a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Dock here matey

It’s easy to imagine a roomful of drunken sailors from a bygone era swigging back rye whiskey inside New York’s oldest dive bar, The Ear Inn.

And some women claim to have seen one named Mickey, whose ghost, they said, has crawled into bed with them in the apartment above the bar in the city’s Soho district.

The spirits have been flowing here since about 1850, when the brick house built by a black Revolutionary War veteran was turned into a waterfront bar.

His name was John Brown and his likeness was supposedly shown beside George Washington in the painting, “Crossing the Delaware.” Rumor has it, they were sailing buddies.

Having made a fortune in the tobacco trade, Brown built his Federal-style house in 1817 at the water's edge beside the Hudson River. Since then, it has been used for everything from a smuggler’s den to a speakeasy, and in between, a brothel.

Today, the house is owned by Rip Hayman, who once published a music sheet in the city named The Ear. To avoid compliance with a complicated and costly sign ordinance, he simply painted the outer edges of the letter “B” in the neon bar sign over the front door to make it an “E” and complete the word, ear.

A smaller sign at the door to the establishment at 326 Spring Street reminds patrons to pipe down and turn off their cell phones. Live music and poetry flow freely on certain evenings. The food is affordable, and the menu includes a fantastic bowl of cowboy chili with chopped onions and a dollop of sour cream.

The place is an antique in itself, with dusty old booze bottles behind the bar that were unearthed when the rear dining room was constructed. The wood floors sag and creak to create a warm and inviting place to belly up to the bar and make new friends.

Sad to say, I didn’t see Mickey, who was stabbed to death in the house during Colonial times. But then again, I wasn’t just off the water and three sheets to the wind.

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