A Tour of McSorley’s
Indulge yourself, if you will, on a virtual tour of America’s oldest, continuously operated bar. There are no bad seats (providing you can get one) and no bad views. From the ceiling to the sawdust strewn floor. From every wall, to each nook-and-cranny — history pours as freely as ale from the taps.
The spirits of ex-presidents, society figure heads, entertainers and athletes mingle with the working class, the poets and the artists — with a healthy smattering of cats tossed in for good measure! There is vastly more than meets the eye and certainly more than a single visit or even a hundred can possibly reveal. The inspiration for numerous books, paintings and poems, McSorley’s retains, to this day, a static serenity. It is an oasis in an age of disposable objects, quick fixes and attention spans that sputter and stall in short order.
The bar is the main artery of the Old Ale House. You will notice no stools, standing room only (three deep at times) — the original taps, no longer in use. The old ice chest, houses sodas, the only drink other than ale permissible. You’ll find no cash register at McSorley’s — there’s never been one and probably never will. A sign above states “We Trust Here” and shows a pig’s behind! Above the bar, wishbones gather many generations worth of dust from their perch on the old gas lamp. Look closely and you’ll spot an original wanted poster for Abe Lincoln’s assassin as well as Babe Ruth’s farewell photo from Yankee stadium (a donation from the photographer-a regular himself).
The legendary backroom (where the ale flowed during prohibition), is adorned with the infamous, and very risque (for its time), portrait of a nude with her parrot. Until 1970, she was the only female regular in the place! The old fireplace is also in the backroom-that’s where the original owner-John McSorley held court (as witnessed in a well-known John Sloan sketch nearby). Above the fireplace is the McSorley’s motto “Be Good or Be Gone”, as well as a portrait of Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Union. There have been few structural changes to the Old Ale House, the kitchen being a glaring exception. With the Supreme Court ruling of 1970 (allowing women entry into McSorley’s), the bathroom became coed. Sixteen years later, a ladies room was installed, displacing the galley. The kitchen’s current niche is the only significant addition to the original layout. Pub fare at McSorley’s is as consistent as everything else about the place. A daily menu has been established (and posted on two chalkboards) the prices are as reasonable as the food is fine.
There seems to be a place — a theme for every square inch of the wonderful Old Ale House, and the northwest corner of the backroom is a monument to music. J. Giles donated a gold record from his million selling album “Love Stinks”, the so and so album hangs there along with period sheet music.
Underneath the gold record hangs a complete collection of John Sloan’s McSorley art works. The exit door (which was an alternate entrance during prohibition) is currently Stinky and Minnie’s (the house cats) way in and out when the crowds get too large.
The literary niche is next. Joseph Mitchell’s book (McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon) and his obituary from the New York Times, hangs beside a LIFE magazine feature story from 1943. You’ll also find a signed copy of Frank McCourt’s best-seller Angela’s Ashes (A gift from the author after his Tom Snyder television interview which took place in the Old Ale House).
Stepping back into the front room we find the newspaper headline of Daily News (August 11th, 1970) which shouts the landmark admission of women, with an accompanying photo of reporter Marcia Kramer and then manager, Daniel Kirwin.
If the big wood bar is the heart of the Old Ale House, then certainly the coal burning stove is the soul. A fixture for as long as McSorley’s has been in business and still working today, it has provided warmth for patrons on cold winter days and cooler nights — red hot fire burning — illuminating — casting it’s glow upon every square inch of the place.
It’s impossible to put into words the McSorley’s experience — there’s simply no substitute for being there. However, we hope, in our own small way, that we’ve given you a tipple of what you can expect when you finally come in and find out for yourself!