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Old Lower East Side Map Shows Four Times More Bars in 1885

LOWER EAST SIDE — Residents who complain about the Lower East Side's liquor-soaked bar scene may be surprised to learn that there used to be far more bars in the neighborhood — back in 1885.

A Christian Union newspaper article and map published on Feb. 19, 1885 put the number of drinking saloons in parts of the East Village and Lower East Side at 346, far more than the 74 bars and restaurants with liquor licenses in the same area today, according to a map on the State Liquor Authority website.

The 1885 map, first reported by Slate, covers the Eleventh Ward, which was then known as "Beerdom" and stretched from Rivington Street up to 14th Street, from Avenue B to the East River.

At the time, the area mostly housed German beer saloons, the Christian Union article said, while praising the "peace and quietness" of the area.

Current Lower East Side and East Village residents often gripe about the saturation of bars, especially in the area just to the west, between Essex and Allen streets, which some call "Hell's Square." An anti-nightlife group called LES Dwellers formed to fight additional liquor licenses in the area.

The 1885 map also shows 19 churches in the "Beerdom" area, compared to just four in the same area today, according to the SLA.

While the neighborhood was poor in 1885, with most residents living "hand to mouth," according to the article, those quoted in it emphasized the positive aspects of the area.

"I came into the ward expecting to find nothing, but filth and vice," said a clergyman quoted in the article.

"But I could take you into hundreds of homes where you would find ease and comfort and culture."