|The building, with its colorful history, awaits demolition.
In 1889 a four-story brick hotel was completed at the northeast corner of Eleventh Avenue and 22nd Street. The neo-Grec style structure boasted no architectural exceptions. The most eye-catching elements were the earred stone lintels of the openings. The cast metal cornice with its decorative swags was ordered from a foundry catalog. A saloon occupied the ground floor.
|Metal letters affixed to the facade announce O'Rourke's Hotel. At the left is the New York Port Society's Mariners' Church. photo by Berenice Abbott
An unlikely tenant in 1906 was Martin Fay, a retired police officer. That year he received a pension totaling $661.29; or about $18,700 today. It was apparently a temporary arrangement, for he does not appear here before or after that year.
In 1943 the ground floor space was described in city documents as a "restaurant." The upper floors contained eight furnished rooms each. That restaurant, however, was still a bar, variously called Joey's, Slavor's or Catch 22. Patrons, however, called it "the Bucket of Blood." The nickname reflected the often violent behavior of the drunken longshoremen and sailors. Around mid-century a sign hung over the bar that read "Management is not responsible for women left overnight."
|Little had changed to the hotel's appearance on March 12 1929 when this photo was taken. The Mariners' Church, too, survived. photo from the collection of the New York Public Library.
It was not all violence and drunkedness at O'Rourke's, however. According to an owner, Alan Frank, there were Thanksgiving dinners "served to the salts upstairs at little or no cost."
But change is inevitable in Manhattan, even in the meanest of neighborhoods. By the last years of the 20th century the shipping industry was gone from the West Side. As The New York Times journalist Alan Feuer noted on April 7, 2005, "West 22nd Street, from 11th Avenue to the West Side Highway, has been transformed from warehouse space to art galleries, from auto body shops to coffee bars. Where once there were stevedores, there are now Italian tourists. Well-heeled women walk expensive-looking dogs."
The former saloon had become a trendy bar, called Open, by 2001 and the second floor was home to The Proposition, an art gallery around the same time. By the time Feuer wrote his article, the ground floor was being renovated to a sleek bar called Opus 22 Cafe and Lounge.
The club was the scene of a violent event on May 23, 2006, reminiscent of the Bucket of Blood. Just before midnight, as one event ended and another group was coming in, a bouncer dealt with a patron who refused to leave. A fight ensued, which spilled onto the street. The bouncer pulled out a firearm and fatally shot the patron in the chest. The Times reported that he "then shot three others before fleeing the scene."
There were only four aged men still living in the upper portion at the time. Their 10-by-10 foot rooms cost them $300 per month. They secured their doors with padlocks when they left.
Their landlord, Alan Frank, who allowed them to stay as an act of kindness, told Alan Feuer, "The cruel twist is that these guys were left here living among the yuppies and the galleries. All their haunts have disappeared. The coffee shop. The old Mexican restaurant. The little drugstore."
One tenant, 71-year old George Ullrich, put it simply. "Places change, but people don't. People just get old."
|The former Victorian saloon front was sleekly modern when Opus 22 moved in. photo via CityRealty
But one of the last remnants of the West Side's maritime history was soon slated to go. Luxury residential buildings had been creeping up the West Side Highway for several years, giving it the nickname Starchitect Row.
On March 8, 2017 plans were filed to erect a 12-story, 13-unit residential building on the site. CityRealty noted the following day "The structure will be topped by a duplex and a private roof terrace." It is now just a matter of time for O'Rourke's Hotel.
photographs by the author