March 6, 2015

New York City's White Horse Tavern

White Horse Tavern sign

photo by: Sean Davis, Flickr

The White Horse Tavern has hosted dozens of literary luminaries over the years.

Editor's Note: After new owners purchased the White Horse Tavern in 2019, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is calling for the designation of the bar's interior as a landmark (the exterior has already been designated).

After Welsh poet Dylan Thomas downed an alleged eighteen shots of the last whiskey of his life at Greenwich Village’s White Horse Tavern on November 3, 1953, legend has it that he immediately stumbled outside and collapsed on the sidewalk. He was taken back to his room at the Chelsea Hotel, and died at New York’s St. Vincent Hospital a few days later of complications from pneumonia and other ailments.

Thomas’s legacy, however, is still alive and well at the last drinking establishment he patronized. Located at the corner of Hudson St. and 11th St., the White Horse Tavern has been called a “nostalgic high temple of the Alcoholic Artist” by New York magazine. Portraits of Thomas embellish the walls, and a plaque commemorating his last trip to the tavern, put up in 1986 by a group of reverent Welsh-Americans who wanted to honor his memory, hangs above the bar.

Thomas wasn’t the only luminary to designate the White Horse as his New York watering hole of choice. James Baldwin, Anais Nin, Norman Mailer, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, and Jim Morrison also graced the tavern’s tables and barstools at one time or another, helping the tavern’s reputation grow into the stuff of legend. Jack Kerouac was bounced out of the bar several times, prompting an annoyed patron or employee to scrawl a still-visible “Go home Jack!” in pen on a men’s bathroom stall.

Built in 1880, the bar originally had a reputation as an after-hours gathering spot for longshoremen before Thomas and other writers staked their claim there in the early 1950s. In addition to the homage to Thomas, the bar’s décor includes plenty of namesake white horse pictures and figurines, as well as dark, heavy wood paneling that hasn’t changed much throughout its 135-year-history.

White Horse Tavern exterior

photo by: Matt Kane, Flickr

The tavern opened in Greenwich Village in 1880.

Despite its rich artistic pedigree, don’t expect anything fancy at the White Horse Tavern. It’s cash-only, and there’s not much on the menu outside of typical bar fare like burgers, chicken sandwiches, and hot dogs. Outdoor seating in the warmer months, as well as a solid and cheap beer selection that includes seven rotating brews on tap and 14 by the bottle, continue to make it a strong draw for both regulars and tourists looking for a taste of old New York.

“We don’t have a ‘website.’ Come to the bar or don’t. Wtf?” reads the most recent post on the White Horse’s bare-bones Facebook page.

White Horse Tavern interior

photo by: Laura Manzari, Flickr

The interior of the White Horse Tavern hasn't changed much throughout its history.

So, whether you’re hankering to sit at the window table that Thomas favored or simply aiming to not spend a boatload of cash on food and drink in the Big Apple, the White Horse Tavern is the place for you.

Location: 567 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014

Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-4 a.m.

You’ll have: Dylan Thomas’s favored whiskey neat, or a Newcastle Brown Ale on tap. Either one would go well paired with a cheeseburger.

Best Yelp review: “It’s a great bar with a great atmosphere. If you want to hang out with friends after work or just hang out where the two Dylans hung out (and don’t come with high expectations about the food,) you’ll have a wonderful time.”

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.


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