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Ear Inn (James Brown House), A Place that Matters

ear inn james brown house soho

The Ear Inn, aka the James Brown House, located at 326 Spring Street in Manhattan, has nearly two centuries of incredible history.

The James Brown House was built in 1817 for the reputed African American revolutionary war hero and aide to George Washington. Following the war, James Brown made his fortune in the profitable tobacco trade. His success afforded him a modest Federal style home, which at the time, was sited a mere five feet from the lapping shores of the Hudson River on Spring Street.

After James Brown sold the house in 1833, a bar was installed on the premises. By the late nineteenth century, Irish immigrant and entrepreneur, Thomas Cloke had begun brewing his own beer in the backyard and selling crocks of corn whiskey to the neighborhood’s hardworking longshoremen in his “public” restaurant. A pub ever since, the house was designated a New York City landmark in 1969 for its unique “charm, intimate scale, and provocative change of pace to our city life and scene.”

ear inn soho old photo

Known mysteriously to the initiate as “The Green Door,” the bar had no official name until it was purchased by Rip Hayman and friends in 1977. It was dubbed the Ear Inn, after the eponymous music journal published in the upstairs apartment. To avoid having to get a permit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission for new signage, the neon BAR sign was cleverly modified with black paint to read EAR.

Today a dedicated and diverse clientele value the Ear Inn’s history and human scale. In her nomination to the Place Matters Census, Makale Faber wrote, “The building is homey, funky, unpretentious with dark wood floors and tin ceilings, and has a substantial but normal amount of bar clutter and memorabilia.” Among the souvenirs are archeological finds from the backyard like old bottles and jugs, presumably from Cloke’s brewing days. Former neighbor Leanne Gonzalez-Singer wrote, “In a neighborhood that is constantly morphing and ‘upgrading,’ it’s refreshing to see this unchanging image of Old New York, with a lively and loyal patronage.”