Old Bowery Days, Alvin F. Harlow's extraordinary chronicle of the rise and long fall of the Bowery, published in 1931, explores the history of the Pioneer Hotel, known at various times as the New Bull's Head, the Westchester, the Commercial, and the Occidental:


At the southwest corner of the Bowery and Broome Street stands the oldest hotel in New York still functioning as a hotel . . . . It is practically impossible to determine the exact age of the house on the Broome Street corner, now known as the Commercial, for its career parallels that of Topsy -- it was not built all at once, but just grew. We know, however, that a hotel or tavern has been in operation on that corner for at least one hundred and twenty-five years. In 1805 it appears as the New Bull's Head, a few years later as the Upper Bull's Head, and between 1825 and 1830 as the Bowery House. The land on which the hotel stands has been from those days to the present time the property of descendants of the De Lanceys . . . .

[By 1835] the name had been changed to Military and Civick Hotel, and the house was headquarters of the Equal Rights or Anti-Monopoly faction of the Democratic Party, supporting Jackson and opposing the United States Bank . . . .

The building was a three-story one until 1866, when a fourth story was added . . . . [With Big Tim Sullivan's death the building's] prestige declined and it became just another cheap wayfarers' hotel; its name was changed to the Commercial and, except for its size, it differs little now from the other forty- and fifty-cent upstairs hotels of the Bowery -- a small, tile-floored office, shower baths and a faint odor of disinfectant.

Earlier in the book, Harlow describes the hotel during the reign of Big Tim Sullivan, when it was "the boast of the Bowery for its cuisine and its service."


The ceiling of the Occidental's big barroom was one vast painting whose fame spread even to the Pacific, and which is still spoken of with awe by the old-timers as a work of high art. The subject was -- yes, anyone could guess it -- a bathing scene; "Diana Surprised," perhaps, though no one seems to remember any title.

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