If you have lived in NYC for long enough, you have seen your fair share of local restaurants and bars come and go. Losing a favorite weekend haunt can be frustrating. But there always seem to be some long standing options that have toughed it out through good times and bad.
To find these oldies-but-goodies, I turned to New York State’s open data website which has data on liquor licenses. The data includes the last time the license was renewed, but also the start date of the license, giving us the age of the liquor license. From that date, we can get at least a lower bound on the age of the business. The oldest recorded NYC license in the dataset belongs to the Harmonie Club on E 60th St in the Upper East Side, though you have to be a member to enjoy a drink there. It dates to 1933. The oldest beer license is for Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island, which dates back to 1934. And the oldest liquor store license is from 1941, and it belongs to North End Wine and Liquor in the Bronx. Each of these lie in a different borough.
Since many of us live and work in different neighborhoods, I decided to locate the “oldest” place you can stop in and get a drink in each and every neighborhood in NYC. I only show one per neighborhood here, where neighborhoods are defined using a Pediacities dataset. The results are in the map below, where darker circles indicate older restaurant/bars:
Note that this does not mean these are in fact the oldest bars or restaurants, but rather the oldest with a single continuous liquor license and a proper start date on record. Unfortunately, that is the best we can do with this data. Some classics definitely emerged on the map: Sevilla, Blarney Stone, The Palm. But other findings certainly gave me some surprises. It shows the oldest liquor serving license in Brooklyn Heights dates back only to 2001 and belongs to Clark Coffee Shop. Curious. Also note that some bars, like the classic Ear Inn, do not have an original issue date on file, so they do not show up in my map. There are also bars like McSorley’s, which have changed hands. In 1977 it was sold, and so a new license was issued on that date. And of course, anything pre-Prohibition will get automatically reset. So at best, this map lays out some interesting candidates. I did learn about some new places my exploring it, so I hope you do to.
By the way, if the state made historical files available, instead of just the currently active set of licensees, we could do a much better analysis. Unfortunately, very few agencies provide that level of data access and this is no exception.
How Often do Restaurants and Bars Fail?
Once I compiled the data in order to make the above map, I could not help but explore another classic NYC question: how much turnover is there in the restaurant/bar business? I’ve heard it said that 90% of restaurants fail in their first year, but that numbers seems astoundingly high. So I went about trying to coming up with an answer, even without access to historical license data.
The median liquor license in the data was issued in 2009, meaning that about half of all bars/restaurants in the city are older than five years old, and half are newer. That might not surprise those of us who have lived here for at least five years.
I also plotted a line in red showing what the data would look like if hypothetically about 1,200 new licenses were issued every year, and 18% of the issuers failed each year, yielding a survival rate of 82%. For example, if 1200 licenses were issued in 2011, by 2012 there would only be 984 (82% of 1200), by 2013 there would be 807 (82% of 984) and by 2014 there would be 662 (82% of 807). That is about where the 2011 bar is in the plot. The line, and thus the 82% rate, fits our data somewhat, but it entails a few assumptions. First, that the number of liquor licenses remains constant and second, that the success of a restaurant on any given year is independent from its success in prior years. Those are mighty big assumptions, but even so, i’m pretty convinced that the 90% rumor is false.
So from old to new, from Nathan’s Famous to Chipotle, there is always a great place to grab a drink in NYC. So why not try out a new old local establishment next time. If you do, tell em I Quant NY sent you. (They will have no idea what you are talking about).
Correction: An earlier version of this map had a bug, but thanks to eagle eyed reader @smelendez, it has been fixed. Dates and neighborhoods were correct, but a subset of names were misattributed. Apologies for the inconvenience.
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