A Historical NYC Coffee House

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On a Broadway lot John Hutchins erected a house, which he opened as the King’s Arms, more generally known as the Coffee House. It was not large, but for a time it was the most fashionable public house in the city, and was considered the headquarters of the anti-Leislerians party. Upon the roof was a balcony, arranged with seats, commanding a beautiful view of the bay, the river and the city. North of the tavern there were only a few scattered buildings on Broadway, the principal of which was the store of Alderman Jacob Boelen, north of Liberty Street. The extent of Broadway was only to the present postoffice, the road thence continuing on the present line of Park Row, then the post road. The Commons or the Fields, originally the pasture ground for the cows of the Dutch settlers, was at first nearly square, and this road cut off a triangular piece of land on the east side, a part of which, before the charter gave to the city all “waste, vacant and unpatented lands” on the island, was selected and appropriated by Governor Dongan to his own use, on which he built a house, with an extensive garden attached to it. This place, embracing about two acres of land, became known as the “Governor’s Garden.” After the Governor left the province it is said to have been converted into a place of public resort, and became known as the “Vineyard.” We can find no record of details of any particular interest connected with it.

During the latter part of the seventeenth century the use of coffee as a beverage had been introduced into England and on the continent of Europe. The first coffee-house in Paris was opened in 1672. Previous to this time coffee-houses had been opened in London, and in 1663 they were placed on the footing of taverns and a statute of Charles II of that year required that they should be licensed. In the English coffee-house the guest paid a penny for a cup of coffee. This gave him the privilege of sitting by the fire and reading the journals of the day, which the coffee-houses made a point of keeping on hand as one of their attractions, and he had also the opportunity of hearing discussions on political topics or to take part in them, if so disposed, or if he could find listeners. The sober, religious Puritan resorted to them in preference to the tavern. In the time of Charles II, they were places of political agitation-to such an extent that in 1675, the King, by proclamation, ordered that they should all be closed as “seminaries of sedition,” but the order was a few days later rescinded.

When John Hutchins came to New York coffee-houses had become very popular and numerous in London and he was, no doubt, familiar with the way in which they were conducted, so that when he built his new house on Broadway, in addition to its designation as the King’s Arms, he called it the Coffee House. As it was the first and, in its day, the only coffee-house in New York, it had no distinguishing title, but was simply called the Coffee House. In the bar-room was a range of small boxes, screened with green curtains, where guests could sip their coffee or enjoy their chops and ale or Madeira in comparative seclusion. The upper rooms were used for special meetings.

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