The Bull’s Head: a rowdy 18th century tavern

Chalk it up to the young city’s festive, indulgent vibe—or the fact that the drinking water wasn’t always safe to consume.

But colonial-era New York supported lots of bars. One was the Bull’s Head Tavern, built around 1760 near Canal Street and the Bowery—at the time, the outskirts of the city.

It was a rough-and-tumble place that catered to the livestock industry nearby: butchers, cattle men, and drovers (the guys who marched animals down to this district of stockyards and slaughterhouses).

“Out-of-town drovers and city butchers congregated in the smoky, low-ceilinged rooms of the Bull’s Head Tavern, which stood just below modern Canal Street amid a jumble of stables, cattle pens, and slaughterhouses,” states Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.

Besides boozing, gambling, and carousing, Bull’s Head patrons enjoyed another attraction: bear-baiting, a not uncommon colonial pastime.

There was a celebrity patron too: George Washington. He and his staff met here on Evacuation Day in 1783, after British troops left the city.

The Bull’s Head thrived here as late as the 1820s, until the neighborhood became more genteel and residents drove the tavern and the slaughterhouse industry uptown—to about today’s Third Avenue and 24th Street.

[Bottom sketch: NYPL Digital Collection]

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

8 Responses to “The Bull’s Head: a rowdy 18th century tavern”

  1. Ricky Says:

    What exactly is bear baiting?

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I believe it involves chaining a bear in a pit and letting dogs attack it and watching the carnage.:

  3. bowery boy Says:

    Bulls Head has a ton of other incredible history. I like how the Astor boys got over on the drunk butchers in the tavern. They would head up town and intercept the livestock, so by the time the other butchers saw what was for sell, the Astors had already bought the best of the herds. The Astors made so much more money than the other butchers that, eventually, one of them bought the Bulls Head and turned it into the first big theaters on the Avenue.

  4. carolegill Says:

    What a great article. I guess moving the slaughter houses up to 24th Street was why the meat packing industry wound up there.
    Didn’t know that about the Astors, very interested in that comment.
    Thanks ENY for those illustrations, they’re marvelous.

  5. T.J. Connick Says:

    A year ago you posted another sketch of a favored watering hole for cattle drovers. For many long years, our cattle market was no small thing in the area’s economy. We are reminded that while today’s astonishing variety smells better, it’s nothing new.

  6. Mulberry Street’s grim 18th century nickname | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] rollicking Bull’s Head Tavern, on the Bowery, catered to the butchers and cattle men who worked in these […]

  7. Stopping at the Buckhorn Tavern on 22nd Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Roads aren’t so great, and travel by wagon or stage takes a long time. Good thing that when you need to eat, rest, or take a bed for the night, there are taverns that will welcome you. […]

  8. A Revolutionary War hanging near the Bowery | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] image: Ratzen map, NYC 1767; Last image: Washington on his triumphant return to Manhattan in 1783, Evacuation […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: