“outside it was New York and beautifully snowing. Inside snug and evil . . .”
So begins e.e. cummings’ 1923 poem about drinking a beer at McSorley’s Old Ale House on East Seventh Street, contemplating the seedy life inside the bar and the world outside it.
The poem has some great lines, such as the “slobbering walls,” “luscious jigs dint of ripe silver,” and “both paws slowly loved a dinted mug.” This 1937 Berenice Abbott photo of McSorley’s gives a good idea of what cummings was trying to describe.
The story of McSorley’s is pretty well-known: serving drinks since 1854 (or 1862, according to some); closed to women until 1970; still selling liverwurst and onion sandwiches long after most pubs decided to stick to cheese fries and wings.
It’s now known more as a bridge-and-tunnel attracting, frat-boy hangout. But when East Seventh Street was low-rent, so was the clientele.