In a competitive and crowded marketplace, many a business, product, TV program or even political candidate needs a hook to distinguish itself. An idea, a claim or an exclusive feature. In the case of bars, oldest is nice to be and in NYC (like other places) the claim is sometimes made by more than one - after all, the prize of being first or oldest can be leveraged, so the battle of claims and counterclaims can be fierce. Adding a qualifier is a clever twist - this way, more than one establishment can take title to the same prize - a variation like oldest in continuous operation. For marketing, the qualifier can be dropped.
Ray's Pizzas are probably the most infamous in the city, with numerous pizza shops all using Ray in the name and some superlative or combination of superlatives - Original, Famous, Famous Original, etc. - and claiming to be first. The Ray's Pizza name has actually involved lawsuits. We also had a rather serious war over Guss' Pickles - see my story here.
In the world of oldest bars in NYC we have several contenders including Pete's Tavern, The Bridge Cafe and McSorley's Ale house (read about that here). Pete's Tavern, located at 66 Irving place at 18th Street, claims to be the longest continuously operating bar and restaurant in New York City (see 2nd photo here). They also say "its most celebrated regular, O. Henry, wrote the classic Gift of the Magi here at his favorite booth by the front doors, in 1904." Richard McDermott, a historian who has done a lot of digging, has cast doubts on all of these claims, including the O. Henry one. He has found that the Bridge Cafe (see my story here) is the oldest.
But the facts, particularly a newly revised history, typically don't stick in people's minds. Once something has been accepted as "fact", it is frequently repeated and believed forever.
I find that when so much emphasis is placed on claims, sight of what's important gets lost - the content and quality of the product or place. And Ironically, many of the places fighting over these things are not the best - they are frequently touristy spots hanging on to crumbs of questionable history to lure in customers. In the case of Pete's Tavern, I can't speak to the quality of the food or ambience - I have not spent time inside.
We are all barraged and saturated with messages. Unfortunately, to get our attention, businesses must frequently resort to pulling out all the stops and relentlessly hammering a simple claim with hope that it hooks ...