Long before Soho became Soho, Fanelli’s was a no-frills bar that served up cheap food and drinks for the men who worked in the neighborhood’s factories, plus the occasional artist or stumblebum.
And at least since the 1970s, that neon sign has been affixed to the red-brick building at the corner of Prince and Mercer Streets, a wonderful sight on a cold New York City night.
Fanelli’s has a long and fascinating history. The building that houses the bar apparently has been around since 1857, when a grocery store was located on the ground floor, according to newyorkartworld.com.
A residential building on Prince Street adjoined the Mercer Street building. “The suspicion arises that it must have been used as a brothel since Mercer Street was lined on its west side, almost solidly by brothels during the 1850s and 1860s,” states the site.
By the 1860s or 1870s, depending on your source, various saloons served beer and liquor there. In 1922, former boxer Michael Fanelli turned it into a cafe/speakeasy.
By the 1970s, Soho had arrived—and you know the rest of the story.
[Middle photo: Fanelli’s in 1976, NYPL Digital Gallery. Bottom: Fanelli’s in 1975, MCNY]