I took a trip up to NYC about a month ago to visit some friends. It was my third time in the Big Apple, and I’m already itching to go back. There’s just so much to do there that it’s quite impossible to ever be bored. The city is overwhelming.
…So overwhelming, in fact, that I’ve been avoiding writing about my visit.
There’s just too much to say; too many opinions to express. I also feel anxious discussing a city that so many people are quick to claim as their own, and which I know solely as a tourist. Therefore, instead of trying to cover my trip in one post, I figured I’d break it down and start with something I feel very comfortable discussing:
The Oldest Pub in NYC
McSorley’s Old Ale House first opened its doors in 1854, and has been serving up their special brews ever since. John McSorley, an Irish immigrant, moved to New York to escape the potato famine and established McSorley’s just a few years after settling in the city.
The history of the place is rather impressive. The bar’s website boasts that “everyone from Abe Lincoln to John Lennon have passed thru McSorley’s swinging doors.” It managed to survive through the Civil War and prohibition, entertained the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Woody Guthrie, and strictly prohibited entry to women until a Supreme Court ruling ousted that policy in 1970.
So what is it about McSorley’s that has made it last throughout the years?
McSorley’s is a no-frills sort of establishment. When you enter through the door, you will be greeted by a rather small, darkly lit room crowded with long term patrons and tourists alike. The ground is covered in sawdust, which takes care of the inevitable spill, while the walls are lined with old photos, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia items — each a testament to McSorley’s long history.
Seating is all communal. There are a number of large wooden tables available, and it’s up to you to find a seat amongst the crowds — or risk getting an earful for standing in the way. The beer selection is simple: light or dark. After making your choice, you will be presented with 2 sloppily poured mini pints for the astounding price of just $5.
The servers are an experience in their own right. Like the beer, they come in just two forms: rude and ruder. Initially I was put off by their attitude, but eventually came to the conclusion that the crassness of the service adds to the rough and tumble atmosphere.
I’m not going to lie…at first it all felt a bit gimmicky.
The sawdust on the floor. The old prints on the wall. The bartenders being assholes. It seemed as if McSorley’s was trying too hard to live up to its 1930s catchphrase: “Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies.” Were they trying too hard?
But as I sat there, passing a critical eye over the bar, I realized that I all the while had a big grin on my face.
I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.
Sure, the use of sawdust as a cleaning method seems outdated and perhaps ornamental. However, in reality, sawdust is actually a rather clever, simple, and affordable way to absorb spills, so who’s to say it’s nothing more than a gimmick? The servers sloshing pints of beer on the table and barking at every unsuspecting customer walking through the door aren’t gruff and gritty because that sort of attitude complies with the theme of the pub. No, they are native New Yorkers, born and bred within the walls of McSorley’s, and it’s their heart and soul that makes the place beat with such brusque intensity.
During my night at McSorley’s, Anna and I found ourselves sitting at a table with a bunch of twenty-somethings celebrating one fellow’s birthday. They were a rowdy bunch to say the least. When we first made introductions, there were a total of 80 beers (full beers) on the table as the birthday boy had challenged everyone to consume as many pints as possible. They kept pounding their mugs on the table, shouting out classic beer chugging tunes, and being as inappropriate as possibile — which probably would’ve gotten us kicked out if we were anywhere but McSorley’s.
McSorley’s is the kind of place you go when you want a good yet affordable brew, are tired of the bougie bars infiltrating the streets of Manhattan, and are looking for some interesting conversation and possibly a few new friends. I’m very glad I went and will definitely be back the next time I’m in town.
Finally, my favorite fact about McSorley’s?
It was the former hangout spot of my favorite poet, e.e. cummings. The man whose poetry inspired the domain name of this blog and whose words are tatoooed on my body. Cheers.