On the Block: 85-119 Mott

Nos. 85-119 Mott Street, between Walker and Hester Streets

Drowning the Shamrock on Mott Street

by Sara R. Aitken, Glucksman Ireland House, New York University

© 2017. Sara R. Aitken.  All rights reserved.


Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, drinking in Ireland became significantly more regulated by the British government[1]. As the centuries progressed, drinking became embedded in a variety of institutions, including the economy, family, school, and local politics. Not only did alcohol govern occupational interactions, but is subsequently became a marker of male identity and a means of governing interactions within the male group. 

The setting where male interactions regarding politics, work, and family life took place was the public house. The public house was a center for news, meetings for politicians and workers, and release from daily life. Social events such as weddings, births, and funerals always included alcohol, and the substance was noted for its nutritional benefits. Drinking also served as a rite of passage, as young men were initiated into the male group upon their first drink at the public house[2]. Alcohol and socialization essentially became synonymous, and this trend continued in America as the public house played a critical role in the social lives of the Irish.

Hard drinking served an essential role in the male group, promoting equality among men regardless of differences in class. Upon entrance to the public house, a man would be obligated to purchase a drink for all other men in his company. A man’s ability to hold his liquor was attributed to manliness, and hard drinking was associated with high status within the bachelor group[3]. In other words, cultural drinking was not about obtaining a state of drunkenness, but served the purpose of reinforcing social bonds. By 1850, pubs in Ireland were well established and the number of pubs to people ratio grew in the wake of the Famine[4].


The tavern was not only the realm of sociability for immigrants and New York natives, but it was also a critical venue for politics and reaffirming working class attitudes. On Mott Street, the polling places for the 1870 election were Nos. 55 and 71. Interior of a saloon in the Five Points, Harper’s Weekly, 13 November 1858.

During the mid-nineteenth century, as immigrants from throughout Europe began flooding into New York City, glasses of beer, wine, and liquor also began overflowing. Liquor proliferated every step of the immigrant’s journey, from the passenger ship, to the boardinghouse, to the ubiquitous taverns on every block. In 1855, the Wilson’s Business Directory lists eighteen porter houses on Mott Street alone[5]. On a five block stretch of Mott Street from Chatham Square to Grand Street, three liquor dealers, a tavern keeper, and a liquor store owner resided on Mott Street and held accounts with Emigrant Savings Bank. The 1855 census documents 891 Irish wine and liquor dealers out of 1,758 total of the foreign born, about half[6].

This section of Mott Street may have had fewer liquor establishments in 1883 because of the proximity of Transfiguration Church on the corner of Mott and Park streets. Nos. 35 and 38 are circled; these addresses have a long commercial history on the block. “Liquordom in New York City: Where Whiskey Reigns,” NYPL Digital Collection ID 5060011.

The surge in immigration during the nineteenth century gave rise to a heightened demand for alcohol. The demand in turn ignited the distilling and brewing industries as well as retail alcohol sales. Germans had a taste for beer and enjoyed their lager in beer gardens, the Irish whiskey and porter, and the French wine and brandy[7].Despite the regularity of illegal drinking establishments, numerous naturalized citizens held legal liquor licenses[8]. Ownership of a tavern was often a means of significant upward mobility. Breweries throughout the city fueled the liquor demand and the thirst was seemingly never quenched.

Tragic stories like this helped perpetuate an image of the Irish as a lost people; they also provided fodder for temperance advocates. This news item was reprinted in an upstate New York newspaper. Cayuga Chief (Auburn, NY) 27 December 1853.

However, excessive drinking bred violence that reinforced male working-class identity also led to significant arrests and family problems. Richard Roland of 97 Mott Street fell under unfortunate circumstances in 1855 when he was found drunk by a policeman, abandoned by his friend who had given him the liquor[9].  Ann Knielly’s [sic, Nealy] life and fate at 65 Mott Street was far, far worse.

While alcohol use was ubiquitous in the area as a result of a heavy thirst from working-class males and ready availability through distribution by liquor dealers and local breweries, in 1850 the Roman Catholic Total Abstinence and Benevolent Society, a temperance organization, became the sixth Irish group to march in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  It also soon had two accounts (Nos. 16638 and 18720) for membership dues with Emigrant Savings Bank. “Among the Irish,” historian Jay Dolan has written, “temperance became a crusading issue and intemperance was regarded as one of the principal causes of poverty.” By 1868 there were eleven parish-based societies who affiliated as the Convention of Church Temperance Societies. [9a]

Stoneware beer bottles excavated from the McLoughlin’s saloon at 478 Pearl Street, not far from Mott Street. The Five Points Site http://r2.gsa.gov/fivept/o5.htm

Fr. Theobald Mathew’s 1849-1851 tour of the United States inspired the creation of many Catholic Total Abstinence Societies whose members pledged not to drink alcohol. This teacup was also excavated from the site of Peter McLoughlin’s saloon. HERB: Resources for Teachers, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/578








Although most frequently stereotyped as alcohol consumers, the Irish on Mott Street were also instrumental in the distribution of alcohol.  Due to the importation of foreign spirits such as French brandy and Irish whiskeys, the federal government became involved in numerous court cases with liquor dealers. In 1847, the Supreme Court upheld that liquor dealers were required to hold a license in order to distribute their product[10]. 

Notice the woman among the liquor-dealers and saloon-keepers applying for licenses at the office of the Board of Excise, New York City, 1 September 1877. NYPL Digital Collection ID 804929.

Liquor regulation was becoming stricter as the temperance movement gained prominence. By the end of 1855, 107 Tavern Licenses were held in New York City, costing $10 each[11]. In addition, liquor was also customarily sold in grocery stores. Liquor stores, liquor dealers, tavern keepers, and grocers were required to hold licenses in order to distribute alcohol to consumers, although several throughout the city ignored this law.

Sunday was the one day of rest for workingmen and it was also the target of reformers determined to enact legislation to ban all alcohol sales. “Preparing for a Quiet Sunday under the operation of the Excise Law.” Frank Leslie’s Illsutrated, 30 November 1867. Library of Congress http://www.loc.govpicturesitem98511615

Advertisement, Irish American Weekly, March 1, 1851.

Hannah Kelly, whose Hannah’s husband Patrick was an Alderman for the Sixth Ward, found himself in trouble with the law frequently. In 1846, Kelly sued a local man for slandering his liquor store at No. 63 Mott Street [14]. In 1849, Kelly also found himself in trouble with the law for public intoxication, with a plethora of witnesses[15]. Widowed with four children by 1855 and residing at No. 115 Mott, Hannah Kelly continued to operate the liquor store at No. 63 Mott and opened two accounts at Emigrant Savings Bank[12] with ending balances of $477.04 total or the modern equivalent of $13,800[13].

Liquor dealers such as John Sullivan of No. 13 Mott, Patrick Feeny of No. 100 Mott, and Cornelius O’Leary of No. 115 Mott would have been responsible for the sale of both domestic and foreign wines, beers, and liquors. Another importer at No. 133 Mott specialized in bourbon and rye whiskey. Robert Connelly regularly advertised in the Irish American Weekly.

New York Daily Tribune, 28 October 1846.


A modern liquor store in the heart of Chinatown at 53 Mott Street. (Sara Aitken, 2017)


[1] Elizabeth Malcolm, “The Rise of the Irish Pub” in Irish Popular Culture, 1650-1850, ed. James S. Donnelly, Jr & Kerby A. Miller (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1998), pp. 64.
[2]  Richard A. Stivers, Hair of the Dog: Irish Drinking and American Stereotype (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976), pp. 85.
[3] Stivers, pp. 90-91.
[4] Malcolm, pp. 71.
[5] Wilson’s Business Directory of New York City, 1855-56.
[6] Robert Ernst, Immigrant Life in New York City, 1825-1863 (Syracuse University Press, 1994), pp. 216.
[7] Ernst, p. 90.
[8] Ibid
[9] “THE PROHIBITORY LAW.” New York Daily Times, 18 July 1855.

[9a] John T. Ridge, The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York (NY: St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, 1988), p. 14;  Jay P. Dolan, “Immigrants in the City: New York’s Irish and German Catholics,” Church History, Vol. 41, No. 3 (September 1972), p. 363;  Irish American Weekly, 1 February 1868.

[10] Ernest A. Grant, “The Liquor Traffic before the Eighteenth Amendment.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1932. p6.

[11] New York (N.Y.) Common Council; Samuel J. Willis and David T. Valentine, Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 1801-1869 (1855).

[12] Hannah Kelly. Microfilm Roll Number 19. Account Number 13307. Ancestry.com. New York, Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

[13]Samuel H. Williamson, “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to present,” MeasuringWorth, 2017.

[14] “Court Calendar–This Day:Law Courts,” New-York Daily Tribune, 28 October 1846.

[15] “OPINION AND DECISION OF JUSTICE MOUNTFORT, IN THE CASE OF.” New-York Daily Tribune, 1 December 1849.