is this the most wonderful sign in Soho?

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.

Fanellis1976nyplFanelli’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

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.

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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]

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13 Responses to “is this the most wonderful sign in Soho?”

  1. Fanelli regular Says:

    Nice article, but please spell it right. it is located south of Houston, thus: SoHo.
    Soho is a neighborhood in London.

    In fact, the links that you supplied spell it correctly.

  2. ronfwnc Says:

    One of the few remaining reminders of Soho’s emergence in the 1970s, when it was an exciting place to live and visit, and not just a tourist destination and bedroom community for the wealthy.

  3. Pontifikate Says:

    I lived on Mercer in 1971 and started going to Fanelli’s (though I was not much of an imbiber). Soon after, many of my friends were from Fanelli’s as was a big love, Larry Bennett (the bartender for years).

    In 1973 or 4 I waitressed there for some months and Mike Fanelli was terrific. If someone stiffed me, he would give me what I should have gotten! I lived in SoHo from ’71-84 and indeed, it’s sign was a beacon of warmth and friendship to me.

  4. cathy Says:

    I understand that Fanelli’s was the first place in NYC to get the license to serve liquor legally after prohibition.

  5. Julia Benjamin Salleres Says:

    Lot’s of memories of late nights with good friends. The first place I ate a hamburger on an English muffin.

  6. Pontifikate Says:

    Curious, Julia Benjamin Salleres, when was this? The Fanelli’s of early SoHo was open till 10 PM, not exactly late nights😉

  7. Julia Benjamin Salleres Says:

    Late 80’s – 1990’s? Maybe it’s youth and all the alcohol we drank that’s fogged my memory.

  8. Pontifikate Says:

    Thanks, Julia, my memories of Fanelli’s go back to 1971. It was only open till 9 or 10 (depending on how many customers) into the 70’s and perhaps the 80’s. I waited tables there for a while (“late” shift) so I remember!

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  11. igotnothing Says:

    This was the first restaurant I ate in when I moved to NYC in 1985. My girlfriend and I went in cause a sign out front said “Good Food” and the place looked cool. I’ve been going ever since. Burgers are amazing. Bob behind the bar is a friend. And my favorite piece of graffiti in the bathroom “The tundra is frozen and the caribou are running.”

  12. Nim MacFadyen Says:

    I’m trying to remember the barstool regular line-up from 1980 to mid Eighties…With Larry Bennet behind the bar ( I was propped up at the Waitress bar where Emily presided ) there was Phil Smith, Kenny S, Tom ( with the turtleneck, reminded me of Liberace ), the short, crisp guy that reminded me of James Dean…Can any one add names, last names, Bartenders? other than Larry ( then after Larry died, another Larry?) Chris, was it? Any help here?

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