Inside A Williamsburg Bar That’s Been Boarded Up For Nearly 19 Years: Scouting What Remains Of The Ship’s Mast

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a little boarded up storefront at the corner of North 5th & Berry in Williamsburg:


I used to live down the street, and every time I walked by, I always wondered if it was once a bar, or maybe a restaurant.


Finally, I did a bit of searching, and managed to dig up a picture from 1960, revealing it to have once been a bar/grill (ah, winters with snow! Those were the days…):

Picture courtesy – Click for more!!

Exactly what it was back then remains a mystery; however, a bunch of commenters wrote in with fond memories of its time as Gallagher’s Ship’s Mast, a local Williamsburg dive in the ’80s and early ’90s that became a beloved gathering spot for artists and performers in the area.


But without question, the most fascinating e-mail came from Jen Carlson, a senior editor at Gothamist, who wrote that she had heard the bar was still fully intact inside.


If it was true…wow. Ever since, I’ve kept an eye on the building, but never saw anyone go in or out. I rang the apartments once or twice, but no one ever answered, and I ultimately gave it up as a lost cause.


That is, until last week, when I drove by and noticed that work was being done on the adjacent storefront. I quickly jumped out of my car and spoke with someone on site, and he confirmed that the bar did in fact still exist.

And then, he opened the door…


Founded in 1981 by John Gallagher, the Ship’s Mast was forced to close its doors over a rent dispute on September 14, 1993. As far as I can tell, its been boarded up ever since.


At the time of its closing, the Ship’s Mast had developed a fiercely loyal following from the new wave of artists converging on Williamsburg, which, at the time, was still primarily a working class neighborhood of Italian, Polish, and Hispanic immigrants.


The highlight of what remains is the beautiful old wooden bar, which I’m sure dates at least as far back as the picture taken in 1960, if not before (and is actually for sale if anyone out there is interested):


Reader Justin remembers: “[it] made Turkey’s Nest look like a Starbucks. The ceiling and floor were wildly uneven and were never more than seven feet apart. There was always a hot plate of lasagna or some other kind of food in the back and the Williamsburg artists that frequented it tended to be closer to 40 than 20 and more often than not covered in fresh paint.”


The old flip top bar door still remains:


Great detailing on the bar – I’m pretty sure they don’t make ’em like this anymore:


Reader Bobby B. remembers: “The Ship’s Mast was the nexus of Williamsburg in the 90s. There was a free hot buffet, and cheap Guinness. John Gallagher was the proprietor/ barkeep, and his wife Nora Kitten was the barmaid.”


Behind the bar…


…where cheap Guinness used to flow:


The old coolers:


The bar’s mirror – I’m pretty sure this was an intentional design choice, though it could just be some sort of mold:


According to Bobby B., “There was a silver fringe curtain and you never knew what would come out of it. The first time I went, I was thinking it was right out of a David Lynch movie. Maybe 20 minutes later the midget from Twin Peaks came out and danced around; his name was Michael Anderson.”


A little bit of left-over nautical decoration – it was the Ship’s Mast, after all!


Bobby B. continues, “The Waterfront Week was a zine that told you where everything was going on that weekend. It featured Tony Millionaire’s Drinky Crow, Spike Vrusho’s beat-poet sports column, and various poetry & short stories. It was edited by a tall transvestite named Medea DeVyce. She would cut & paste (literally!) everything onto an 11×17 inch paper right there on the bar and xerox it in the back room.”


In June, 1922, New York Magazine featured an article on the Ship’s Mast, describing it as “a hip spot, the place to go for jazz concerts, performance artists, and poetry readings.”


According to the article:

Owners John and Nora Gallagher have welcomed artists since they opened the bar in 1981. They even provide lasagna, meatballs, and knishes on weekends. “It cheapens the place to charge for food or admission,” says John Gallagher, the middle-aged former lead singer for a defunct Queens band, Moving Violation.

Below, the Ship Mast’s old kitchen…


Pot still on the stove, ready to cook up some meatballs once more…


The old mint green fridge is also still there (though methinks a new box of baking soda might be in order):


It was a Westinghouse:


Still on the wall, a notice from the City of NY Department of Health, notifying customers that the most recent inspection report should be available from the bartender:


Nearby, something called Blatz Liquid Detergent. I only know Blatz as a beer (and a punk band), and can’t seem to find a word about this online. Pretty classic can though:


Also nearby, some important notes tacked to the wall (note the Post-It on the left – still sticking since at least 1993!)…


…including a 1987 freebie calendar:


Also nearby: an ancient number for the Greenpoint Volunteer Ambulance Corp, along with a number for the local police precinct:


Back in 1964, a man was hit by a car on Humboldt Street in Greenpoint, and had to wait over two hours for an ambulance to take him 15 blocks to the  nearest hospital. Outraged residents decided to form a volunteer ambulance group, which was in operation through 2000 and was making 130 calls a month at its peak during the 1960s and ’70s. Its first ambulance? A 1949 Cadillac hearse.

The climactic ending to 1992’s Laws of Gravity (starring a young Edie Falco!) was filmed in the Ship’s Mast. Unfortunately, they never seem to go wide, and so you never get a good shot of the full bar:


Also nearby, a stack of old posters, including one for a disco contest:


Resting on a couple of old Kirsch trays, a sign advertising the Yankees game “tonite on a big 7 foot screen.”


On the back of the door to the kitchen…


…one of those reflective photographs, clearly to go along with the ship’s mast theme:


Ultimately, the bar closed over a dispute with the landlord. As Nora Kitten/Gallagher explained to the NY Times in 1993, “This is strictly vindictiveness on the part of the landlady. The landlady is my husband’s ex-girlfriend. As soon as they broke up, about four years ago, she evicted him from his apartment above the bar, and then she went after the bar.”


The owners and clientele of the Ship’s Mast fought tooth and nail to keep the bar running. In fact, when they were finally evicted, nine people, including Gallagher, were arrested for trying to block the city marshal from enforcing the order. About twenty others protested nearby with signs.

A last ditch effort to save the bar a week prior is still written on the message board:


My post last week talked about the disappearance of New York seediness, with many commenters mourning the related loss of the city’s character. In the end, I suppose it’s all a cycle. The original working class residents were certainly unhappy with the influx of artists in the early 90’s; I’m sure the artists of the early ’90’s are not happy with the neo-Soho Williamsburg has become today.

Ultimately, New York has always been a city of change, for better or for worse, and perhaps much of the value of the places we all know and love is in part linked to the fact that they won’t be around forever. So enjoy ’em while they’re there.

In the meantime, 107 North Fifth Street is being renovated, and will soon come back to life as an establishment catering to the current wave of Williamsburg residents. My hope? They bring back those great windows from the ’60s.


PS – According to the NY Times article on the Ship’s Mast’s closing, “…some artists say they are being pressured, through higher rents, to move out in an effort to exploit new interest in this old working-class waterfront community.” Man, how things have changed since 1993…

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  1. According to NYC records the current owner is:

    BROOKLYN NY 11211-5298

  2. I remember this place sooooooooo well. I used to live in Lindsay Park. When I came back from college in 1987, all of us graduates would get together from time to time to go in catch-up. Great posting as usual.

  3. OMG! Yes,The actual bar from the shipsmast is for sale? who do I contact?

  4. I cannot believe you got in there! I’ve peeped through the window so many times…

  5. I will pay good money for a Greenpoint Volunteer Ambulance Corps patch. Not stupid money, mind you, but a fair price!

  6. I would love to know what this building housed before the 60’s. I am currently reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the story is set in Williamsburg, which has given me a new side interest in the history of this part of the city dating back to the early 1900’s. I was pleasantly surprised to find these newly posted pics on your site, which I love, by the way.

  7. I remember this place when I first moved into the neighborhood in the early 90’s. I’ve been keeping an eye on it since the closing, wondering when it would finally reopen with everything else happening in the area.

  8. They had Pavement on the jukebox, free hotdogs, karaoke, an endless supply of human tragedy. A perfect bar. We called it the Bucket of Blood. I can’t imagine my college years without it, really.

  9. Oh my god, this is priceless. I got my start as a musician at the Ship’s Mast open mikes in the very early 90s, I was there the day it closed and nearly every night for a few years before that. What sweet misty watercolor memories!!

    From what I always heard, the bar had been a working bar in that location forEVER, like since the 1800s when it was a sailor bar I guess? The beautiful bar counter was original to that location, and the poles in front of the bar were cut from an actual ship’s mast. (Just what John Gallagher told me at the time, don’t know if it’s true.)

    Can I post some links? Please don’t miss the Open Mike video by Sam Zanger, featuring a neighborhood character Arthur Friedel…

    …it was shot in the Ship’s Mast at one of of Wild Bill (William Teller)’s Thursday night open mikes.

    I’m posting a huge pile of Arthur’s writings on Tumblr; he used to scribble on the backs of flyers from Gallagher’s and a lot of other bars / events in the neighborhood, so that flyer art is posted as well.

    You can find a lot of the old gang hanging out on Facebook in several different groups… lot of activity in this one especially:

    Thanks so much for posting those photos. What a step back in time. So many stories about that place, it was a social hub for so many people.

    • Edith Frost! Im a huge fan of this site, and used to pass the boarded up Ships Mast many years ago, but I was never inside. Then I read the comments and saw you and got excited because Im also a huge fan of yours!

  10. The mirror may be suffering from filiform corrosion, where metal underneath a laquer layer corrodes and makes some very interesting patterns. Can’t quite tell from this distance.

  11. I keep throwing my resumé at the screen, but nothing’s happening!

  12. Hey, I was a bartendering there 92-93. Wow, I can still hear the loud Westinghouse buzzing when I opened. I remember truck drivers would be there at 9 am in the morning, coffee, bud, and cigarettes.

    Miss that place! Thank you for sharing!

  13. Yes, the gold pattern on the mirror was intentional. It’s called a “veined” pattern or “veining”. Mainly used in the late 60s and early 70s. Most often seen on 12″ square tiles but probably done to other sizes. Glad to say that fad has passed.

  14. I had a strip of those exact same veined mirrored tiles (alternating with cork board tiles) in my dorm room in 1983. They were there when we moved in and were the envy of the rest of the floor. They were still up when I moved in 1984 (and probably are still there today!)

  15. Not quite a brilliant move on the part of the vengeful ex-girlfriend/landlady, given that she’s been collecting a goose egg in rent.

    • That’s one of the things that I’ve never understood about New York City–how can ANY buildings be left vacant? It happens all the time here in the midwest because nobody wants to live here, but how can people afford to sit on empty buildings in NYC?

      • Sometimes a landlord will hold a property off the market for a while in the hope that rents will increase. This can make sense because commercial leases generally run for several years. For example, rather than lease the property today for 10 years at $X per month, the landlord will figure that in a year the property will fetch $1.5X. In the long run, waiting a year will be advantageous even though the landlord will forgo one year’s rent.

        This cannot, however, explain the case of the Ship’s Mast, as the property’s been vacant for nearly 20 years. No one’s going to keep a property off the market for that long in the hopes of getting higher rents. If the property had been in some sort of ownership dispute, for example one involving an inheritance, it might have been vacant for quite some time while the courts settled the manner – but again, certainly not for this long.

        Basically, the very long vacancy of this property remains a mystery.

  16. As far as I can remember being told and have no reason to believe it’s not true, the support columns in the bar which can be seen in the above photos are actual masts from ships, hence the name “Ship’s Mast”.

  17. who has the lease? who owns the equipment?
    how much and where do i sign ???????

  18. Oldest rule in NYC folks. Never date your landlady. Never date your landlady. Never date your landlady.

  19. “In June, 1922, New York Magazine featured an article on the Ship’s Mast, describing it as “a hip spot, the place to go for jazz concerts, performance artists, and poetry readings.””

    1992, you mean,,, 🙂

  20. My partner and I lived in the house right next door from 1990-2000. We were young theater rats doing what everyone does when they move to NYC to make it big. Some of the fondest memories of my life come from that period. The walls were so thin between the buildings that we pretty much heard every concert or performance going on at The Ship’s Mast. We became friends with the owners of the building and know the real story behind the demise of the bar. Do not believe everything that you hear. There were many factors involved with its closing. Thank you so very much for making this post. We now own a boutique hotel in the Catskills (life has changed dramatically since the Berry St days) and it had been our dream to go back to the hood and put in a little superfun hotel and bar where the Ship’s Mast was. The building has new owners now, so that is probably only a pipe dream. Many of our guests at our current hotel live in Williamsburg and we often ask them about our old block. It was a guest from this past weekend who just sent me this link. What a small world!

    • Gregory, what is the true story of the closing and do you have any inside dope on why it was shuttered for 19 years?

  21. Is there no end to your A-mazing finds Scout? (of course we would all hope there never will be) the journeys you take us on are informative and photographically astounding. thank you so much.

  22. nah, it was an ugly bunch of mirror tile thing-a-ma-bobs.

  23. Yes, is was the landlady story that is true that was what ended the run of the bar! This was open prior to the early ’90’s for those of us that lived there in the early ’80’s and those in the ’70’s it was amazing to have a place to go…….. Bucket ‘O Blood was the best!!!

    • What do you remember about the Bucket of Blood on South 1st St. and Wythe Ave back in the 60″s

      • what do you remember about the Bucket of Blood on South 1st St and Wythe Ave back in the 60″s???

  24. Wow, it’s so weird to see people wondering what that location was when it was THE social center for the “New Bohemia” shortly after I moved into the neighborhood in 1990. Edith, thanks for posting those Arthur scribblings. I had no idea his writings were that coherent (if fantastical). I was the guy who calligraphed the flyers that were send out announcing the shows and made up the big posters that were on the wall with the calendar of events. I also performed in the open mike with the Lackluster Duo and later Wild Bill (I was the guy who gave him the “wild” tag. It was an accident). I probably know a few of the people who have posted up that they remember this place. I posted the whole story (my version) on another website that mentions this here posting…

  25. Nick, wanna open a bar?

  26. now i understand why youtube was bringing up edith frost videos with the ship’s mast videos. i used to DJ her songs back in TX in college. hearts!

    great story, nick! glad the tip eventually went your way!

  27. I had dreams of reopening it as well.

  28. They cashed my checks, fed me, gave me drink. I loved the Gallaghers. My first comic strip, Medea’s weekend, came out of here in the Waterfront Week. Nora Gallagher couldn’t understand it, so I added a little bottom strip just for her. That’s where I put the good jokes. I used to draw Nora Kitten in there. I like Tina’s description, “an endless supply of human tragedy. A perfect bar.”

  29. 1991 that was the most amazing thing: the Gallagher’s cashed checks, even my Traveller’s Checks, even up to a-hundred dollars. Also, they gave credit, common in Germany for regular customers, unheard of – at least by me – in the US. The following year, when I was away at the West Coast, somebody who knew me from Berlin stumbled into Ship’s Mast. Upon finding out this person knew me, John Gallagher bought him a beer.

    Tony Millionaire was a fixture there, drinking and drawing. I still have plenty of original drawings he “sold” for a beer. Also he put up performances in the second room. The Gallagher’s were always keen on participating in decorating and helpful to any whims and necessities the artists had.

    I remember I hated almost every title in the jukebox, except “Danny Boy”, which earned me some curiousity with the plain clothes cops who sometimes were sitting at the bar. Strangest thing, seeing a bohemian/artist crowd (all the tourists, it were not so many at that time, were bohemian/artist, too) mingle with cops and firefighters without ever getting in so much as an argument.

  30. oh yeah, i used to call this place the old ‘shipwreck’. really not my favorite place however the only place… the owner was gallagher,another irishman. a real worm if i recall. just wanted our $, like everyone else… would stop in on my treck home from subway on n. 7th to dunham and sometimes didn’t make it home till the next morning… i met him once after he closed down and i relazied he wasn’t that bad just trying to keep it all under control… he really didn’t want it to end and tried everything in his power to keep it open but thats what happens when the owner becomes ur bed buddy and u don’t kiss up to it…i must laugh at this, excuse me…lmao.

  31. Thanks for this great piece. One of my recollections of the bar, which I patronized in the late 80s/early 90s, was a large kettle filled with lukewarm water that had “free hot dogs” in it. I nevers aw anyone eat one but it was a nice touch. I actually think I noticed same kettle in one of your images.

    BTW there was a place called Julia’s on Kent and No 7th or 8th around the same era…Julia was a very old woman, and the place had one pool table and bottle beer only.

  32. Awesome job!

    That detail in the bar is unbelievable! How much are they asking for it and who do i contact?

  33. Regarding the other businesses whose cards or calendars appear on the walls, Accurate Air Conditioning & Refrigeration appears to be up with the angels today. Google shows nothing and the phone number now belongs to an unrelated wholesaler. Olivo Refrigeration is still around.

  34. There was a band in the ’60s that played crummy venues around Queens & Long Island called Miss Demeanor & the Moving Violations…Gallagher’s band?

  35. This is one of my favorite sites and you have had great posts, but I think this one might be the one I will return to most often. I have had a link to Scouting NY since I first came upon it—I hope it is bringing you some jazz-loving visitors.

  36. The detergent came from this place:
    Blatz Supply Corp
    10802 Jamaica Ave
    Jamaica, NY 11418
    Phone: (718) 849-8830

  37. We shot LAWS OF GRAVITY in and around the Shipsmast in ’91 and John Gallagher ACTED in the film, playing himself. He was a natural actor and impressed us all with his talent.

    We not only used the bar as a major location, but it was also our holding area, lunch room and production office.

    The movie would not have been possible with John’s selfless generosity. It was obviously a very different time for WIlliamsburg – hookers working just up the block from, and we found a severed FINGER in a nearby PLAYGROUND – but has others have stated the tavern was the heart of a very diversified and unique community.

    It’s great to see the pictures of the old place and they reminded me how fundimental a role John and his establishment played in our eager early filmmaker lives and how much we are indebted to him.

    You can see the whole movie streaming here Many scenes from that bar and a much different Williamsburg in general.

  38. Really great article. How would i get a hold of the person selling the bar? thanks

  39. Great article. I live all the way downunder in Australia but visited Williamsburg in 2010. My sister in law lives on the opposite corner on Nth 5th and Berry. I was fascinated with the old buildings in the area that seemed to be abandoned and this one I walked past everyday I was there. I’m glad I found this article and learnt some of the history from this place and also Williamsburg from years ago. I will be back next month so I will be keen to see what the progress is on the place.

  40. Awesome post. Had I not been going to college in Iowa City but Williamsburg, I’m sure I would have called that place home. If it had a pool table in the back – perfection.

  41. “Laws of Gravity,” is playing this week on ThisTV (11.3) I’m in the background in one scene!

  42. moved into the neighb in 1985. this place was a freak-show of hipsters. and even more annoying hipsters in the early ’90s.

  43. Been there often in the old days before Williamsburg became Wall St. If I recall correctly the Ship’s Mast was shown in the 1993 movie “Laws of Gravity”.

  44. I lived on S. 1st in 1988-90. My sister Susie was a regular at Ships Mast. I gave a birthday party for her there and had many dubious adventures involving that bar. For instance, they used to give us “to-go” drinks when closing time came. Did anyone ever catch John Gallagher himself owner – former transit cop) doing Neil Diamond covers? Priceless. I have a real honest-to-god Ships Mast tee-shirt. Jealous?

  45. Remarkable! Can’t believe the building owner let it sit — like a tomb — for nearly two decades. What a shame. Love your work, Scout. Kudos

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  48. Im interested in buying the bar the ships mast just the bar not the building

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  50. I was there the night it closed. We went there regularly because for the price of a beer you could eat as much hot dogs and beans as you could ever want. They had a little table in the back with two buffet trays.

    They were fighting to keep it open, but if I remember correctly the owner got a call that his daughter had died. They decided to close early and they ushered us out. But they never opened up again.

  51. I lived in Billyburg back in the early 90’s & used to sing blues & play piano at open mic nights at the Ship’s Mast every week. It was the only game in town for all of us artists, musicians & poets who had to relocate from the Lower East Side when the rents went up & the Ludlow Street Cafe was too far away. It was hosted my an middle aged guy named Wild Bill who wore a cowboy hat & played oldies on his guitar. A regular favorite was an old man named Arthur who ate the complementary hot dogs, drank the complementary coffee & smoked a cigar & got up to incoherently sing hits from the early 1900’s like “bicycle built for two”. There was a waitress named Deip who had a great soulful voice, too. We did a great duet of “Summertime” (al la Louie Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald). Somebody used to tape all the sets but I never got a copy – wish I had now.

  52. I have a tee-shirt from Gallagher’s Ship’s Mast Pub circa 1988, when my sister and I moved to S. 1st & Berry. She was a regular. At that time the bar was mostly long haul truckers (of garbage, I think) from West Virginia and rural areas of Pennsylvania, with a light scattering of recent Wburg transplants on Thursday nights when performances gradually became more prevalent. John Gallagher was a former transit cop (I forget the story of why he was booted off the force). Nora tended bar there before they hooked up and got married. She had a bald spot (or two). John’s specialty was Neil Diamond covers — “Solitary Man” comes to mind. Now THAT was something to behold. Arthur F., a.k.a. “The Mayor of Williamsburg” was also there every night. He had this story about pigeons that he would tell over and over. He carried a long chain and a can of oven cleaner to defend himself on the Mean Streets. I could go on about this forever … I really do have a black Ship’s Mast tee-shirt with white logo and print. Treasure!

  53. On Google maps you can rewind the picture back in time to 2007. Shows the before , the construction and today. Looks like they did a full rebuild. So much for saving the ship! =(,-73.9601698,3a,75y,93.93h,85.77t/data=!3m5!1e1!3m3!1s11_ji01BpYMWFwS1zgWccQ!2e0!5s20130901T000000

  54. Did not expect a Blatz (the band) name drop! Jesse Luscious is now in city government in Oakland, I believe.

  55. I remember falling in love with the one guy I have never been ever to forget and will always love. We lost touch when the bar closed, so many stories but the root of the closing will never be known. I would love to find my heart again lol. This place was home, we all worked so happy together as a family in and out of the bar/club the hottest place in bklyn in the 90’s.

  56. Hi I was just wondering who I would contact to see if the old bar is still for sale