Walt Whitman’s watering hole




Pfaff’s beer cellar, a bohemian watering hole and a center of literary life in Manhattan in the mid-nineteenth century, was located at 647 Broadway in what is now called Lower Manhattan.  (At the time, most of Manhattan was below 14th Street.)

The building in which Pfaff’s was located still stands. It is now occupied by a deli (see photograph below) and is on Broadway between Bleecker and Bond Streets.  Access to the cramped cellar where Pfaff’s was located is still possible.


— Roger W. Smith

      February 2017




–The vault at Pfaffs where the drinkers and laughers meet to eat and drink and carouse
While on the walk immediately overhead pass the myriad feet of Broadway
As the dead in their graves are underfoot hidden
And the living pass over them, recking not of them,
Laugh on laughers!
Drink on drinkers!
Bandy the jest!
Toss the theme from one to another!
Beam up–Brighten up, bright eyes of beautiful young men!
Eat what you, having ordered, are pleased to see placed before you–after the work of the day, now, with appetite eat,
Drink wine–drink beer–raise your voice,
Behold! your friend, as he arrives–Welcome him, where, from the upper step, he looks down upon you with a cheerful look
Overhead rolls Broadway–the myriad rushing Broadway
The lamps are lit–the shops blaze–the fabrics vividly are seen through the plate glass windows
The strong lights from above pour down upon them and are shed outside,
The thick crowds, well-dressed–the continual crowds as if they would never end
The curious appearance of the faces–the glimpse just caught of the eyes and expressions, as they flit along,
(You phantoms! oft I pause, yearning, to arrest some one of you!
Oft I doubt your reality–whether you are real–I suspect all is but a pageant.)
The lights beam in the first vault–but the other is entirely dark
In the first


— “The Two Vaults,” unpublished poem by Walt Whitman






A GLIMPSE through an interstice caught,
Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the
stove late of a winter night, and I unremark’d seated in a
Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching
and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,
A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking
and oath and smutty jest,
There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little,
perhaps not a word.



— Walt Whitman, “A Glimpse”







I am glad to see you are engaged in such good work at Washington. It must be even more refreshing than to sit by Pfaff’s privy and eat sweet-breads and drink coffee, and listen to the intolerable wit of the crack-brains. I happened in there the other night, and the place smelt as atrociously as ever. Pfaff looked as of yore


— John Swinton to Walt Whitman, February 25, 1863












Han’s Deli Grocery, 645 Broadway,  New York, NY, through within which one can can gain access to the former beer cellar (photograph by Roger W. Smith).

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