Hidden New York: Art + Anarchy in the Bowery

Updated: Mar 24


An exterior view of the New Museum building located in the Bowery, New York City. Nearby are other smaller buildings, cars, and people walking on the sidewalk.


Bordering the nearby neighborhoods of Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Lower East Side, the Bowery is both a neighborhood and a street that has transformed dramatically throughout New York’s history. Today, this New York neighborhood invites travelers to admire local street art like the Houston Bowery Wall, visit contemporary art museums like the New Museum, and search for traces of legendary music venues.


Can you imagine a time when this street was a footpa​​th used by the Lenape tribe? What used to be an area filled with local flora and fauna is now home to trendy stores and happy hours. The Bowery is far from resembling its simple beginnings, but you can peer into its dynamic past by exploring these five historic locations during your next walk through the neighborhood.


Bonus: If you're in the mood for an audio tour while you're walking, browse available tours in the area!



Anchor of the Bowery


If you’re planning to go for a walk in the morning, there are a number of places to grab a bite to eat like Black Seed Bagel (170 Elizabeth Street), which happens to be a few blocks away from the Anchor of the Bowery (104-106 Bowery), a site of various tales so dramatic they’d make an excellent novel.


Picture this: it’s 1898. You’re attending one of the world’s earliest vaudeville performances. The two men near you are raucous, pounding back drinks, laughing so loudly it’s distracting -- even by Bowery standards. Suddenly, a third man walks up to one of them, draws his revolver, and shoots one of the seated men in the head. The place erupts. Later, it’s revealed that the man who was shot committed the crime of… walking down the street alongside the shooter’s wife. This scene is just one of the many sensational true stories that came out of this venue.


Mark Rothko’s Studio


At 222 Bowery, you’ll find a beautiful red brick building with green window trim and wrought-iron decor, sometimes partially hidden by scaffolding.


In 1885, this building opened as the Young Men’s Institute, part of the YMCA. It was intended to provide an alternative to the tawdry spectacles and booze halls lining the street at the time. Instead, the building housed a gym, bowling alley, rooftop garden, and lecture series featuring such speakers as Teddy Roosevelt. About fifty years later, the YMCA moved out, and the building began gaining in popularity for its roomy studio spaces, in which artists and writers like William Burroughs, John Giorno, and Mark Rothko resided. Rothko painted the now-famous Seagram Murals in this very building, murals that are now on display at the Tate, in London.


Owney Geoghegan’s Saloon


105 Bowery was previously the home of an infamous bare knuckle boxing saloon, where a man known as Owney Geoghegan became famous for running the rowdiest boxing bar in 19th century New York City.


Geoghegan was an Irish immigrant, one of the many who began living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the 1800s. Before he became a saloon owner, he was a professional boxer, and before that, he would get in bar and street fights with the best of the rest. After retiring from boxing, Geoghegan used his fight winnings to open what he called his sporting house -- a bar with twelve-foot boxing rings on each floor.


Geoghegan’s reign as the boxing king of the Bowery came to an end in 1883, when the saloon closed after the law determined that the bar had been serving underage patrons.


CBGB


Former home to the CBGB, 315 Bowery was practically a holy site for punks. Today, it’s a trendy clothing store, but previously this building was the birthplace of the American punk rock scene.


The CBGB opened in 1973, its name an acronym for “Country, Blue Grass, and Blues,” but these folksy vibes quickly morphed into rebellious ones. The venue was a somewhat seedy bar with a stage that hosted early performances by legends like The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Police, Lou Reed, Joan Jett, AC/DC, Pearl Jam and more. It was owned by Hilly Kristal, the former manager of the Village Vanguard -- a jazz venue in the West Village. Soon after it skyrocketed to popularity, Kristal added more letters to the name in order to accommodate its true colors. It came to read CBGB OMFUG, or “Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers.”


If you’re interested in discovering more about the birth of the local punk scene, go for a walk and enjoy our East Village audio tour.


Extra Place


Believe it or not, this dead-end alleyway was a dirt road in the middle of Lower Manhattan until 2009.



A dead-end alleyway in the Bowery, New York City that has a brick wall with graffiti on it, and this area used to be where the Ramones shot their album cover for Rockets to Russia.


During Prohibition, the alleyway provided a strategically under-the-radar locale for a handful of speakeasies. Later, these speakeasies became regular bars and by the 1970s, Extra Place played host to the back door of CBGB’s.


In 1976, the Ramones posed with extra attitude against a brick wall in the alley, and that photo became the cover for their album, Rocket to Russia.



 


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