The Second Oldest Food-drink Establishment in New York City

Visual storytelling by Lucas Compan, inspired by Jo-Anne Elikan

Fanelli Cafe painting by Ted Papoulas


Serving up cheap drinks and pub grub since long before Soho became Soho.

Located at the corner of Prince and Mercer since the day it opened in 1847 (yes, one-hundred and seventy two years), it's the second oldest food-and-drink establishment to remain in one place in New York City. In case you're wondering which one is the first oldest drink-and-food establishment in New York, watch this video and... well, you figure that out.

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What began as a workingman's ale house (with a brothel upstairs) became a hangout that watered and fed guys and dolls – serving up hearty pub grub and beer on tap in an atmosphere of rough-and-tumble camaraderie.

Fanelli Cafe, a former speakeasy, on Prince Street (Credit: Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum Photos)


Fanelli is known as one of the absolute best classic bars in New York

Long before the area South of Houston Street (SoHo) became the city’s biggest outdoor mall — this one-time speakeasy has been serving up cheap drinks and pub grub. It’s a neighborhood bar for the Soho of the ’80s, and while artists aren’t really the customer base anymore, the place still presents a Real New York Experience to the tourists and local employees who come in for a beer or burger. It’s old-timey, then, in the sense that it’s survived and not given in to commercialization in a Soho that’s now all high-end shops.


Fanelli's deserves to be called legendary. Take a seat next to an old-timer some weekday afternoon when it's not too busy. Order a pint of draft beer and strike up a conversation. Express sincere interest and with luck you might hear tales of the Prohibition in the 1920s, when Fanelli's was a local speakeasy, serving bootleg booze, wine, and beer 'distilled' in the basement. You will learn about the man who owned it from 1922 to 1982: Mike Fanelli, a former prize-fighter who hung up photos of the boxers he admired – photos that are still on the walls – and who made it an informal clubhouse for fightfans.


Order a second draft and the bartender who seemed strictly business might chime in with tales of thirsty artists and their bohemians pals who made merry in the back room in the 1970s.


Fanelli Café is an authentic old-school neighborhood tavern with its original long bar, tile floors, embossed tin ceilings, and wobbly tables covered with red-and-white checkered cloths. 


It has no Michelin stars, but the burgers and sides are tasty. And while you can't order esoteric craft ales, what's on tap is frosty and satisfying. Leave fancy SoHo at the door and immerse yourself in the real deal.

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