The day McSorley’s bar finally admitted women

Mcsorleys1940s“Is woman’s place at the bars?” asked a 1937 New York Times article.

This was several years after prohibition, and for the most part, drinking establishments in New York City, once for men only (respectable 19th century women wouldn’t want to enter a bar), had become coed. Some even welcomed women, or at least their business.

But one of the few taverns opposed was McSorley’s Old Ale House (above, in the 1940s), the East Seventh Street bar open since 1854 and believed to be the city’s oldest pub.


“There are not many taverns so stoutly arrayed against the female invasion,” the Times wrote. “McSorley’s continues in the tradition that woman’s place is in the home, or, if she must take a nip occasionally, that her place is elsewhere, anywhere, but not at McSorley’s.”

This was the McSorley’s whose motto was “good ale, raw onions, and no ladies,” a place for mostly working-class men but also artists and writers.


In 1925, e.e. cummings wrote his famous poem with the opening line, “i was sitting in mcsorleys.”

And John Sloan’s paintings (above) depicted a warm, old-time tavern with  mahogany bar, resident cats, and men drinking pitchers of ale in cheer.

McsorleyswithwomentoastingEven in the mid-1960s, the men-only rule stood. “Once in a while, a woman will enter and get as far as the pot-bellied stove,” Harry Kirwan, the present owner, says, “but they generally leave as quickly as they came,'” stated a Times piece from 1966.

But times change. Fast forward to 1969 (photo of two women outside McSorley’s, above). A lawyer from the National Organization of Women filed a federal sex discrimination case against McSorley’s. The judge ruled that this was a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The final nail in the coffin came in 1970, when Mayor John Lindsay signed a bill prohibiting sex discrimination in public places, including bars.


On August 10, 1970, they opened their doors to their first female customer (above photo, from the Times). The day before, many of the old timers at the bar bid good-bye to the all-male preserve.

“Dennis Cahill, who is 83 and has been a customer for the last 62 years ‘off and on,’ said: ‘Well, I don’t care. I don’t think they’ll come in much. A decent woman wouldn’t come into a place like this,'” wrote the Times.

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13 Responses to “The day McSorley’s bar finally admitted women”

  1. Kenny Says:

    …and da woild ain’t been da same since !

  2. thisistimsheridan Says:

    Great pictures. Be sure to check out Joseph Mitchell’s terrific piece on McSorley’s in the book “Up In The Old Hotel”.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes! An excellent read.

  4. ReadingOtherPeople Says:

    Reblogged this on Reading Other People and commented:
    Fascinating read.

  5. michael kasino Says:

    A visit to historic McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village of New York City.
    Your host is bartender, Stefan ‘Pepe’ Zwaryczuk.

  6. Mrs. Mojo Says:

    Screw ’em. As it were. I remember well when my spouse, Jim Morrison, and I were at the Fillmore East to see Jefferson Airplane in May 1970, and I seethed volcanically because we and Allen Ginsberg, who was with us in the sound booth, could not go to McSorley’s after the show because I lacked a dick. Even though I was with two dicks who thought it was amusing that I could not. I will NEVER set foot in that place.

  7. Linkage: Remembering the Old Meatpacking District; Manhattanhenge | LIBERTY ALLIANCE Says:

    […] of the observation deck [WSJ] · NYPD moving divisions into ugly Verizon Building [NYPD] · When McSorley’s finally began admitting women [ENY] · Stage curtain painted by Picasso finds new home at NYHS [DNAinfo] · Pictures of […]

  8. Chris F Says:

    I fondly remember how much fun it used to be to see the women in the men’s (read ONLY) room.

  9. Maria Nockin Says:

    In 1953 I was one of the few female students at a local college. A prof who did not want to teach women held class there and I busted in so as not to miss class. I was taken away in a police car, but I made my point. The rest of the classes were held in school.

  10. Thomas Moriarty Says:

    In 1994 the late Richard McDermott did extensive research and determined that McSorley’s site was still an empty lot in 1861. His research was backed up by the AIA guide to New York City, and the New York Times.

    • Kenny Says:

      Doesn’t popular lore tell us Abe Lincoln had a beer at McS’s after the 1860 debate at nearby Cooper Union?
      Or was that Moe’s …

  11. A moment in McSorley’s by an Impressionist artist | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] But in 1916, another celebrated New York painter with a style very different from Sloan’s visited McSorley’s. […]

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