McSorley's Old Ale House
McSorley's Old Ale House, generally known as McSorley's, is the oldest "Irish" tavern in New York City. Located at 15 East 7th Street in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, it was one of the last of the "Men Only" pubs, only admitting women after legally being forced to do so in 1970.[a]
The aged artwork, newspaper articles covering the walls, sawdust floors, and the Irish waiters and bartenders give McSorley's an atmosphere that many consider reminiscent of "Olde New York." No piece of memorabilia has been removed from the walls since 1910, and there are many items of "historical" paraphernalia in the bar, such as Houdini's handcuffs, which are connected to the bar rail. There are also wishbones hanging above the bar; supposedly they were hung there by boys going off to World War I, to be removed when they returned, so the wishbones that are left are from those that never returned.[b]
Two of McSorley's mottos are "Be Good or Be Gone", and "We were here before you were born". Prior to the 1970 ruling, the motto was "Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies"; the raw onions can still be had as part of McSorley's cheese platter.
When it opened, the saloon was originally called "The Old House at Home". McSorley's has long claimed that it opened its doors in 1854; however, historical research has shown that the site was a vacant lot from 1860 to 1861.
The evidence for the 1854 date was considerable, but second-hand. A document at the Museum of the City of New York from 1904, in founder John McSorley's hand, declares it was established in 1854, and a New York Tribune article from 1895 states it "has stood for 40 years. . . " a short distance from Cooper Union. A 1913 article in Harper's Weekly declares that "This famous saloon ... is sixty years old."
According to a 1995 New York Times "Streetscapes" article by Christopher Gray, the census taker who visited the Irish-born McSorley in 1880 recorded the year the founder of the pub first arrived in the United States as 1855, but immigration records show that he arrived on January 23, 1851, at the age of 18, accompanied by Mary McSorley, who was 16. When confronted with the fact that the 1880 census did not contain this entry, Gray corrected it to 1900 in his book. John McSorley first appeared in city directories in 1862, and the building his bar occupies was built no earlier than 1858, according to city records.
McSorley's is included within the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, created by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2012. In the district's designation report, the building's date of construction is given as "c.1865", but it notes that indirect evidence may indicate that there was a small structure on the lot before that, since the value of the lot increased between 1848 and 1856, while that of surrounding lots did not, which may be explained by the existence of an unrecorded structure. By 1861 there was a two-story building on the lot, according to tax records, and by 1865 the present five-story one, but it is "unclear" if the former was extended upwards or a new building was constructed.
Opened to women
Women were not allowed in McSorley's until August 10, 1970, after National Organization for Women attorneys Faith Seidenberg and Karen DeCrow filed a discrimination case against the bar in District Court and won. The two entered McSorley's in 1969, and were refused service, which was the basis for their lawsuit for discrimination. The case decision made the front page of The New York Times on June 26, 1970. The suit, Seidenberg v. McSorleys' Old Ale House (1970, United States District Court, S. D. New York) established that, as a public place, the bar could not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The bar was then forced to admit women, but it did so "kicking and screaming." Barbara Shaum was the bar's first female patron. With the ruling allowing women to be served, the bathroom became unisex. Sixteen years later, a ladies room was installed.
Notable people who have visited McSorley's include Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, Peter Cooper, Boss Tweed, and Woody Guthrie. Literary figures like Hunter S. Thompson Brendan Behan, Paul Blackburn, LeRoi Jones, Gilbert Sorrentino, George Jean Nathan, and Cornell Woolrich have been cited as regulars.
In his 1923 poem "i was sitting in mcsorley's," poet E. E. Cummings described McSorley's as "the ale which never lets you grow old." He also described the bar as "snug and evil." McSorley's was the focus of several articles by New Yorker author Joseph Mitchell. One collection of his stories was entitled McSorley's Wonderful Saloon (1943). According to Mitchell, the painters John Sloan, George Luks and Stuart Davis were all regulars. Sloan's 1912 painting of the bar is in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. The bar has also been painted by Harry McCormick.
After the New York Rangers hockey team won the Stanley Cup in 1994, they took the cup to McSorley's and drank out of it; the resulting dent caused the NHL to take the trophy back for several days for repairs.
McSorley's Old Ale House has no other locations; however, a company called Eclipse Management has opened three McSorley's Ale Houses in Hong Kong and Macau "based loosely on the appearance of the original McSorley's Ale House in lower Manhattan, NYC". These bars sell McSorley's Ale, but are not associated in any way with McSorley's.
In popular culture
- In the comic book Preacher, the character Cassidy recounts having spent a number of years frequenting McSorley's.
- McSorley's is used as a filming location in the 1991 film The Hard Way.
- McSorley's was used as a filming location in the 1998 film Rounders, starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton.
- In Sergio Leone's 1984 film Once Upon A Time in America, the bar in which the five young gang members debate whether to take the dollar the bartender offers them to burn the newsstand or roll the drunk, was filmed inside McSorley's. A different bar was used for the exterior shots.
- In the television series The Golden Girls, Sophia Petrillo, played by Estelle Getty, claims that her daughter Dorothy was born on one of the tables at McSorley's, which is an anachronism, as the bar did not admit women until 1970.
- Daniel O'Connell Kirwan, the manager of McSorley's and son of the owner, appeared on the August 27, 1970 broadcast of the panel game show To Tell the Truth after New York City required women to be admitted to the bar.
- "The place had long been a men-only establishment until 1970, when Ms. Shaum became the first female patron admitted under a new city ordinance banning discrimination against women in public places ..."
- "Joseph Mitchell, the inimitable chronicler of old New York, once wrote that the founder, John McSorley, simply liked to save things, including the wishbones of holiday turkeys. But Mr. Maher, who has worked at McSorley’s since 1964 — he predates some of the memorabilia — insists that the bones were hung by doughboys as wishful symbols of a safe return from the Great War. The bones left dangling came to represent those who never came back."
- Gray, Christopher (November 19, 1995). "The Bridge Cafe: On the Trail of New York's Oldest Surviving Bar". The New York Times. Retrieved September 8, 2009.
- Lichtenstein, Grace (August 11, 1970). "McSorley's Admits Women Under a New City Law". The New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
- Dwyer, Kevin (June 5, 2005). "Blasts from the Past". New York. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
- Seidenberg v. McSorleys' Old Ale House, Inc., 317 F.Supp. 593 (S.D.N.Y. 1970).
- Corey Kilgannon (January 22, 2015). "The First Woman Let Into McSorley’s Reminisces (Over an Ale, of Course)". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-23.
- Barry, Dan (April 6, 2011). "Dust Is Gone Above the Bar, but a Legend Still Dangles". New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
- Brazee, Christopher D., et al. "East Village/Lower East Side Historic District Designation Report" New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (October 9, 2012)
- White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot (2000). AIA Guide to New York City (4th ed.). New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-8129-3107-5. p.171
- Harper's Weekly Oct. 25, 1913, p.15
- McSorley Surname : Irish Immigration to America
- Irish Immigration Passenger Record Data: January 23, 1851.
- Seidenberg v. McSorleys' Old Ale House
- Charlton, Linda (26 June 1970). "Judge Tells Mcsorley's to Open All-Male Saloon to All Women". New York Times.
- Seidenberg v. McSorley's Old Ale House, 317 F.Supp. 593 (1970) (United States District Court, S. D. New York 25 June 1970).
- "Tour" from McSorley's website
- Blackwell, Daria (March 21, 2013). "‘Best Irish Pub in the World’ competition entry: McSorley’s Old Ale House, New York". The Irish Times. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
- Thompson, Hunter S. Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967, p.416
- Cummings, E. E. "i was sitting in mcsorley's" (excerpt) BookRags
- "McSorley's Bar - John Sloan - The Athenaeum". The Athenaeum. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- "Harry McCormick Print - McSorley's Ale House". RoGallery. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- Lidz, Franz. "Heeere's Stanley". CNN. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
- "Chelsea damage Champions League trophy: five other sporting cup calamities". The Daily Telegraph. 19 June 2012. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
- "Once Upon a Time in America - Trivia". IMDb. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- "To Tell the Truth - 1970 Triple Play" (video @ 47:29) You Tube
- Media related to McSorley's Old Ale House at Wikimedia Commons