despite many changes to the neighborhood and the city itself, the bar has survived and thrived through prohibition and now Covid. The Ear Inn is still in the hands of cofounders Rip Hayman and Martin Sheridan.

Will You See a Ghost?

The history of the bar helps it stand out. A spooky part of this history includes the possibility of ghosts. Back in the day, one of the sailors that hung out there, named Mickey, was hit by a car. The accident happened right in front of the bar, and many believe his ghost still haunts it.

What’s the oldest bar in New York Like?

The entrance is normal and unassuming. A dark door with the word “Ear” above it in red lights greets visitors. When you enter, you are led into a long narrow room that is around two stories tall with wooden paneling and walls. There are old pictures of famous people on the wall as well as framed quotes.

Some describe it as having an Irish pub vibe.

A range of memorabilia adorns the historic walls. Newspaper clippings, photographs, old beer signs, baseball caps cover the area. To no surprise, some photographs show close-ups of ears.

According to an interview with owner Martin Sheridan, employees at the former speakeasy are like family. Many bartenders have slung drinks here for over 15 years while the same waitresses have served burgers for about a decade.

An Ear for Music

This is a nice place to enjoy Sunday jazz thanks to the live band known as the Earregulars.

In addition to the house band, the Ear Inn manages to mix up their live music with various other acts. Check out their music schedule to see why customers often enjoy the show.

The late soul music icon, James Brown, was once invited to perform but respectfully declined. According to the owner, James was not crazy about New York food and needed to rush back to the South.

What Does The Ear Inn Serve Today?

Since the beginning, The Ear Inn has been a place to drink beer and wine. Bring the friends over for some steamed mussels, meatloaf, cobb salad, chicken pot pie, various lamb and beef dishes, confit duck legs, or their much-discussed burgers.

Locals and tourists visit throughout the day for drinks and food. It is easy to pick the right time for you since the downtown hotspot is open for lunch and dinner from 11:30 am to 3:59 am the next day.

In addition to praising the nostalgia and unpretentiousness of the place, customer reviews often mention the hamburgers and superb cocktails.

If you can find a seat, sip on a Prohibition Iced Tea, Moscow Mule, Speakeasy Dark & Stormy (made with rum, lime, and ginger beer), Espresso Martini, or choose from a range of beers and generous wine selection.


The Ear Inn has a rich history, having been around for 200 years. It is the oldest bar in New York and receives many visitors due to its fame, luscious drinks, and friendly staff. From sailors to prohibition lawbreakers, to curious tourists, it continues to welcome guests today.

While visiting a bar can add to a fun night, don’t forget to drink responsibly. Consider using CBD for alcoholism if you think you need help with dependency.