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  • Writer's pictureJane Rubin

Behind the Story - Healy's Cafe, Scenes from In the Hands of Women

Let's take a trip back to the turn of the twentieth century and visit an historic site in Lower Manhattan, the once and later Pete's Tavern. For the interval 1899-1922, it was Healy's Cafe and played an essential role in Hannah's strategy.

Historically, the Tavern has stayed in its original location in Gramercy Park on East 18th Street and Irving Place. Originally the Portman Hotel, it was built in 1864 and ranks as one of NYC's oldest, continuous establishments known for its bar and pub fare. In 1899, one year before the story begins, it was bought by the Healy brothers and renamed.

The 40-foot rosewood bar is still the original, as well as the tin ceiling and wood floors, lending a timeless feeling. O'Henry, a local regular, sat, writing his famous short story, the Gift of the Maji, during Hannah's years in New York practicing obstetrics. It was in his regular booth that she held her strategy meetings.

It is a well-known legend that Prohibition did not apply to this establishment, set only a few blocks from Tammany Hall, the political epicenter of NYC in the 1920s. Then, Pete's Tavern was disguised as a Florist Shop, with a side entrance, password, and a dummy refrigerator door. Deal-making and drinking did not miss a beat for people in the know.

Sign up for Musings for more historical tidbits, the backdrop of In the Hands of Women, and to gain a deeper flavor of New York City in its first few years of the twentieth century.

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