Established in 1864, Pete’s Tavern claims to be the oldest, continuously operating bar in NYC (during prohibition, Pete’s was disguised as a flower shop!). Pete’s also boasts being the pub where O. Henry (the pen name of William Sydney Porter), wrote Gift of the Magi
The Gift of the Magi, like many of O. Henry’s stories, suggests the downtrodden and drooping masses of turn of the century New York, as opposed to the restrained priss of Henry James’ Washington Park. We all know The Gift of the Magi as the effectively sentimental Christmas story we read as a nation in junior high. A moral tale about mutually sacrificial gifts of love…and long hair.
I rang in the New Year here years ago, in the third booth from the window, where O. Henry presumably sat, no doubt sloshed, and wrote this story. A story has has been read, taught, enacted, referenced, told and retold almost to death. The patrons are less quaint, but the bar is not.
A menu sign quips “Mid Week Whiskey – $1.50 and “Hot Tip on Horses – .50”
Since he wrote in bars, alcohol presumably played a part in the writing of this story and all O. Henry’s stories. He died at age 47, of every alcohol related condition you could think of. It’s hard not to think about all the writers, artists musicians and actors that died of substance abuse causes in New York City throughout history. Dylan Thomas, Frankie Lymon, Clyde McPhatter, Bille Holiday, DJ AM, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lorenz Hart, Heath Ledger, Julia Bruns, Bix Beiderbecke, Sid Vicious, GG Allin, Lester Young, all drank or drugged themselves to death in the city that never sleeps/sobers up.
“It couldn’t have happened anywhere but in little old New York” – O.Henry