Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Some chroniclers of New York's early days are confident that the first coffee house in America was opened in New York; but the earliest authenticated record they have presented is that on November 1, 1696, John Hutchins bought a lot on Broadway, between Trinity churchyard and what is now Cedar Street, and there built a house, naming it the King's Arms. Against this record, Boston can present the statement in Samuel Gardner Drake's History and Antiquities of the City of Boston that Benj. Harris sold books at the "London Coffee House" in 1689. This view shows the garden side of the historic old house as it was conducted by John Hutchins, near Trinity Church, on Broadway. The observatory may have been added later The King's Arms was built of wood, and had a front of yellow brick, said to have been brought from Holland. The building was two stories high, and on the roof was an "observatory," arranged with seats, and commanding a fine view of the bay, the river, and the city. Here the coffee-house visitors frequently sat in the afternoons. It is not shown in the illustration. It stood for many years on Broadway, opposite Bowling Green, in the old De Lancey House, becoming known in 1763 as the King's Arms, and later the Atlantic Garden House The sides of the main room on the lower floor were lined with booths, which, for the sake of greater privacy, were screened with green curtains. There a patron could sip his coffee, or a more stimulating drink, and look over his mail in the same exclusiveness affected by the Londoner of the time. The rooms on the second floor were used for special meetings of merchants, colonial magistrates and overseers, or similar public and private business. The meeting room, as above described, seems to have been one of the chief features distinguishing a coffee house from a tavern. Although both types of houses had rooms for guests, and served meals, the coffee house was used for business purposes by permanent customers, while the tavern was patronized more by transients. Men met at the coffee house daily to carry on business, and went to the tavern for convivial purposes or lodgings. Before the front door hung the sign of "the lion and the unicorn fighting for the crown." For many years the King's Arms was the only coffee house in the city; or at least no other seems of sufficient importance to have been mentioned in colonial records. For this reason it was more frequently designated as "the" coffee house than the King's Arms. Contemporary records of the arrest of John Hutchins of the King's Arms, and of Roger Baker, for speaking disrespectfully of King George, mention the King's Head, of which Baker was proprietor. But it is generally believed that this public house was a tavern and not rightfully to be considered as a coffee house. The White Lion, mentioned about 1700, was also a tavern, or inn.