Up next: Peter McManus Cafe (New York, NY)
Peter McManus Cafe is the oldest family owned bar/restaurant in NYC. Justin McManus’ great grandfather — who earned two Purple Heart Medals in WWII — opened the establishment in 1936, and it is called home by many, many “lifers” and loyalists.
While it’s impossible to condense 104 years of a storied family bar business into a few paragraphs, I’ll try.
Peter McManus was started by my Great Grandfather, and is now the oldest family-owned and operated bar/restaurant in New York City. Originally opening a few blocks away in 1916, Peter McManus Cafe moved to the corner of 19th Street and 7th Avenue in 1936, where it remains to this day. It is now my great honor, my privilege, (and sometimes my curse…!) to carry on our family legacy of serving fine food with great spirits to the Chelsea community.
McManus has survived many historic events - The Pandemic of 1918, Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, (where my Grandfather took a break from the business to serve in the Philippines and was awarded 2 purple hearts), blackouts, hurricanes, blizzards, the 1970s, and the horror of 9/11 and its aftermath to name a few.
We are amongst the last of a dying breed - the neighborhood pub. Our place is warm and welcoming with a hand-carved oak and mahogany bar, tin ceiling, terrazzo floor, tiffany glass windows, and working cash registers. McManus is a virtual time capsule. The warm Irish welcome is as old school as the two wooden phone booths, among the very few left in the city that actually still work! You're met with a smile and a cold one as soon as you walk in the door. While people gravitate to McManus for all sorts of reasons, many of our regulars started as apartment hunters who popped in after looking at apartments in the neighborhood. It is likely that proximity to McManus was the best amenity their apartment offered!
While McManus is the place where you go to celebrate promotions, birthdays, etc, it’s also the place to go when you need consolation. A comforting spot to mourn the loss of a loved one or ease the pain of a broken heart. Just like a warm hug, it fits any occasion. George Wendt did his photo shoot for his book cover there because it reminded him the most of Cheers. Matt Groening did all his NYC interviews after the Simpson's movie came out there because it reminded him most of Moe's. It triggers great memories - you instantly feel at home, even if it’s your first time at the bar!
We are an anchor for our Chelsea community. They support us and we are happy to give back. Every summer we close down 19th street and invite the neighborhood to play old school 1-bounce stickball and give out free beer, hot dogs, bbq chicken and ribs. At Thanksgiving we put out a full Thanksgiving Day spread that is completely free as well. It is a McManus tradition to make sure that no one is hungry or alone on Thanksgiving. We are open 365 days a year, and stay open till 4am every night, because if you have nowhere to go, you can always go to McManus. We closed for half a day when my Grandmother died in 1973. My grandfather warned my father, “You’d better not close when I pass!” My father has said the same thing to me many times; I just hope we still have a place to keep open when that sad day comes to celebrate his life the proper way.
When the shutdowns started, we pivoted to take out the very first day. Change does not come easily at McManus, but closing was not an option, even in those early, terrifying days in mid-March. With businesses shuttered and no cars on the road, Seventh Avenue was a ghost town. The only sounds we heard were of sirens, and then the nightly clapping for health workers. It was around this time we started to hear from folks about how essential places like ours actually are. I've had countless people tell me and my staff that we saved them during the shutdowns because they couldn’t cook and had no other easy options. Others say it was just the simple sense of normalcy; “Everything is ok, McManus is still open.”
I'm not a writer, and I struggle to properly put into words what Peter McManus Cafe means to my family and our neighborhood. The bar has been home base for so many people of different walks of life. If you walked in at any point before 2020 you would feel the energy and love from all sides. Old and young, rich and poor - people from so many different backgrounds - all coming together at McManus to unwind, have a laugh, or blow off some steam. So many created memories that last forever. The staff loves the place as well; it's their home as much as mine. We lost long-time bartender Bruce McDonald two years ago, who worked for us for 35 years. He was like an Uncle growing up, and my dad's best friend. His daughter, Ryan is like my little sister; I've known her since she was born. A bartender now, Ryan has worked at McManus for 12 years, and makes me proud that the bar is multi-generational not just my family, but extended staff family as well! The loyalty is what makes the bar and keeps it together, and speaks deeply about the place. Billy Olland, another long-time bartender (41 years!) passed away about a year ago and requested that his ashes be placed in an urn behind the bar. We all thought he was kidding, but his family honored his request, and ordered a special Mets urn for his ashes. Resting on a shelf behind the bar, Billy is forever surrounded by the two loves of his life - McManus and the Mets.
It’s not easy to ask for help, but we must. Not only would Barstool be helping to save our wonderful home, it would also be helping to preserve a piece of New York City history for so many others.
Thank you for considering my request on behalf of Peter McManus Cafe.