Established in 1854, McSorley's is New York’s oldest continuously operated saloon. So it was around in Houdini's time. And even though Houdini didn't drink alcohol, he still could have found himself in McSorley's for a meeting. Also, Abraham Lincoln, a great hero of Houdini's, was said to have been a customer, so Houdini might have been drawn to the tavern for that reason alone and, yes, felt a need to leave behind his own historical marker.
But what about the handcuffs themselves? At initial glance, they do not strike one as being the type of handcuffs associated with Houdini. They appear too modern. Here's what handcuff expert Joe Fox (my recent lecture partner) has to say on that matter:
"The cuffs pictured ARE from Houdini’s time-period (approx. 1915+)…they are virtually of identical design of today’s modern police handcuff.
However, no photo has ever surfaced of Houdini wearing or holding, or mentioning these new type of "swing-through" handcuffs (meaning that these handcuff can be slapped around the wrist & they will automatically lock).
When these handcuffs were marketed in 1914 -1915, they literally made every handcuff up to that time obsolete – including every handcuff that Houdini was ever shown with. But again, they ARE of his time-period.
They are of this type: Peerless Handcuff Co. Springfield, Mass. (still in business today)."
So the bar was around in Houdini's time, the cuffs are of the correct period, and McSorley's seems to have a good handle on its history (it's said no piece of memorabilia has been removed from the walls since 1910). So while we can't really prove the legend, I'm thinking we can trust it, and having a pint (or several) at McSorley's might now be a required part of any Houdini tour of New York.
McSorley's Bar, 1912 painting by John French Sloan.
Thanks to Joe Fox for the info and pics. McSorley's is located at 15 East 7th Street in NYC.
UPDATE: Thanks to reader Bruce Thomson, here's a pic of Houdini using Peerless swing-through cuffs!
UPDATE: Important update today from the great Fred Pitella. Looks like these cuffs are not the originals. Check out: McSorley's Houdini handcuffs update.