There’s an article from The New Yorker, available online, which describes in beautiful detail what it’s like to drink in McSorley’s, a Manhattan pub that opened in 1854. It was published in 1940 and brought a new focus to this old tavern. In the story you can feel the deep character of the place; you can sense how it’s remained unchanged for decades; you almost blow the dust from your screen as you read it and hear the roaring chorus of drunk Irish men from a century ago. Read the piece before you go, as you’ll realize that nothing about this place has changed and there’s nowhere quite like it.
Mcsorley’s Old Ale House A Must-Visit Manhattan Institution Photo Gallery
If you go during busy times, then you’ll have to wait outside. Step inside and it’s literally spit and sawdust. The staff—dressed in oldstyle uniforms—are so busy and disinterested that you’d better be ready to order from the moment you walk in, but also ready to wait your turn. There are two beers: pale and dark. Order a beer and you’ll get two glasses—order three pales and you’ll get six glasses. Got it? Each are poured with a thick, Czech-style foam into small, chunky, robust glasses that can withstand the staff grabbing them half-a-dozen to a hand and drinkers crashing them together when saying cheers. The beers are decent, without needing colorful tasting notes, and evoke old-timey tastes; think Amber-ish lager with some richer malts and a rougher finish, with the dark a midpoint between a Schwarzbier and a Porter. But you aren’t really there for the liquid; it’s the liquid history that matters.
It’s Manhattan’s oldest continually operated saloon and began as an Irish working-man’s bar. Supposedly Abe Lincoln and John Lennon drank there. It’s inspired poems, paintings, and plays. It survived Prohibition, though you can’t imagine them ever not selling alcohol. Their philosophy of “Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies” lasted until 1970 when females were finally allowed inside—but only after an order from the court (a women’s restroom was only added in 1986 and it wasn’t until 1994 that the first female worked behind the bar). The male restrooms, by the way, are marvelous, and no matter how many beers you’ve had, you can’t possibly fail to hit the huge urinal. It’s a Top 10 Pub Restroom Tick, if anyone is interested in completing that list…
The bar is packed and raucous, almost as if people behave differently there, as if they have a pass to act like riotously drunk Irish men. You’ll be packed inside, sharing tables stacked with beers. It’s certainly touristy, but almost in the way that Katz’s Deli, another local institution, is. People come here for something unique and they get it. There’s a resistance to change, but that makes it feel as though you’re stood drinking in a lively bar over 150 years ago, which creates an inimitable beer experience.
It’s a pub of cultural, social, and historic importance, a timemachine drinking experience that’ll make you wish time travel is actually possible. As well as all of that, it’s just a damn fun place to have a few glasses of beer.
WHAT: McSorley’s Old Ale House
HOW: If you want a calmer experience to take it all in properly, go on a midweek afternoon. If you want the full madness, then go on the weekend (www.mcsorleysoldalehouse.nyc).
WHERE: 15 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003, USA
The walls of McSorley’s are heavy with the weight of tall tales and lively discussions from the thousands of drinkers who have passed through its doors.