The Edward Mooney House, located in the heart of Chinatown, is considered the oldest surviving row house in New York City. Its long, storied history is just as colorful as its eye-catching red exterior.
The house was built sometime between 1785 and 1789 on land previously owned by British Loyalist James Delancey. After the Revolution, his land was seized and bought at auction by a wealthy butcher named Edward Mooney, who had the house built and lived there until his death in 1800.
Since then, the building has housed an eclectic mix of tenants including a tavern, brothel, general store, hotel, restaurant, pool room, and a Chinese club. Most notoriously, however, was its stint as Barney Flynn’s Saloon, a popular hangout for sporting men, gang members, and political hacks in the early 1900s.
The saloon was also the headquarters of Chuck Connors, a local celebrity nicknamed the “Mayor of Chinatown” for his slumming tours of the neighborhood. Unlike the crowded “haywagons” or “rubberneck wagons” that descended in droves from Times Square, Connors led private tours, which catered to the likes of Sir Thomas Lipton, Henry Irving, Anna Held, and members of German and Swedish royalty.
In the late 19th century, Chinatown had its fair share of debauchery, but so did a lot of neighborhoods. The situation was grossly exaggerated by the city’s newspapers, who employed racist caricatures to sell copy. As a result, tourists had biased expectations of the neighborhood, which tour guides were happy to fulfill.
In addition to the usual trips to local temples and chop suey restaurants, Connors would bring his clients to one of Chinatown’s most infamous opium dens—or at least that’s what they were led to believe. In reality, it was only an apartment populated by paid actors that pretended to be addicts and prostitutes.