Greenwich Village’s legendary Grapevine Tavern

Back in the early to mid-19th century, when the Village really was a country village north of the main city, this quaint clapboard house became a tavern known as the Old Grapevine. 

Located on the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 11th Street, it’s probably the first legendary Village bar. The Old Grapevine attracted artists, businessmen, Union officers, Southern spies, and politicians, who dropped by after visiting Jefferson Market Courthouse two blocks south.


It was such a gathering spot that the phrase “I heard it through the grapevine” originated there. (Yep, a grapevine used to cover the 11th Street side of the tavern.)

Its closing in 1915 merited the kind of nostalgic media coverage given to CBGB or the Cedar Tavern when they shut their doors:


“It was not only a place to warm the inner man with the fermented juice of the grape, malted beers, and fine musty ale, but a place where good fellows met, as in the more palatial clubs today, to match their wits, tell the latest story, and discuss in a friendly way the political destinies of the nation,” wrote The New York Times

Speaking of warming the inner man, one ex-owner was proud that he didn’t serve women.

“Never in my career have a sold a drink to a woman,” the Times quoted him. “No women were allowed in the place. It was no hang-out for roisterers. . . . From the day I went there in 1870 [it] was a gentleman’s cafe.”

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14 Responses to “Greenwich Village’s legendary Grapevine Tavern”

  1. petey Says:

    “It was such a gathering spot that the phrase “I heard it through the grapevine” originated there.”


  2. gav Says:

    did the phrase “I heard it through the grapevine” not come about because telegraph wires were likened to a grapevine?

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    I guess it’s impossible to know for sure. But several books say the phrase originated at the Grapevine Tavern, including the terrific Republic of Dreams, a history of the Village.

  4. Sean Says:

    Your etymology of ‘grapevine’ piqued my curiosity as well.

    Google produced a pre-1852 cite: “Soon after the telegraph was invented(1837) the term ‘grapevine telegraph’ was coined – first recorded in a US dictionary in 1852. This distinguished the new direct ‘down-the-wire’ telegraph from the earlier method, which was likened to the coiling tendrils of a vine.”

    Something as ubiquitous as the telegraph would seemingly have more import on the propagation of the phrase than a parochial corner bar in a corner of a NYC neighborhood.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    I agree. But I wonder how the term became attached to the Grapevine Tavern.

  6. ny by foot Says:

    sounds like a real hip spot that wouldn’t serve women. I guess bars had alittle different mentality back then.

  7. Barbara McClelland Collins Says:

    My grandmother, Annie T. McClelland, a Brooklyn resident, told stories about her father-in-law, Alexander McClelland who was the proprietor of the Old Grapevine. She thought it very improper of him to take along his very young grandson, my father, to the tavern. My brother, Alec McClelland has letters from Teddy Roosevelt to Alexander McClelland and photos of the Tavern.

    • Margaret B. Says:

      Barbara–Annie T. McClelland was my great grandmother. Eleanor M. Bolles was my grandmother. I would love to talk to you. I have been searching everywhere for information on Alexander McClelland. Can we get in touch?

  8. Diane nee McCutcheon Says:

    McClellands–my great grandmother Elizabeth was a half sister to Alexander Mcclelland. She and her older sister Jennie came to New work to help Alex out when his wife was pregnant. Things didn’t go well, Jennie married at 18 without her big brother’s blessing. I have a letter from a great aunt that describes what transpired. Let me know if you are interested.

  9. Diane McGovern Says:

    Barbara. Just seeing your response after all these months. e-mail is–Diane

  10. Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues: Greenwich Village History with John Strausbaugh | Untapped Cities Says:

    […] Storefront of the Old Grapevine Tavern, early 19th century. Source: Ephemeral New York […]

  11. A little girl’s diary sheds light on the 1849 city | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] birds of Paradise sitting on palm trees painted on them. And back of our dining room is a piazza, and a grape vine, and we have lots of Isabella grapes every […]

  12. sam Says:

    I agree – I can’t find any reference to The Old Grapevine being the originator of the phrase. Seems it was around long before the tavern. Wonder if the tavern was named after the phrase, but then decided to invent a story that they were the originators.

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