Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Happy 155th birthday, McSorley's (or not)



According to the caption that accompanied the Associated Press archival photo seen below:

Regulars and tourists raise mugs of ale to toast a century of good food and grog and no women at McSorley's Old Ale House, a landmark bar in the Lower East Side section of Manhattan, New York, Feb. 17, 1954. Although the present owner is a woman, she cannot cross the threshold because of the "no women" rule. (AP Photo/John Rooney)




I recently reread parts of Joseph Mitchell's "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon" from 1943. (It appeared in The New Yorker as well as in the 1992 compilation "Up in the Old Hotel" and the 2001 compilation "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon.")

McSorley's was discussed in a obituary for Mitchell in the Times from May 1996:

Mr. Mitchell had discovered McSorley's Old Ale House shortly after he joined The New Yorker. The saloon opened in 1854 and, as the oldest continuously run institution of its kind in New York, immediately endeared itself to Mr. Mitchell. He loathed most forms of progress and technology and so did the succession of people who drank in McSorley's.

"It is equipped with electricity," he wrote of it, "but the bar is stubbornly illuminated with a pair of gas lamps, which flicker fitfully and throw shadows on the low, cobwebby ceiling each time someone opens the street door. There is no cash register. Coins are dropped in soup bowls -- one for nickels, one for dimes, one for quarters, and one for halves -- and bills are kept in a rosewood cashbox."

And what of the service?

"It is a drowsy place; the bartenders never make a needless move, the customers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agreement for many years. "

Who went to such a place?

"The backbone of the clientele is a rapidly thinning group of crusty old men, predominantly Irish, who have been drinking there since they were youths and now have a proprietary feeling about the place. Some of them have tiny pensions, and are alone in the world; they sleep in Bowery hotels and spend practically all their waking hours in McSorley's."


But maybe we're celebrating a birthday without good reason. As New York magazine noted in 2005, NYC historian Richard McDermott used public records to prove McSorley's really opened in 1862. Confused!

P.S.
Oh, didn't realize that King Bloomberg made this proclamation...

7 comments:

Wilfrid said...

Free pedantry: the Joe Mitchell piece is actually called "The Old House at Home." It was published in a book called "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon," which is in turn collected with other writings in "Up At the Old Hotel."

EV Grieve said...

Ah! Thanks Wilfrid...

Bowery Boogie said...

This might be the worst possible day to get a beer there. In fact, the last few times I've gone, packed to the gills. Alas, it's pretty much an NYU haunt.

EV Grieve said...

I think I've been there five times in the past five years...and each time it has been with an out-of-town guest. As much as I appreciate the place and its history, the crowds just do me in....

esquared said...

Any night is the worst possible night to get a beer there. It's just another amusement sideshow novelty for the tourists, B&T's, and NYU kids in DisNewYorkCityland, hence the police barricade. Best time (and this applies to pretty much any pubs in the EV) is late morning/ early afternoon on weekdays. I also went there,twice, at 8AM on St. Patrick's Day. I don't know if they still do that. I heard they open at 5 or 6m during St. Patrick's Day.

Anonymous said...

Stick with 155 years old for McSorley's - The "Historian" Mcderm cherry picked his records, reading only the part he liked.

Closer examination, hell, ANY examination shows that the so called historian can't tell a fiscal year from a calendar year, or a ledger sheet from an attendance sheet.

John McSorley used 1854 as his founding date in print, in his lifetime. He was there. The "historian" wasn't NY Magazine got had!

turner23ism said...

I've never had a NYU student problem because I always go in mid afternoon. There is a public television documentary about McSorleys. One of the beautiful descriptions in it is of the winter afternoon light on the saw dust floor. I've always enjoyed a couple of dark ones at the window watching that light stream past the pot belly stove. A deep warmth on a chill day.