NY’s Second Oldest Bar Gets Updated, But Don’t Worry, It Won’t Lose Its Old-time Charm

Published on August 11, 2019

New York’s second oldest bar, the landmark White Horse Tavern, home to literary types, and neighborhood folks, is about to take a huge leap into the future.

The White Horse was founded in 1880 and was the primary watering hole for such luminaries as the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, the Beat author of On The Road Jack Kerouac, and singer Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Due to its proximity to the New York waterfront, when the White Horse opened its doors, its clientele comprised primarily longshoremen who would come in for a quick one after a day’s work on the wharves.

Locals and savvy tourists have long known about the White Horse and its unique and lengthy history. Like all New York landmarks, there is a drive to preserve the history while at the same time being current and innovative.

Home To Celebrities and other VIPs

“We want the White Horse Tavern to stay open for 500 years,” says Giampaolo Ienna, a New York “celebrity whisperer” himself legendary for taking care of VIPs at hot places in the City. “We’re going to make sure the White Horse Tavern remains the perfect neighborhood bar, while at the same time opening it up to a new generation of celebrities and overseas visitors.”

Authentic New York experiences are increasingly hard to come by in a city that constantly reinvents itself. So there’s something reassuring about slipping into the White Horse Tavern for a pint, knowing you are following in the footsteps of almost 140 years of New Yorkers and friends.

The same ownership group that started the Hunt and Fish Club, midtown’s most acclaimed steakhouse recently purchased the White Horse Tavern, with an eye toward restoring the pub to its former days of glory.

“We closed it for a couple of weeks,“ Ienna says, “and people thought maybe we would tear the tradition out of the place. Instead, we just did the first thorough cleaning the bar might have had since the 1980s.

“We put the pictures back on the wall where they belonged, and just simply cleaned the place up, but it’s only the beginning.”

What’s Coming?

In coming months, the White Horse will offer the same level of fine dining as the Hunt and Fish Club, private dining rooms, the largest outdoor space of any New York restaurant or bar and the same ambiance that has attracted drinkers for generations, right down to its tin roof.

“We didn’t want to change it,” Ienna explains. “We wanted to restore it and make it shine again and make it a destination for everyone. People from the neighborhood, New Yorkers from all over the city, VIPs, and visitors from around the world who want an authentic New York experience.”

Ienna has been a fixture on the NY nightlife scene for decades taking care of celebrities, movie stars and other high rollers, at famed New York institutions like Cipriani’s, the Billionaire Club, Da Silvano and most recently the Hunt and Fish Club.

“If celebrities are going to come back to a restaurant,” Ienna says, “they have certain expectations. They expect that you are going to make sure that no one is coming up to their table to them for photographs and that their privacy is being respected. They’re expecting that if they want to go to the hottest club after dinner, someone will be able to make a phone call and get them in without a fuss.”

“That’s my role, and I’m excited to be performing the same function in the White Horse Tavern.”

New York Bar scene

New York neighborhoods go up and down in terms of desirability and buzz. The area surrounding the White Horse fell into disrepute after the era of the Beat writers of which Kerouac is the best-known example. But in recent decades, the neighborhood roared back, with its West Village cachet along with proximity to posh neighborhoods like Soho and Tribeca.

“In the past few years,” Ienna continues, “the White Horse Tavern has been known primarily to its immediate neighbors and to those intrepid travelers who find their way here.

“But when you have the second oldest bar in a great city like New York, and you combine it with outstanding dining and a great overall ambiance, you can turn the place into a magnet for VIPs and international visitors, not just New Yorkers. The White Horse will be simultaneously New York’s second oldest bar and New York’s hottest address.”

Michael Levin is a News Columnist at Grit Daily.

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