Oldest bar in NYC celebrates its 159th holiday season

Oldest continuously operating restaurant and bar in the city, Pete’s Tavern, is celebrating their 159th holiday season and they just put up their famous holiday decorations that are here until mid January.

| 17 Nov 2023 | 04:46

Halloween is over and Thanksgiving is upon us which means Pete’s Tavern is coming in hot and lively with the holiday spirit.

“I know it sounds corny, but we aren’t a restaurant, we are an institution,” said Gary Egan, proprietor and the in-house historian. “We are the pulsing heart of NYC that happens to sell food and drink,” he said, “New York is a melting pot and we don’t want to focus on just one (holiday), our goal is to create a magical place during this time of year.”

While it is one of the favorite holidays, he recalls one patron who took the festivities a little too far. “During an ugly sweater party, someone unplugged the whole Christmas ceiling to plug in his sweater and thought he could get away with it,” Egan recalled.

Before it was the lively tavern New Yorkers know it as now, the building was first a hotel and then a cafe. The place has kept a lot of its original features, including the 40-foot long rosewood bar–a main attraction of Pete’s, which makes sense since it has been around since 1864. Though, the bar was not always as accessible as it is now.

When a national ban on alcohol was enacted during Prohibition in the 1920’s, Pete’s had to resort to creative measures to stay in business. They disguised the building as a florist shop, but loyal customers knew to enter through the side door, give the secret password, where they were then escorted to a bar where alcohol would be served right under the noses of city officials. Although, even politicians at the time turned a blind eye, allowing Pete’s to exist relatively unbothered by local authorities

Pete’s has drawn the attention of people from across the world, including famous TV shows like “Seinfeld,” “Law and Order,” “Sex and the City,” and films “Endless Love” and “Ragtime.” A few celebrities that have visited are Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, and Tom Hanks.

The restaurant and bar has also been credited with being the spot where O. Henry, also known as William Sydney Porter, wrote the award winning short story “The Gift of the Magi” about how a husband and wife bought secret gifts for Christmas with very little money. In the 1940’s as World War II ended, Pete’s began decorating both as a celebration that the rationing and dimming of lights during the war was over and a sort of homage to fabled writer who tied the pub the celebration of Christmas.

Preparations for the holiday festivity start as early as late August, taking down old lights and restringing them. It is not until November 1st that 18 people begin the decorating which is a two week long process.

Upon entering, you immediately feel the festive holiday ambiance coming to life. In a recent post by Pete’s Tavern, they posted a reel with “Jingle Bells” playing in the background showcasing the bar room.

The ceiling is strung with hundreds of beaming red lights, complemented by the small red bows and bells on the green tinsel all around the edges of the cabinetry. The decorations do not stop there, though. In the outdoor space, in front of the windows there are multiple Santa figures and nutcrackers surrounded by fake snow. The star of the show is an inflatable snowman that is displayed on the roof of Pete’s, styling a red and green scarf and black hat.

“I’m booked for Christmas Eve,” commented Katie Mewett on instagram followed by the hand-clapping emoji.

During this time of year, Pete’s is at its busiest with more than two times the amount of people they normally host.

Recently, Pete’s underwent a $2 million renovation, but managed to maintain the original architectural feel as it had in the 1800’s

And it seems to have paid off with the critics. The web site New York City Dreamland took to instagram to say this about Pete’s as the decorations were going up: “Woohoo! Best Time of year!”

Recently, Pete’s underwent a $2 million renovation, but managed to maintain the original architectural feel as it had in the 1800’s.