A moment in McSorley’s by an Impressionist artist

McSorley’s Old Ale House, on East Seventh Street since 1854 (or thereabouts), has long been a magnet for artists.

Perhaps the most famous was John Sloan—who painted various scenes of both dark moods and high spirits inside this former working-class Irish saloon in today’s East Village from 1912 to 1928.

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

Childe Hassam had already made his name as an Impressionist painter in the 1890s. Hassam focused on what he described as “humanity in motion,” painting iridescent glimpses of city life centered along the stretch of Fifth Avenue outside his 17th Street studio between Union and Madison Squares.

Instead of a lush scene of light and air, Hassam’s “McSorley’s Bar” gives us a rich interior glimpse of the saloon with a well-dressed man holding a bottle (or about to grab one) at a wood bar—curiously alone and not necessarily in motion.

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8 Responses to “A moment in McSorley’s by an Impressionist artist”

  1. Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Odd, that doesn’t look like McSorley’s at all. Sure must have looked very different from what it became in the 1960-70s as I came to know it and drink there. The bar seems shorter, no wall decorations, no sawdust on the floor. If I ever did drink there, I’d have just one and quickly leave. Sorry, not my kind of place.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I agree…I haven’t been in McSorley’s enough to know the place that well. But it is interesting to me that Hassam didn’t paint the fireplace or barflies or any of McSorley’s other telltale features. It looks more upper class here.

  2. beth Says:

    I love the look of this

  3. Sharon Says:

    Piecing life together, one stitch at a time.

  4. pontifikator Says:

    I agree the bar looks shorter, but mostly, it doesn’t look like the McSorley’s I knew because it is cleared of barstools and chairs. It looks like there are flags of some sort or some ceremonial batting on the bar. Maybe it was a special occasion.

  5. wwkrause@att.net Says:

    So, who did the painting, Childe Hassam, or John Sloan?

    I last visited McSorley’s sometime in the early 1950s, when I attended nearby Cooper Union. At the time I thought management may have sprayed oil(?) on everything to encourage clinging dust — it hung in festoons everywhere. Beer, or ale was served with a high sudsy collar in mugs with vacant enclosed bottoms. You could drink lots of it & come away safely. . . a tourist ‘must’ Their cats were nice; tame creatures. But I never made McSorley’s a habit.

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Childe Hassam is the painter

  7. Savage Salty Joe Says:

    I was born in New York City and that’s looks exactly like McSorley’s when it was brand new during the 1850’s when there was not all that crap on the walls, floors and ceilings. The wood was never vanished or finished that’s just dirt from millions of dirty greasy hands. I’ve been drinking there for fourth years the lite and dark beer and they serve simple styled prison sandwiches with two pieces of white bread and processed cheese because it’s really a drinking place not a food place. They still hire strictly Irish born men. In fact up until the 1980’s it was men only and I was introduced to the place by a woman. She was gorgeous with curly brown hair but she tasted like an ashtray and smelled like an old bucket of beer and had zero personality and was like a wet towel in bed. I told her to move a little otherwise someone’s going to throw dirt on her. Very sweet. I’ll take a walk there this week. The opening day is on the outside plate glass windows. I also remember the monumental salt shaker brawl in the biggest bar fight in NYC. What a pile on. I got my pound of flesh that day.

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