Innocent Mandrake walked into a bar in New York City one Sunday evening. With his white hair and an entourage of friends, he chose the historic Ear Inn as his watering hole. He grabbed a table in the back.
Jackson Siporin came over to take his order.
This happened a couple of years ago, and Siporin no longer remembers the exact beer that Mandrake ordered. But he knows that Mandrake asked him to sit down and talk about music.
To the 19-year-old Siporin, Mandrake was just another customer. He fit the quirky clientele and the eclectic decor of the Ear Inn, the second-oldest bar in Manhattan.
At the end of that night, Mandrake handed Siporin his credit card. “Don’t read the name on the card. My name is Innocent Mandrake, but don’t read the name on the card.”
Not wanting to disappoint his suave new friend, Siporin didn’t.
Siporin wouldn’t be here without the Ear Inn. His parents’ first date was at the Ear. The aspiring musician grew up in Manhattan, and decided to start working at the Ear as a summer job while in college in 2019, the same year he met Mandrake. Once he started, his days were filled with jazz music, ghosts, and the fables and tales of the Ear Inn.
When walking through the green door on Spring Street to enter the Ear, the floor creaks with each step, as if walking on the deck of a ship. String lights circle the ceiling. Old empty glass bottles line the shelves above the bar, a sailor’s hat hiding behind them. Tables are crammed together with wobbly wooden chairs. The walls are covered in photographs and paintings, with barely an inch of wall left exposed. A sign, “Ear Hazard. Ear Protection Required Beyond this Point” hangs by the door, along with pencil drawings of the old Ear Inn. On the ceiling hangs a 1900s sketch about what alcohol does to a body. A giant wooden clock hangs on another wall. Drink coasters sporadically hang in an arch behind the bar. News clips about the sinking of the Titanic hang above a table in the back along with a sketch of the Ear Inn that says “The Ear is Listening.” Photos of ships and a dusty life preserver hang in a corner.
Past the bar, there’s a hatch on the floor. It’s a wine cellar, but the staff knows that a ghost lives there. Siporin doesn’t believe in ghosts, but when he stands on the door, he sometimes hears a knock, though when opens the hatch, no one is there. The ghost is simply another regular.
The back dining room is located up a slight ramp and contains only a couple tables and one long booth. If it’s a Sunday, there’s live jazz music from the three-person band, “The EarRegulars.” Each table has small jars of crayons. There might be a photo of James Brown on the wall. No, not that James Brown.
The Ear Inn is located in the historic James Brown House. In the 1770s, Brown decided to build a home for himself and his store, a tobacco shop. Legend says Brown was an African aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and depicted in Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware.
By 1817, the Brown House had become a bar. It was just steps from the Hudson River shoreline, and pirates and sailors became the regulars, according to staff.
The bar added a restaurant. The upstairs apartment became a brothel, then a smuggler’s den, then a doctor’s office. The order of events becomes fuzzy. Each era changed the regulars.
Prohibition didn’t threaten the bar’s survival. The place simply became a speakeasy, welcoming drinking regulars with a pint of beer and a side of secrecy.
After prohibition, the bar had no name, but was known by sailors as “The Green Door.” In 1970, the Ear finally got its modern name. That year, the city introduced a lengthy approval process for signs on historic landmarks. To bypass the process, the owner simply shut off part of the “B” in the neon red “BAR” sign outside, making it the Ear Inn.
By the 2000s, new regulars moved upstairs. The apartment is an Airbnb, welcoming tourists into the tale. Guests find multiple homages to the former sailing clientele, including teal blue walls and decor resembling the hull of a ship like a captain’s steering wheel leaning by a fireplace.
“One of the last great places in New York,” the Ear’s regulars and waiters say.
Innocent Mandrake felt right at home there that summer. But one night, he and Siporin got into a fight. Elvis Presley played on the radio.
“I own the rights to this song,” Mandrake said.
“No, you don’t. Fuck you,” Siporin remembers responding. His vernacular reflected the former sailing regulars.
Mandrake said he would either give Siporin the rights to the song or put him in contact with someone at his music label.
“Go fuck yourself. You don’t own the rights to Elvis Presley.” Siporin didn’t believe him.
Not taking Mandrake seriously, Siporin remembers leaving the table annoyed. A friend of Mandrake’s followed him and apologized, asking for Siporin’s Instagram handle. Later, Jackson scrolled through Instagram and saw Mandrake tagged in a photo.
Mandrake’s real name was Baz Luhrmann, the director of the hit 2022 biopic “Elvis.” Baz Luhrmann really did own the rights to the song.
Siporin had never checked the credit card. He will never get over cursing at Baz Luhrmann, an Ear regular who simply blended in with the ghosts.