Tag Archives: Charles Pfaff

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; updated June 2019


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— “The Two Vaults,” unpublished poem by Walt Whitman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



“After the publication of “Leaves of Grass” Mr. Whitman became acquainted with most all of the younger generation of literary men across the river in New York, and especially with those who eventually enrolled themselves under the good fellowship of old Henry Clapp, who had been living a free and easy life in Paris and longed to establish a Bohemia in New York like Henry Murger’s “Vie de Boheme” in Paris. The headquarters — still well remembered — was at Pfaff’s restaurant in Broadway, near Bond st.

“I used to go to Pfaff’s nearly every night,” Mr. Whitman went on. “It used to be a pleasant place to go in the evening after taking a bath and finishing the work of the day. When it began to grow dark Pfaff would politely invite everybody who happened to be sitting in the cave he had under the sidewalk to some other part of the restaurant. There was a long table extending the length of this cave; and as soon as the Bohemians put in an appearance Henry Clapp would take a seat at the head of this table. I think there was as good talk around that table as took place anywhere in the world. Clapp was a very witty man. Fitz James O’Brien was very bright. Ned Wilkins, who used to be the dramatic critic of the Herald, was another bright man. There were between twenty-five and thirty journalists, authors, artists and actors who made up the company that took possession of the cave under the sidewalk. Pfaff himself I took a dislike to the first time I ever saw him. But my subsequent acquaintance with him taught me not to be too hasty in making up my mind about people on first sight. He turned out to be a very agreeable, kindly man in many ways. He was always kind to beggars and gave them food freely. Then he was easily moved to sympathise with any one who was in trouble and was generous with his money. I believe he was at that time the best judge of wine of anybody in this country.”

— interview with Walt Whitman by F.B.S., Brooklyn Eagle, July 11, 1886



hans-deli-grocery-july-2016 (3)

The former Pfaff’s was located in this deli on Broadway near Bleecker Street. Photo by Roger W. Smith.

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).