Posts Tagged ‘McSorley’s Old Ale House’

A moment in McSorley’s by an Impressionist artist

November 25, 2019

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.

The day McSorley’s bar finally admitted women

May 25, 2015

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

The century-old wishbones hanging in McSorley’s

December 5, 2011

So 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 bar.

But Sunday’s New York Post mentioned these artifacts and a fascinating story behind them. Were they really placed there by soldiers going off to World War I?

According to several city guidebooks, yes. “Those are the wishbones from going-away dinners of doughboys who never returned from the Great War,” writes Jef Klein in 2006’s The History and Stories of the Best Bars in New York.

“Never dusted, never touched, the wishbones ensure that a part of these soldiers’ lives will be remembered and their sacrifice appreciated, even while their bones may lie in forgotten graves.”

But Joseph Mitchell’s McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, from 1940, doesn’t mention soldiers, just that the owner had a thing for wishbones:

“[Owner] Old John had a remarkable passion for memorabilia. For years he saved the wishbones of Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys and strung them on a rod connecting the pair of gas lamps over the bar, the dusty bones invariably the first thing a new customer gets inquisitive about.”

However they originated, the city health department made the current owner take them down and clean them off this past April.

[Above, Berenice Abbott’s 1937 photo of inside McSorley’s. The wishbones should be off to the left]

An East Village nightlife guide from 1985

June 20, 2011

A lot has changed in the 26 years since the East Village Eye published this guide to the neighborhood’s coolest bars and restaurants (bar drinks $1 till 10 pm, for starters).


The Ritz went back to being known as Webster Hall; CBGB, Downtown Beirut, and 8BC, among others, bit the dust; and perhaps strangest of all: the Palladium is now Palladium Hall, a towering New York University dormitory.

The cat who lived in a Bowery dive bar

February 28, 2011

Minnie, the tabby cat currently residing at McSorley’s in the East Village (and facing a lawsuit), isn’t the first feline to make her home in a downtown drinking establishment.

This sly tuxedo kitty can be seen in a couple of 1940s photos of Sammy’s Bowery Follies—a legendary 1890s-style saloon at 267 Bowery that was part fleabag dump and part tourist trap.

No saucer of milk for this street cat. When a patron at Sammy’s nodded off, he made his move.

“I was sitting in McSorley’s . . . “

March 16, 2009

“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.

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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.