BY KAREN REMPEL | A dear friend from Jersey City took me to the beloved Fanelli Cafe on an early trip to New York. It was nighttime and glowing spots of candlelight lit the winter-dark cafe. Mike told me stories about the cafe, leaning close over the red-checked tablecloth. We naturally progressed to sharing stories of our own history, drinking Chianti and feeling part of the magic stretching back to 1847 when a grocery store opened in a wooden building at this location.
The original structure at 94 Prince St. was replaced with brick in 1857. There have been corner stores serving liquor, saloons, taverns and “porter houses”— so called because they served a style of beer called porter — on this spot continuously since 1847. In 1922, Michael Fanelli arrived and christened the cafe with his family name. Fanelli’s legitimately makes the claim that it’s the second-oldest watering hole in NYC.
The Fanelli family sold the business to Hans Noe after 60 years, and now Noe’s son Sasha operates it. Noe treasures New York history and retained the name and the red neon sign that’s beckoned plenty of weary workers and hungry artists in from the cold. Fanelli’s has a well-researched history that cites various city records and published narratives to establish its claim. In comparison, the Bridge Cafe opened in 1794, but closed in 2012 after being flooded by Hurricane Sandy. Pete’s Tavern dates from 1864 and McSorley’s Ale House from 1854. The Ear Inn is NYC’s oldest bar, continuously serving since 1817.
Fanelli’s operated as a speakeasy during Prohibition, and became a favorite of artists and Beat poets in the Sixties, when Paula Cooper had a gallery nearby. Fanelli’s was a popular place to hang out before and after performances at the gallery, though this was subject to Mike Fanelli’s unpredictable whims regarding closing time. Bartender Bob Bozic was an attraction from 1990 until he retired in 2016.
“Fanelli’s is what people expect a bar in New York to be like,” Bozic said, “and I’m what they expect a bartender to be like.” According to The New York Times’s Alex Vadukul, Bob was often rude — refusing to make cocktails that required more than two ingredients — but he’d pour you a free drink for answering his trivia questions. Plus he’d hit on your girlfriend!
This romantic dress in shades of rosy orange creamsicle always evokes bliss for me. When I wear it, I feel part of the whirling merry-go-round of life with all its flashing colors — the pleasure of immersing fully into life that New York demands of us. The bustle of Soho on a Saturday is Immersion 101, with artists and artisans selling their wares on the sidewalk and the crowds strolling by, happy to have a day off to savor the scene. Here’s a guy sipping his beer at Fanelli’s primo outdoor table, with his stylin’ dog wearing a fine coat with a pocket and turned-up collar. The guys are catwalking their pricey hip-casual duds and superhot hairstyles. Life is a carousel, old chum. Jump on the carousel!
Rempel is a New-York based writer and artist. For her past columns and more Philip Maier photos, see karenqs.nyc.
• Swirly orange creamsicle dress with rosy watercolor flowers and draped neckline. The Bay, Vancouver, British Columbia.
• Jimmy Choo silver platform sling-back sandals. Jimmy Choo sample sale, 123 W. 18th St.
• Pink pearl drop earrings with silver Art Deco detailing. Penny Whillans Designs, Victoria, BC.
• Silver bangle with double row of tiny rhinestones. Starlin New York, 206 E. Sixth St.
I wanna go! Haven’t been to Fanelli’s in years but your article made me think of the “old days” in the early ’80s when my Village buddies and I would venture into the “new Soho” for a Fanelli’s beer! Great to read all that history–hope to see all these great NYC pieces collected in a book one day. Thanks, quirky Karen!
I thought I’ve been everywhere in NYC since I moved here 20 plus ago. Fanelli’s I haven’t. Putting it on the list!
Love this story – and the dress! It’s time for us to return to Fanelli’s, don’t you think?
Thanks, Pat! Great idea!! I love that you went there back in the ’80s!
Jeff, I’m shocked! But definitely check it out when you’re downtown!
Absolutely! We have to frequent all of our Marvellous Manhattan spots from time to time. 🙂 But super-excited to go to Cafe Carlyle with you soon!