Tracing the Origins of New York’s Nickname, ‘The City That Never Sleeps’

Posted on: June 26th, 2014 at 6:05 am by
This image has been archived or removed.

I’m sitting in a 100-year-old converted loft on the Bowery watching the world go by. The Avalon Bowery (the building that killed McGurk’s) is in my peripheral, and it appears the well-heeled residents there are calling it a night behind those curtain-less windows. A thought hits me – the city that never sleeps, a phrase basically born on the Bowery.

What follows is a selection of sources substantiating that the saying was meant to describe the Bowery itself, and not New York as a whole:

1892, The Century, Volume 43:

A tour of this street by night is a never-to-be-forgotten experience, but in the main the street is like a great electric lantern. It is the Argus head of New York and it is the eye that never sleeps; for when the rest of the town is dim and its bustle is all but hushed, the eye of the Bowery look into the night with a gleaming star that only the rising of the suns is able to intimidate.

From The Bowery: A History of Grit, Graft and Grandeur, By Eric Ferrara:

…the Bowery was  ripe for wanton corruption (perfected over decades) and had openly become one of the greatest vice districts in America. It was the original “city that never sleeps,” the Times Square of its day…

In 1898 Jacob Riis (most famous for his photographic tell all How The Other Half Lives) also remarks “the Bowery never sleeps” in Out of Mulberry Street: Stories of Tenement Life in New York City.

That damn sure describes the Bowery. Or at least it used to.

This image has been archived or removed.

So where was the phrase first printed?

Well, here’s the deal, Boogie-ers: many folks cite The Fort Wayne Daily (in Indiana) as the first ever publication to print NYC as “the city that never sleeps.” But they are wrong.

Here is that newspaper clipping from September 6, 1912:

This image has been archived or removed.

Fort Wayne Daily News

Did you catch that? “…add to its title of the city that never sleeps…” Therefore, the title already existed at the time of this publication.

Based on furious research, credit goes to the above-referenced article published decades earlier in the The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine:

This image has been archived or removed.

For good measure one mo’ time:

A tour of this street by night is a never-to-be-forgotten experience, but in the main the street is like a great electric lantern. It is the Argus head of New York and it is the eye that never sleeps; for when the rest of the town is dim and its bustle is all but hushed, the eye of the Bowery look into the night with a gleaming star that only the rising of the suns is able to intimidate.

Though I suppose with all the new hotel construction throughout the Lower East Side- there may be some sleep in this City after all.

 

Recent Stories

The ‘New Stand’ is Finally Ready to Take the Bowery

June 2017 It’s been almost three years since Patricia Field retired her Bowery fashion boutique and quietly relocated to Seward Park. While a replacement was ultimately found a year thereafter, mum has largely been the narrative at 306 Bowery. Until now. The so-called New Stand, which inked a ten-year deal on the 6,700 square-foot retail […]

‘Esther & Carol’ Goes Dark After Less than 2 Years on the Bowery

Esther & Carol had lofty goals for the southwest corner of Bowery and Broome. Barely two years after opening, the restaurant is now dark. Esther & Carol occupied a large swath of the Sohotel corner (the former Bacchanal), and was split in thirds – full service dining room, casual takeout window, and basement lounge with […]

Icon Terminates Seward Park Garage Lease 3 Years After Parking Privatization

Three years after the parking garage privatization pitted Seward Park co-op members against the board, the operator is out. Icon/Quik Park tendered its termination over the holiday weekend, and will pull out of the garage at the end of this month. Charles H. Greenthal & Co. management circulated a letter to tenants announcing the news […]

Cajun Quietly Comes to Hell Square with ‘Parish NYC’

Out of nowhere, this new Cajun spot for Hell Square. Parish debuted last month at 146 Orchard Street. The arrival of Parish (the word for “county” in Louisiana) comes on the heels of Butcher Bar, the Astoria-based barbecue bar that shuttered back in September after little more than a year. According to its mission statement […]

NYC Half Marathon Foists Thousands of Runners onto the Lower East Side Next Month

On your mark, get set … for thousands of marathoners on the proverbial doorstep. The New York City Half Marathon is less than a month out, and for the second year running, the Lower East Side is in the crosshairs. The race route shifted last year to include spanning the Manhattan Bridge, Canal Street, and […]