Old Town Bar
Old Town Bar Restaurant, 45 E. 18th St. (2002)

According to Thomas E. Rinaldi, New York Neon, 2013, "A bar and grill of one sort or another had already operated here for more than forty years when the Old Town hung this neon sign over its door in 1937. Originally a German saloon called Veimeister's [sic], the business operated inconspicuously as "Craig's Restaurant" during Prohibition before taking its current name in 1933. The neon sign remains one of the very few gestures this establishment has made to the changing world outside. In 2008 the sign received a thorough refurbishment by Let There Be Neon."

The current (2013) Old Town Bar website oldtownbar.com includes the following regarding its history, "The Old Town has been serving since 1892. Interestingly, a twin bar was constructed on 19th Street in the same year, but it was later dismantled and moved to Massachusetts. During Prohibition, the Old Town was a speak-easy under the aegis of Tammany Hall, then on 17th Street. For perhaps the first half of the restaurant's existence, the menu was of German influence. Virtually the entire establishment is original: the mahogany and marble bar is 55 feet long, the marble portion formerly functioning as a lunch counter. The tin ceilings are 16 feet high, there is 258 square feet of bevel edged plate mirror. The giant urinals, a historic icon themselves of sorts, were made by Hinsdale in 1910. In years past, the upstairs was the 'Ladies and Gentlemens' Dining Room.' The dumbwaiters are New York's oldest active restaurant conveyers."

The story of Old Town Bar, however, seems to differ slightly from either of these accounts. A New Building Permit filed with the New York City Dept. of Buildings, for instance, indicates that 45 E. 18th St. was constructed in 1901. The Office for Metropolitan History records "NB 1695-01, 18th st, No 45 E, 3-sty brk dwelling and store, 20x69, Owner: Central Real Estate Assoc., 309 Broadway, Architect: Richard Berger, 309 Broadway."

Also, from 1892 until 1901 New York city directories listed Jacob Burckel (1859-1928) as proprietor of a saloon at 43 E. 18th St. This address is one door west of 45 E. 18th St., but apparently this was the origin of the Old Town Bar. (See Richard McDermott's comment at http://www.amazon.com/: "The Old Town was not started by Harry Viemeister in 1892. He did not arrive here as owner until 1913. It was started in 1892 by Jacob Burckel whose name is on the 1896 license behind the bar.") Jacob Burckel emigrated from Germany in 1886 and became a naturalized U. S. citizen in 1895. His naturalization petition dated 5 August 1895 gave his address as 43 East 18th Street, New York City. He appeared in the 1900 U. S. Census living in the Bronx, age 40, born Sept. 1859, Germany, Saloon Keeper.

Trow's 1901 New York City Directory listed Jacob Burckel as living at 1082 Jennings St., the Bronx, but no longer associated with 43 E. 18th St. Instead, that address was now Burckel & Hetterich, the partners being Martin Burckel and August Hetterich. Then, from 1902 through 1908 the bar (listed at 43 E. 18th St. in 1902 and 1903, then 45 E. 18th St. from 1904 through 1908) is called Burckel Bros., the brothers being Adam Burckel and Martin Burckel. (The brothers may have been brothers to Jacob Burckel, but I have not been able to confirm that.) Adam Burckel (1871-1919) was the younger brother of Martin Burckel (1869-1916). Adam Burckel applied for a passport in 1907 when he declared that he was born 26 August 1871 in Niederofzstadt, Bavaria, Germany, and that he had emigrated from Bremen, Germany, 10 April 1888. Martin Burckel's naturalization petition in 1901 stated that he was born 4 January 1869 in Germany, and that he arrived in the U. S. at the port of New York, 3 April 1889.

From 1908 to 1911 proprietor at 45 W. 18th St. was Frederick Auringer (1874?-1911). He is listed as Auringer Fred beer or liquors at this address in city directories 1909 through 1911. In 1912 owner was Thomas B. Storms, (1862-1957), and he was followed by Henry Viemeister, first listed in the New York telephone directory at 45 E. 18th St. in 1912.

Henry W. Viemeister (1866-1945), also known as Harry W. Viemeister, was a saloon and restaurant owner in New York from as early as 1894, but did not move to 45 E. 18th St. until 1912. Previous Viemeister watering holes were located on South St., primarily 222 South St. (1894-1912).

The Viemeister memorial at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, gives his dates as March 3, 1866 and December 25, 1945.

In approximately 1920 (beginning of Prohibition) Henry Viemeister was replaced by Nicola Sasso (1882-1977) at 45 E. 18th St. In 1915 Sasso was the proprietor of saloons at 423 Hudson St., 103 Leroy St. and 26 E. Houston St. In 1918 Nicola Sasso registered for the World War I draft, when he said he was a barkeeper and manager at Rosina Sasso Restaurant, 312 Lafayette St., New York City. Rosina Sasso was Nicola Sasso's wife. Sasso, Rosina or otherwise, was located at 26 E. Houston St. from 1915 to 1919. In 1920 he became proprietor at 45 E. 18th St., but only stayed at this location through 1925. He registered for the World War II draft in 1942 when he was barkeeper at the Central Bar and Grill, 647 3rd Ave., New York City.

Directories list J. L. Craig at 45 E. 18th St. from 1928 to 1933. 1933 marked the end of Prohibition. For a short time (1928-1929) J. L. Craig also had a bar on Sherman Ave. in the Bronx.

In 1936 two newspaper accounts announced the name Old Town Bar & Restaurant: "Manhattan Transfers: 18th St., 45 E., 20x77; Marbern Realty Corp. to Old Town Bar and Restaurant Corp., 45 E. 18th St.; mtg. $17,800 and prior mtg. $9,650 ($6)" (New York Times, 5 Feb. 1936, pg. 36) and "The Marbern Realty Corporation of 76 Beaver Street has conveyed the three-story building at 45 East Eighteenth Street, 20x77, assessed at $33,000, to the Old Town Bar & Restaurant Corporation" (New York Herald Tribune, 6 Feb. 1936, pg. 34).

Thus, in 1936 45 E. 18th St. became the Old Town Bar. Apparently the neon sign was erected in 1937.

In 1940 Polk's New York City Copartnership Directory had this entry: "Old Town Bar & Restaurant Corp (NY) Clarence Lohden pres cap $5000 45 E 18th." Clarence Lohden is probably Claus Lohden (1888-1954). Claus Lohden was a confectioner and candy store owner, whose naturalization petition dated 1908 says that he was born 24 April 1888 in Hannover, Germany, and that he emigrated to the U. S. in 1903. At what point he became involved in the restaurant business is not clear.

Claus Lohden's son, however, Henry Claus Lohden (1914-1990), had the following death notice in the New York Times, 19 May 1990, pg. 30, "Lohden - Henry C. President of Old Town Bar & Restaurant. Son of Claus and Meta Lohden. Died Friday, May 18 at NYU Medical Center. Survived by his wife Bernice Myerson Lohden. Henry was a member of the American Contract Bridge League and a familiar figure at the Beverly Bridge Club. A raconteur of sparkling wit, his mathematical mind and memory of dates in history and sports entertained five decades of customers. Viewing at Home and Dannecker Funeral Home, 336 W. 23rd Street (bet 8th-9th Ave) Saturday and Sunday 2-5 and 7-9 PM. Services Sunday at 3 PM."

This scenario leaves us with several questions. Was there a bar at 45 E. 18th St. during the years 1892 to 1901? Was that building taken down and replaced with the current one in 1901? And who was J. L. Craig? (One possibility is John Leonard Craig (1893-1957), who in the 1930 U. S. Census was a "Proprietor, Restaurant," living in Yonkers, NY. But this identification is very uncertain.) Also, who was the owner in 1936 when the name changed to Old Town? Claus Lohden, maybe? The story is unclear.

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