McGurk’s: The History of New York’s Deadliest Bar

By Phin Upham

The concert halls of the 1850s and 60s were a thing to behold. Today, we occasionally hear stories of a fight breaking out at a club, or even worse at times, but concert saloons were regular havens for that kind of behavior. These halls offered a place to watch live entertainment, listen to some music, and drink copiously in the process.

McGurk’s, located in Bowery, was the most infamous of those locales. Concert saloons came in two varieties. The fancier ones, frequented by New York socialites, were rowdy but not obnoxious. Those clubs were situated primarily on Broadway. Travel to Bowery, and things got a little darker. And among all those locales of seedy activity, McGurk’s was the most infamous.

McGurk’s opened in 1895, well after bills had been passed to prevent such establishments from operating. It was said to be such a grim and horrible place that prostitutes who couldn’t find work would drink carbolic acid, or throw themselves from the roof of the building. In fact, in 1899 six girls killed themselves. At one point, McGurk even named the place “Suicide Hall” just to make things official.

McGurk’s closed in the early 1900s, and he took his operation to California to seek a more honest living, or possibly just tired of policing the tough crowd. The building became a flophouse, poorly tended and occupied by the city’s riff raff. Today, the building is a glass condo, sleek and modern, but there were rumors that those who entered the building could find the ghosts of those who killed themselves at McGurk’s.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Twitter page.