“I was sitting in McSorley’s . . . “

“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.

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9 Responses to ““I was sitting in McSorley’s . . . “”

  1. Waiting for America’s Next Top Stampede - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    […] “Snug and evil” at McSorley’s, back when it was low-rent. [Ephemeral New York] […]

  2. lucky morgan Says:

    after McSorley’s finally opened to women, and all those cute NYU co-eds starting showing up, the bar’s old times wondered why they ever kept them out.

  3. petey Says:

    great burgers.

  4. Sean Says:

    Half the time I go to McSorley’s, I get a sore throat the next day – and I rarely get sore throats. Ever look at how they barely wash the mugs?

    Anyone else have this experience? Maybe the germs in the sink are from 1854.

    • Cipriano Says:

      I’ve never had this experience Sean, having never even been to New York. But interestingly enough, this afternoon I am reading the new novel by Amor Towles [Rules of Civility]… the setting is Manhattan in the late 1930’s, and in chapter 8 these two dames go into McSorley’s. Even though the bar is not specifically named as such in the book, I know it is McSorley’s because it has a sign out front that says “GOOD ALE, RAW ONIONS, NO LADIES” and it’s on Seventh Street. But get this! The protagonist notices that beer is poured from a pitcher “into two glasses that looked like they’d already been used.” [p.98]
      Fiction, totally confirming your comment.

  5. The century-old wishbones hanging in McSorley’s « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] many incredible relics of old New York are taped to and hanging from the walls of McSorley’s Old Ale House, it’s hard to notice the row of dusty wishbones over the crowded […]

  6. John Sloan paints many moods of McSorley’s Bar | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] women until a court order in 1970, has been memorialized many times in art and literature, most famously by Berenice Abbott, Joseph Mitchell, and e.e. […]

  7. The day McSorley’s bar finally admitted women | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] 1925, e.e. cummings wrote his famous poem with the opening line, “i was sitting in […]

  8. The curious fireplace in McSorley’s back room | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] a collection of wishbones left by soldiers who never returned from World War I, and of course, that pot-bellied stove that has kept generations of drinkers […]

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