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White Horse Tavern’s historic interior should be landmarked, preservationists say

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The circa-1880 watering hole is about to be under new ownership

Photo by Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images

With the news that the West Village’s historic White Horse Tavern has been sold to a consortium of developers—including notorious landlord Steve Croman—preservationists have sprung into action in an attempt to save the storied bar, most famous for being the place where all the sad midcentury literary men (e.g. Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, and Norman Mailer) drank.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has submitted a request to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, asking the agency to consider the White Horse Tavern as a potential interior landmark. The building itself is already protected as part of the Greenwich Village Historic District, but GVSHP says that the because the bar itself “occupies a singularly important place in the literary, cultural, and social history of New York,” it should be preserved.

Last week, news broke that the bar and nearby apartment buildings had been sold to new owners for $14 million. Restaurateur Eytan Sugarman—“the man most recently known for opening a middling Prince Street Pizza knockoff called Made In New York,” according to Eater NY—has been tapped to run White Horse, and told Eater that he intends to “preserv[e] the rich history and legacy of this iconic institution for New Yorkers.”

But that’s not quite enough of a guarantee for those who love the nearly 140-year-old bar, which was originally a drinking destination for dockworkers who toiled along the Hudson River. “With the building sold and the bar coming under new ownership and management, It’s critical the Landmarks Preservation Commission ensure that treasured piece of New York and world history is protected, and won’t be going anywhere, regardless of who owns or runs it,” Andrew Berman, the executive director of GVSHP, said in a statement.

According to the group’s landmarking request, many of the bar’s original elements—including its tin ceilings and oak bar—date back to when it was first constructed in the 1880s. But the LPC doesn’t dole out interior landmark status that often; there are only 120 in the city, and none were designated in 2018. According to the commission, interior landmarks must be regularly open to the public, and have “a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the City, state, or nation.”

But GVSHP, White Horse more than qualifies. “Its cultural significance cannot be overstated, and the potential loss of the interior of this tavern … would be a devastating loss, not only to New York City, but to the country and the world,” the group’s letter reads.