McSorley's Old Ale House

Yesterday, March 18, 2014, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and in honor of my Irish Water Spaniel, Mickey’s birthday, and in honor of Women's History Month, we visited McSorley’s Old Ale House on 7th Street in the East Village in New York City. McSorley’s is famously the oldest continually operating bar in New York City, having opened its swinging doors – and when you see them you will believe how old they are – in 1854. My friend David, who admittedly loves his beer, had never been to McSorley’s. So, this demanded a visit when a trip to the City was in order.

note the wear on these doors!

McSorley’s only serves 2 kinds of beverages, McSorley’s Light Ale and McSorley’s Dark Ale, and when you order, two mugs are set down in front of you. McSorley's serves a few food items, but their mission is ale. Our waiter in signature gray jacket, blessedly had an Irish brogue.

McSorley's Light and Dark Ale - one serving is two mugs, that way you can have 2 the same or one of each.

The interior of McSorley’s, as one might guess, has little changed since its opening. There are more things adorning the walls but nothing seems to have been removed. This is confirmed by the wonderful drawings and paintings of the interior, most notably by John Sloan from the beginning of the last century. The pot belly stove still warms the House, wishbones still line the horizontal length of a gas lamp, news clippings, clocks, photos, and men bellied up to the bar are constants. The one notable difference is the presence of women.


Note the pot belly stove and its chimney.

When I first went to McSorley’s, in 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court had mandated that women be admitted but it was clear that I as a female was not welcome. There was still only one bathroom and that bathroom had windows that made it uncomfortable for women customers. I vaguely recall upon entering of being somewhat verbally abused and greeted with stern looks from the working class male patrons. Still we were students form the neighborhood and rose to the challenge. Now there is a “Toilet” and a “Ladies”. There is also a newspaper clipping on the wall about the fight to keep McSorley’s a male only establishment.


We loved our visit. McSorley’s is charming. It is a walk into time past. It is warm and lively and in spite of its notoriety (and I would likely not visit it on St. Patrick’s Day itself) it is not a tourist trap. It just feels, even for the lasses, like your favorite local pub.

Jean McGavin
Bethlehem, CT © 2014

The accumulated days and nights of banter, chatter, gossip, deals, pick-up lines, and more hang in the air - a bit like the string of wishbones that hover over the bar. The smoke filled days and nights may be gone (a wood burning stove helps provide a remnant of scent) but the arcana lives on. The smooth wood furniture feels original, and the swinging doors are well worn. The motto, “Be Good or Be Gone”, faces the bar and is about as good a message that any institution that serves the public can strive for.

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