Mcsorley's Ale House
Mcsorley's Ale House Page
Mcsorley's Ale House
The oldest Irish saloon in NYC

Posted November 2021

Interesting Facts:
  • There are two drink options at McSorley's: light ale or dark ale.
  • Glasses are $2.75 each.
  • A classic McSorley's Cheese Plate comes with a package of Saltine crackers, cheese and raw onion. Just like in their old motto!
  • E.E. Cummings wrote a poem about McSorley's in 1925
  • A collection of wishbones hangs over the bar. According to McSorley's legend, these were placed there for good luck by soldiers heading off to fight in World War I. The soldiers who came home collected their wishbones from the bar. The wishbones remaining hang there in honor of those who didn't make it back.
  • McSorley's has had a long line of feline inhabitants, the most recent being Minnie the Cat. In 2011, the Department of Health told the bar that Minnie the Cat was not longer allowed in the bar while they were open, to much public outcry. Cats have always been a part of McSorley's. John McSorley's son, Bill, kept as many as 18 cats in the bar at one time. The legend is that when the cats are in the windowsill, Harry Houdini's ghost is visiting McSorley's. Though she is not allowed in the bar anymore, Minnie maintains a Facebook fan page.
  • When Abraham Lincoln was campaigning for candidacy for the 1860 Presidential Election he gave a speech at the Cooper Union. He unwound later over a beer at McSorley's.
  • Though McSorley's didn't allow women, a woman named Dorothy O'Connell Kirwan owned the bar for many years. It was left to her by her father, Daniel. She promised her father that she would never set foot in the place during operating hours and she stuck to her word, only visiting on Sundays when it was closed. The bar began admitting women under the management of her son, who wanted his mother to be the first woman served. She refused, still honoring her promise to her father.
  • When the New York Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup, they took to McSorley's and drank beer out of it. They had to return it to the NHL for several days afterwards for repairs.

Mcsorleys on Google Map
Mcsorley's is in Manhattan (East Village)'s

Mcsorleys Ale House
Mcsorley's Old Ale House

The 5 points neighborhood:
At the time McSorley's was founded it was part of the 5 Points neighborhood - considered a slum where the poor people's neighborhood where hard working immigrants lived. It was a tough neighborhood with gangs that fought to take control of the district. There were social tensions between different religious and ethnic groups, and the Irish unleashed a wave of nativist sentiment in their day to day activities. The immigrants enjoyed the good beer after a hard day of work, and the saloon became known as a workingman's saloon. A stop at McSorley's was a relief as it allowed an escape from the realities of New York City and into the world of "home" with other immigrants.

Over time, the 5 points neighborhood has developed into the Lower Eastside. Now consisting of courthouses, parks, and high-rise apartments, the Lower Eastside, rather than being the weak part of town it is now one of the most affluent parts of the city. The days of the immigrant having a beer at McSorley's is long gone.

One of the last bars in New York City to allow women:
McSorley's continued to be a male only bar until 1969 when it was sued to permit women to enter the premises. McSorley's faced a lawsuit by two women, board members for the National Organization for Women, who had entered the bar in January of 1969, after they were refused service by a bartender. The bartender politely explained to them that it is McSorley's policy to only allow for the entry of men, as it had been for 114 years and the women were escorted out of the bar. A Federal judge subsequently ruled in the women's favor, and the mayor at the time, John Lindsay signed legislation banning discrimination based upon sex in public places.

Cheese and Crackers
Cheese and Crackers and Onions

Prohibition Era:
McSorley's has been open since 1854, and managed to stay so because, at one time, it operated as a speakeasy. The iconic mugs that McSorley's ale is served in today are a vestige of the Prohibition era when the bar would serve "near beer" (beer with little to no alcohol content) to most patrons. According to legend, bartenders would step on a special pedal to fill the mugs with the real deal to longtime customers. McSorley's managed to avoid legal trouble because many of Tammany Hall politicians drank there throughout Prohibition.

Memorabilia Collection from 1910:
In 1910 John McSorley - or Old John, as he was affectionately called - passed away at the age of 83 on the second floor flat of the bar. When John's son Bill took over the bar, he refused to remove any of the paintings, clippings, and artifacts that his father, a memorabilia enthusiast, had put on the walls. They remain up there to this day as a shrine and in memory of McSorley's founder.

New York Rangers:
In 1994, The New York Rangers won their first championship in 54 years. To celebrate, the hockey team pulled all kinds of shenanigans, including filling the Stanley Cup with McSorley's Ale, locking themselves in the pub for 45 minutes and drinking it all. Team members also used the cup to feed a Kentucky derby horse, got a bit too drunk, and left the cup at a strip club. The debauchery of the New York Rangers caused the NHL Hall of Fame to tighten the rules on where the Cup can go, giving rise to an explicit ban on casinos and strip clubs.

Elvis Presley:
In 1964, after playing Madison Square Garden, the Pelvis came to the old Irish pub for a round. The tale is that Presley had a bit much to drink, and by the light of the coal stove, gave an impromptu performance while standing at a table. Mattie Maher, who has owned the pub since 1977, euphemistically said that Presley had been "overserved" that evening. In addition to Presley, other musicians who enjoyed the bar were Frank Sinatra and the rat pack, Woodie Guthrie and John Lennon.

Abraham Lincoln:
Before becoming the president of the United States, Lincoln gave his famous Cooper Union address at the university and reportedly stopped by McSorley's while in town. Another tie to Lincoln is the bar's original 1865 "Wanted" poster, offering a $100,000 reward for the capture of his assassin, John Wilkes Booth! Of course, Lincoln wasn't the only president to have ale at McSorley's. Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy enjoyed a few drinks at the bar as well. American industrialist and inventor, Peter Cooper, who founded Cooper Union, was also a regular - so much so that his portrait still hangs in the pub, along with the chair he regularly sat at.

The 1863 Draft Riots in Manhattan:
The worst series of street riots in American history. The riots were racially charged: many young Irish immigrants argued against abolition as they would then be competing for working class jobs with freed slaves. To take back control of the city, President Abraham Lincoln had to send in militia and volunteer groups, which where diverted after the Battle of Gettysburg. The Fighting 69th Infantry used McSorley's as their headquarters throughout this week of disturbances.

Mcsorleys Dusty Wishbones
World War 1 Wishbones:
The bones were hung on the old gas lamp 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.

In 2011 The New York City health department made them remove the dust off of the wishbones.


Mcsorleys Dusty Wishbones

Doughboy was a popular nickname for American infantryman during World War I:

Doughboy as applied to the infantry of the U.S. Army first appears in accounts of the Mexican - American War of 1846 - 1848, without any precedent that can be documented. A number of theories have been put forward to explain this usage:

  • Cavalrymen used the term to deride foot soldiers, because the brass buttons on their uniforms looked like the flour dumplings or dough cakes called "doughboys", or because of the flour or pipe clay which the soldiers used to polish their white belts.
  • Observers noticed U.S. infantry forces were constantly covered with chalky dust from marching through the dry terrain of northern Mexico, giving the men the appearance of unbaked dough or the mud bricks of the area known as adobe, with "adobe" transformed into "doughboy".
  • The soldiers' method of cooking field rations of the 1840s and 1850s into doughy flour-and-rice concoctions baked in the ashes of a camp fire. This does not explain why only infantrymen received the appellation.

One explanation offered for the usage of the term in World War I is that female Salvation Army volunteers went to France to cook millions of doughnuts and bring them to the troops on the front line. One joke explanation for the term's origin was that, in World War I, the doughboys were "kneaded" in 1914 but did not rise until 1917.

The Abandoned Wishbones:
Perhaps the most famous artifacts are the wishbones dangling from a gas lamp above the bar. After finishing a free meal at the bar, soldiers departing to serve in WWI left their wishbones - from turkeys, chickens, and one duck—intending to collect them upon their safe return. In 2011, a city health inspector insisted that the wishbones, encased in years of dust, be cleaned.

Harry Houdini's Handcuffs:
When Harry Houdini visited in the early 1900s, he was issued a challenge by O'Connell, then a regular patron, former policeman, and eventual McSorley's owner: "You can get out of your own handcuffs, but how about you try escaping from mine?" Houdini accepted and did escape, leaving both sets of cuffs behind. Houdini's set is hanging from the ceiling, while O'Connell's remains cuffed to the bar.

For some regulars, McSorley's is literally their last stop:
The ashes of seven different people are interred in various vessels—including a flask—behind the bar. If you're a close friend of one of the seven, you can request that their vessel be brought out so you can continue to drink together.

McSorley's is not the oldest bar in New York City:
That distinction goes to Fraunces Tavern, open since 1762 - although Shane Buggy, a bartender at McSorley's, disputes this fact. Fraunces Tavern has been rebuilt several times, but McSorley's has remained virtually unchanged—and has served ale continuously, even during Prohibition - for 165 years.

Fraunces Tavern on Google Map
Fraunces Tavern is in the Financial District

At the very least, McSorley's can claim the title of "oldest Irish pub" in the city.

No Barstools, No TV's, No Music:
Once again, a story can be told by what you won't find at McSorley's. There are no bar stools and all seating is communal. The only other drink available, in addition to the two ales, is soda, and a limited, reasonably-priced food menu is posted daily on two chalkboards. There are no TVs at McSorley's and no ambient music - the only noises you'll hear are the clinking of glasses and the muted hum of people's conversations. "At a sports bar, your eyes are glued to the TV, here you have to talk. Everyone chats, has a good time, and leaves happy."

The Old House at Home:
(Published April 13, 1940 The New Yorker )
  • McSorley's opened in 1854 and is the oldest saloon in the city.
  • John McSorley, the founder, died in 1910 at the age of eighty-seven.
  • In eighty-six years it has had four owners:
    • An Irish immigrant
    • His son
    • A retired policeman
    • His daughter
    And all of them have been opposed to change.
  • It is equipped with electricity, but the bar is stubbornly illuminated with a pair of gas lamps, which flicker fitfully and throw shadows on the low, cobwebby ceiling each time someone opens the street door.
  • There is no cash register. Coins are dropped in soup bowls-one for nickels, one for dimes, one for quarters, and one for halves-and bills are kept in a rosewood cashbox.
  • He patterned his saloon after a public house he had known in Ireland and originally called it the Old House at Home; around 1908 the signboard blew down, and when he ordered a new one he changed the name to McSorley's Old Ale House.
  • That is still the official name; customers never have called it anything but McSorley's.
  • Old John believed it impossible for men to drink with tranquillity in the presence of women. When women came in, Old John would hurry forward, make a bow, and say, "Madam, I'm sorry, but we don't serve ladies." This technique is still used.
  • In his time, Old John catered to the Irish and German workingmen who populated the Seventh Street neighborhood, selling ale in pewter mugs at five cents a mug and putting out a free lunch inflexibly consisting of soda crackers, raw onions, and cheese; present-day customers are wont to complain that some of the cheese Old John laid out on opening night in 1854 is still there.
  • Adjacent to the free lunch he kept a quart crock of tobacco and a rack of clay and corncob pipes - the purchase of an ale entitled a man to a smoke on the house; the rack still holds a few of the communal pipes.
  • Except for a few experimental months in 1905 or 1906, no spirits ever have been sold in McSorley's; Old John maintained that the man never lived who needed a stronger drink than a mug of stock ale warmed on the hob of a stove.
  • He liked to fit a whole onion into the hollowed-out heel of a loaf of French bread and eat it as if it were an apple. He had an extraordinary appetite for onions, the stronger the better, and said that "Good ale, raw onions, and no ladies" was the motto of his saloon.

A Chronological History
Mcsorley's Old Ale House
1827 John McSorley is born: Co.Tyrone, Ireland
1847 Potato Blight begins in the South of Ireland
1850 Potato crop failure reached the Northern Counties of Ireland
1851 John McSorley arrives in New York City on the Ship The Colonist from Liverpool
1854 John McSorley opens up an ale house at 15 East 7th Street in New York City. He calls it "The Old House at Home"
1855 John McSorley marries Honora Henley
1856 First child Peter, is born to Honora and John McSorley
1861 William J. McSorley born, John's favorite son and the son who will take the helm of McSorley's Old Ale house.
1864-65 The building at 15 East 7th Street is improved to become a 5 story tenement. John and family move upstairs over the bar.
1868 Honora McSorley dies at the age of 35, leaving John to care for 3 children.
1872 John McSorley marries Catherine Donovan.
1875 Bill McSorley is apprenticed in the ways of the Ale House. It becomes his first love.
1882 The play "McSorley's Inflation" opens at the Theatre Comiqe on Broadway. It features a bar room set, a bar owner named Peter McSorley. It plays over 100 performances.
1888 John and Catherine purchase the building at 15 East 7th Street. They are now landlords.
1904 50th Anniversary of The Old House at Home.
1905-06 A brief experimental period begins; McSorley's serves hard liquor along with the ale. The experiment ends as suddenly as it begins. McSorley's is an Ale house only from this point on.
1908 The sign over the front door falls in a storm. It is replaced by one that reads "McSorley's Old Time Ale House". Later the word "Time" is removed.
1910 John McSorley dies in the second floor flat above the bar. He is 83 years old.
1911 Bill McSorley takes over the Ale House. He begins to make it a shrine to his departed father.
1913 John Sloan displays his painting "McSorley's Bar" at the Armory show. Priced at $500, it does not sell.
1920 Prohibition begins. Beer, ale, wine, liquor and hard cider are illegal. McSorley's sells what they refer to as Near Beer.
1925 Poet e.e. cummings writes the poem "Sitting in McSorley's"
1928 John Sloan paints "McSorley's Saturday Night." Everyone seems to have a mug in his hands.
1932 Catherine McSorley, widow of John McSorley dies.
1933 Prohibition ends. McSorley's is still there. Though many bars now admit women. McSorley's still goes by their philosophy of "Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies."
1934 Fidelio Brewery markets bottled McSorley's Ale, Stout & Lager Beer.
1936 Bill McSorley sells bar to Daniel O'Connell, a patron and NYC policeman. O'Connell retires from the force to become the first non-McSorley to own the place. He changes little.
1938 Bill McSorley dies.
1939 Daniel O'Connell dies, leaving his saloon to his daughter, Dorothy O'Connell Kirwan. Patrons fear she will renovate and innovate. She does neither, staying out of the place as she promised her father she would. After some minor management problems, she makes her husband Harry Kirwan the manager. He will be in charge until his death.
1940 New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell visits the Saloon at 15 East 7th Street. He writes a watershed article, "The Old House at Home" for the New Yorker. A new life begins for the old saloon.
1943 Joseph Mitchell's articles are compiled in a book, entitled "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon."
1943 Life Magazine does a feature photographic article on "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon."
1954 McSorley's celebrates its 100th anniversary. Women are still not permitted inside, including the owner. She only visits on Sundays after they are closed.
1960 Dorothy and Harry Kirwan's son Danny begins his apprenticeship at the bar.
1964 While visiting Ireland Harry Kirwan's car breaks down. He is picked up on the road by Matthew Maher. Harry promises him a job in New York. Matty goes to NY to work as a waiter and bartender at McSorley's.
1969 McSorley's Old Ale house is sued to allow women to enter.
1970 McSorley's under order of the court and law from the city council considers becoming a private club, but relents to the pressure and opens its doors to women. There are no restrooms for the women. Danny Kirwan wants his mother to be the first woman served. She refuses citing the promise she made her father. Predictions of the end of McSorley's are heard around the world.
1974 Dorothy Kirwan dies.
1975 Harry Kirwan dies. McSorley's old Ale house now belongs to their "beloved son" as Harry refers to him, Danny Kirwan.
1977 Matthew Maher, night manager of McSorley's buys the place from Danny Kirwan. It is now owned by the third family since opening.
1986 Women's restroom installed at the Old House.
1994 Matthew Maher's daughter, Teresa Maher de la Haba, becomes the first woman to work behind the bar.

Mcsorleys Old Ale House
15 East 7th Street
New York, New York 10003