The Jar of Pickled Ears at the Hole In The Wall Saloon
What makes a bar a “hole in the wall”? What did 19th century pirates look for in a watering hole? What did a bar brawl feel like in 1870s New York?
The Hole In The Wall saloon at 279 Water Street was built in 1794 and rose to notoriety by the mid-19th century. Between 1850s and 1880s, the three-story red brick building bustled nightly with alcohol, music, drugs, and murder. One year, seven people were killed at the Hole In The Wall over the course of eight weeks. Many more were injured, likely by one of the bar’s infamous bouncers, on an almost nightly basis.
Stories and legends about Gallus Mag have been passed on for generations. At over six feet tall, Gallus Mag towered over most men. Her large build, her cockney accent, and her predilection for knocking out unruly patrons, made her name almost synonymous with Hole In The Wall for many years.
Locals called her Gallus Mag because galluses, another word for button-in suspenders, were part of her signature look. She wore them to avoid being physically restricted by her 19th-century women’s clothing, and her unique appearance has led to myriad representatives of her in legends and entertainment.
Gallus Mag also kept a pickling jar full of patron’s ears. You read that right: at any disturbance, she’d drag the unruly patron out by their ear and bite it off, adding it to her collection. When her arch-nemesis Sadie The Goat returned from exile to the Five Points, Gallus Mag returned her ear as a peace offering.
Mag ran the bar with her husband Jack. Jack was a well-known criminal who tended the bar and robbed/drugged drunk sailors inside while his wife took care of front-of-house and security detail. For decades, this couple owned and operated a major establishment in a small building. this whole area, for most of the 19th century, was the Fourth Ward, where saloons with rampant violence and crime would have existed on every corner, but none of those establishments have the lasting legacy of Hole In The wall. Today, it stands, after some post-Hurricane Sandy alterations, on the corner of Water Street as it always has. Imagine pirates coming off the east river, bellying up to the bar, trying to stay in Gallus Mag’s favor while they drink. Is this what you picture when you hear “hole in the wall”?