Why did almost all of the McAnn’s Bars disappear?

Finding a black and white photo of a busy New York corner taken in May 1968 is quite a treat—especially when the photo shows iconic old city stores like an Irish pub, a Chock Full o’Nuts, and a Fred Astaire Dance Studio.

But where exactly are we? That’s what I really wanted to know.

It looks like Midtown, and after zooming in on the street sign I can make out a 45 or 48. Perhaps we’re at 45th or 48th Street in or near Times Square.

I thought I could figure out the location by looking into where McAnn’s Bar once was, which I assumed was just another Irish dive in a city that was once filled with thousands of Irish bars like it.

Little did I know that McAnn’s was actually a chain of Irish bars similar to the Blarney Stone, which old-time New Yorkers remember seeing all over the city. (Along with imitators, like the Blarney Cove on East 14th Street, RIP.)

But back to McAnn’s. The chain got its start in 1945 and at its height in the 1980s, there were 28 McAnn’s in the city, wrote Alex Vadukul in the New York Times in 2017. “The chain was known for its steam-table lunches and corned beef,” he wrote.

McAnn’s spanned the island, but most seemed to be clustered in Midtown. One was near Penn Station on West 33rd Street; another occupied 216 West 50th Street. A McAnn’s existed at 687 Lexington Avenue and just blocks away at 692 Third Avenue.

With so many McAnn’s, it was impossible to figure out where the 1968 photo was taken.

One McAnn’s with a gorgeous neon sign (above) made a famous appearance in a movie: the Third Avenue McAnn’s appeared in a nighttime scene in 1976’s Taxi Driver. Travis Bickle apparently stops in for a drink.

So why did almost all of the McAnn’s disappear? New York has changed a lot since the 1980s, and that kind of workingman’s watering hole was edged out of existence.

With one exception: inside the Port Authority. The last McAnn’s has been in this second-story, window-free space for more than two decades.

It attracts plenty of customers, including many regulars. Vadukul describes it in his New York Times piece this way: “It has existed behind a blur of miserable commuters for 20 years, and it is the last location of a forgotten chain of New York bars founded in 1945.”

[Top photo: Ephemeral New York; second photo: themoviedistrict.com]

 

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40 Responses to “Why did almost all of the McAnn’s Bars disappear?”

  1. Julie Says:

    Isn’t that the Paramount Building in the background?

  2. Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

    At the messenger place I worked at was also known kiddingly as McBeer’s, whether it was McAnn’s, Blarney Stone or a bodega down the street, we all dropped in for a beer on our messenger jobs around town. Some made the stops at McBeer’s too often! haha!

  3. Lisa Bergtraum Says:

    The mystery location may be 48th and Sixth Avenue. Via Google Books, I found a listing in the Directory of Franchising Operations (1968 edition) for a location of Fred Astaire Dance Studios at 102 West 48th Street.

  4. Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

    I must also add that the beer at McAnn’s and Blarney Stone and others around the city seemed to be watered down. We had mentioned that with other drinkers but hey, the availability was what we were after.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I don’t see any Blarney Stones anymore. I wonder if any are left? I used to pass the Blarney Cove on East 14th Street all the time. Seemed like the men in there had shipwrecked lives.

  5. mitzanna Says:

    Thank you for this.

    With the Paramount building at right, the photo could have been shot from Sixth Avenue looking south west. There were plenty of bars on Sixth at the time.

    McAnn’s closed because the heyday of smoky (no ban yet) “old man” bars had its day. Plus the food was awful with boiled meat, boiled cabbage and boiled potatoes. And yes, the drinks were watered down. Very few of these Irish type bars exist today.

    I also remember the Fred Astaire Dance Studio chain all over the five boroughs. As I see on Google maps only five exist today.

    Chock Full O’Nuts is just a memory except for their coffee brand. There was an attempt to renew their lunch counter in the early 90’s I think, but it failed. I miss those cream cheese with nuts on raisin bread sandwiches. And the “no tipping allowed”.

    R.I.P. old New York, I miss you!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Based on other comments, I think we are on Sixth Avenue in the West 40s. I’ll have to see if Chock Full O Nuts was there, too. But they were everywhere! People still rave about their cream cheese sandwich on nut bread.

  6. kevinwalsh309 Says:

    Photo is somewhere on 6th Avenue as I can see a Medallion of the Hemisphere on a lamppost in the background. We may be on 6th Avenue in the 50s looking south, as I see the Paramount tower on the right.

  7. Lisa Bergtraum Says:

    The mystery location may be 48th and Sixth Avenue. Via Google Books, I found a listing in the Directory of Franchising Operations (1968 edition) for a location of Fred Astaire Dance Studios at 102 West 48th Street.

    • Larry Feinberg Says:

      The main thoroughfare in this photo definitely looks like 6th Avenue, aka Avenue of the Americas. In the distance you can make out the familiar round sign on a lamp post with the emblem of a Latin American country. On the other hand, 48th St. would place it right near Rockefeller Center, which doesn’t seem right. I would have guessed lower 40’s.

  8. Ty Says:

    They were kind of depressing. We went there as teens to play pool cause they didn’t check ID. The place was always dirty. Old dirty. Smelled like stale beer and cigarettes. If you looked in at 8am there was already a row of angry old men who all wore button down white shirts and white socks like some sort of uniform. We’d come in at the end of their shift and our mere presence made them angrier. One of them would inevitably call us a bunch of faggots and one us would would yell back something like “What happened? You lose your ass in the war?”

  9. ironrailsironweights Says:

    Local bars are a bit of an endangered species nationwide. There aren’t anywhere near as many as a generation ago. Although when I was in WIsconsin a few years ago there seemed to be a bar on every other streetcorner.

    Peter

  10. greg chown Says:

    At least we still have Ruddy’s Bar and Grill on 9th.
    That place is worth a story.
    They operate under some very old “Grandfathered” by-laws.
    Open til 4:00 am, smoking on the patio not to mention free hot dogs!
    Farther down 9th, the Holland Bar is quite an authentic dive bar.
    They offer free popcorn!

  11. Greg Says:

    I’d always wondered why bars were not more subject to the chain store conglomerate trend that prevails in so many businesses. I guess they were not completely resistant, as McAnn’s illustrates.

  12. OzMerry Says:

    The building on the right with the globe on top looks like the Paramount Building, 1650 Broadway at 7th Avene, between West 43 and 44th Streets and the building on the left immediately above the traffic light looks like the Navarre Building, 512 7th Avenue at West 38th Street. Any help?

  13. Peggy Gavan Says:

    Fred Astaire’s Dance Studio had a Midtown location at 102 West 48th Street, along Sixth Avenue. I’d check more into that area. Love a mystery!

  14. JOHN CAULFIELD Says:

    Yup, Sixth Avenue. Identifiable as such because of the “Avenue of the Americas” placards on the lampposts. And, yes, the globe atop the building in the background is another tip-off.
    i

  15. DIRNDL SKIRT Says:

    I think the mystery’s been solved, leaning toward 6th and 48th, myself. I moved to Laura Spelman’s YWCA on 8th and 50th when I was 18 (1971) and have a snapshot of the street below. I just checked to see if it was McAnn’s in the pic (near a huge porno theater), but it was Morahan’s, a building painted white with green shamrocks. Probably not part of a chain, but I do remember the waft of stale beer and cigars coming out of Blarney Stones and McAnn’s that I would quickly pass by.

    • Bob Says:

      The photo says W 48 on the street sign IMO.

      A NYT article from Jan. 1964 “TRAFFIC IS SNARLED BY FIRE IN MIDTOWN” states, “More than 100 firemen in 17 pieces of equipment responded as the fire swiftly spread from the kitchen of the Neptune Sea Food Restaurant to the Fred Astaire Dance Studio, both housed in a two‐story building on the southwest corner of 48th Street, on the edge of Rockefeller Center.”

      • Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

        Great info. I was working as a messenger when the Neptune fire was contained. The firemen were gathering the hoses, I asked one if everyone was OK? Thank God, all OK, he answered. I recall it was a good morning. Thanks for reviving that memory.

  16. Michael Leddy Says:

    That green and yellow — even without knowing the name, I recognized the sign instantly. I must have passed it hundreds of times racing to get the 166 bus in the Port Authority. Or standing in line for the 166, the line stretching from the platform upstairs to McAnn’s and beyond.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Yes, I passed it 1,000 times I’m sure on my way to the 167, but it never occurred to me to look into it until I saw this photo!

  17. greg chown Says:

    The building with the clock is the Paramount on Broadway.
    Which makes me think Hell’s Kitchen area

  18. greg chown Says:

    My guess is the current location of the new York times building.
    They knocked the whole block down to build.

  19. Chung Wong Says:

    Building under construction should be 1133 6th Ave, built in 1968 (top left) with Rex Hotel (106 W 47th St) above McCanns (back).

  20. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you all for your detective work—I think the southwest corner of 6th Ave and 48th Street is it. Nothing of the corner in 1968 seems to remain, of course.

  21. Lady G. Says:

    My parents got married in 1968 just a few months after that photo on October 12th. I can imagine my drunk uncles knew about McAnns, but their haunts were along Flatbush in Brooklyn during late ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

  22. Andrew Porter Says:

    I am impressed by how so many of my favorite bloggers have commented here!

    I ran the photo through my Mac’s image correction software, heightened contrast and sharpness. Definitely 48th and 6th. Also, Bush Terminal Building on W. 42nd and Paramount Building enable a pinpoint location.

    Blarney Stone, McCann’s Smith’s chain, all or nearly all gone now. And Times Square Tad’s closed a couple of weeks ago.

  23. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    And it’s impossible to run out of new mysteries to explore and bring to light. Just enough of old New York peeks out of the shadows, giving us clues.

  24. Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

    I love old New York, my kinda town!

  25. Bill Greenwald Says:

    Looks like west side, 8th ave (runs north) 45th st. (odd number runs east to west)

  26. RM Says:

    Had many liquid lunches at McAnn’s all over the city, some had free food during lunchtime (many bars at the time did this). These places were dark and grungy, working men places for many in the trades and trucking – tough looking people hung out but I can’t ever recall a fight, usually just guys unwinding with a drink and smoke.
    Blarney Stone was another popular place in the Wall Street area, same deal but a little more expensive and with the occasional stock broker. These places looked like a Fight Club meeting was about to start lol.
    I kind of miss McAnn’s (and Blarney Stone), though there are many Irish bars with character still around with much of the same feel but without the smoke. Thanks for another great read!

  27. Larry Feinberg Says:

    The main thoroughfare in this photo looks like 6th Avenue, aka Avenue of the Americas. In the distance you can make out the familiar round sign on a streetlamp post with the emblem of a Latin American country. Impossible to identify the cross-street.

  28. Manqueman Says:

    So why did they disappear? I presume rising rents/declining business had to be a huge factor. Maybe the whole story.

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