In the early 1800s, when the Bowery became the theater and entertainment district of New York, the Bowery Boy of the time was more of a stylish young city guy than outright thug. A New York Times article entitled “Passing of the Old Bowery,” published in 1905, describes him as such:
“The Bowery Boy of those days was more or less of a dandy, so far as oiled hair, grandiloquent manners, and showy clothes go to make a dandy. He was aggressive, and always ready for a spree, regardless of consequences.”
By the 1860s, as the Bowery grew rougher and New York was rocked by the draft riots, the Bowery Boy had became an anti-Catholic, nativist gang member. Incredible New York, published in 1951, explains:
“He had already become a dubious hero of American folklore when the draft riots made him a civic menace, and respectable New York determined to do away with him. The Bowery Boy was not an adolescent. He was a mature tough of bellicose nature, with a taste for easily concealed lethal weapons: brass knuckles, a razor-sharp knife, a short length of iron pipe, a gun.
“In his leisure hours, on parade, he looked like a fancy-dan. He wore a tall beaver hat, an inordinately long black frock coat, loud, checked bell-bottomed pants, a vivid, floppy kerchief knotted under his collar. . . . The Bowery Boy was a plug-ugly always ready for a row, and he resented nothing more than the intrusion of outsiders into his favorite haunts.”
By the end of the century, the Bowery Boys had disappeared . . . only to be revived in the 1940s and 1950s as a streetwise yet loveable group of ruffians in the Bowery Boys movies.