Supposedly, you’ll never grow old drinking the beer at McSorley’s.
Age may be a state of mind, but McSorley’s Old Ale House, established in 1854, is far from young. It is, however, a breath of fresh air in a town where trendy wine bars and pricey cocktail lounges continue to dot the streetscape.
The oldest Irish pub in New York City, McSorley’s is crusty, seedy, charming, and packed to the gills with old-time memorabilia. Sawdust still covers the floors and the decor looks like it hasn’t been updated in over a century. The bar feels like it’s a man’s tavern, and depending on the time of day you visit, males often dominate the crowd. As one of the few straggler women on the night I went, I shouldn’t have blended in while wearing my above-the-knee dress and four-inch wedge heels, but no one gave me a second look. Despite my wardrobe selection that night, I (sort of) felt like one of the guys.
Truth be told, the ale house was originally a gentleman-only pub. But in 1970, thanks to civil rights attorneys Faith Seidenberg and Karen DeCrow, McSorley’s became an official place for both men and women to imbibe.
The beverage options are few – beer and beer – either light or dark, (and don’t ask for anything else or you may be scolded) and when mixed, supposedly it’s “the best half and half in the states.” Renowned poet E.E. Cummings referred to McSorley’s brew as “The ale which never let’s you grow old.”
The night I was there I ordered the 2 for $5 mini 10-ounce mugs of light ale, and although I’m not much of a beer lover, this ale was easy drinking. I prefer the smaller size to the typical pint served at most Irish pubs since I tend to be a slow drinker and like my beer ice cold.
Bar flies slam empty beer mugs on the old wooden bar top repeatedly for refills, sometimes six or eight at one time. This crowd is sometimes full of serious ale guzzlers. Surprisingly, the bar at McSorley’s has no stools (it’s standing room only), but there are plenty of places to sit at tables if you can manage to grab one.
Other than the kitchen and loos, (the bathroom became unisex until a ladies’ room was installed in 1986), the historic tavern will take you back to a time before trends, froufrou martinis, or Manhattan singles’ bars. Order a liverwurst or tuna salad sandwich to pair with your beer, and soak up all the nostalgia. In Manhattan, you’ll find few institutions like this one any longer.
In the “new” NYC, can McSorley’s Old Ale House continue to draw scores of imbibers night after night? Only time will tell. Let’s hope that in 50 years, the oldest Irish tavern in New York City is still pouring.
McSorley’s Old Ale House
15 E 7th St
New York, NY 10003