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McSorley’s doors are always open Regulars fed watered…170 years on



Not much has changed in the 170 years that McSorley’s Old Ale House has been serving customers in Manhattan’s East Village.

Not much has changed in the 170 years that McSorley’s Old Ale House has been serving customers in Manhattan’s East Village.

The New York establishment’s manager Teresa Maher says the secret is simple – “keeping the ale flowing and the door open.”

“We are a small place, but we are well known,” she said serving a steady stream of either light or dark – a lighter ale, or a darker porter that have been the only alcoholic options since the Irish bar opened its doors.

“After 170 years a lot of people are checking to see if we’re still here.”

The anniversary

The bar, which marked its anniversary at the weekend with cake and singing, was forced to weather the pandemic when New York adopted some of the strictest lockdown rules in the US.

It built outdoor seating to serve customers alfresco when regulations on bars were finally relaxed. As many as one in 25 New York City bars, restaurants and entertainment businesses were lost because of the pandemic, according to a 2022 report.

McSorley’s has been spared the rent hikes that have stretched many New York bars and clubs, like Lucy’s, an East Village main stay that recently shuttered, reportedly after a developer bought its lease.

MEMORIES. Dusty wishbones, placed by troops of the 69th New York Infantry Regiment hang from a light fixture.

“We own the building which buys us a little more time. And we consistently stick to our motto ‘Be Good or Be Gone,’” says Maher, with the words carved into dark wood behind the bar.

Until 1970 however the motto was “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies,” with the bar excluding women until then – even after it was inherited in 1939 by the daughter of the former policeman who bought it almost immediately after retiring in 1936.

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Keeping tradition

His hand cuffs are still fixed to the rail that runs beneath the bar. To this day the bar eschews music, except on its anniversary, with just low conversation, the clink of glasses and the occasional shout of “three dark, two light” as a soundtrack.

Each beer order is split between two half-pint glass mugs, poured from pristine brass tanks.

McSorley’s wooden floors are strewn with sawdust, and chalk boards list its simple culinary offerings – with liverwurst and notoriously peppery mustard among the favourites.

DOOR’S OPEN. Not much has changed in the 170 years that McSorley’s OLD Ale House has been serving customers in Manhattan’s East Village.

The bar’s regulars keep coming back, and curious tourists and passers-by flow through the worn saloon doors.

As it vies for the title of oldest bar in Manhattan, McSorley’s longest-standing customer is retired firefighter Mike Rousso, 93, whose helmet emblazoned with the number six hangs on the wall.

The bar’s ties to the fire service, police and military are prominently displayed. Peaked caps, shoulder patches, handcuffs and rank insignia adorn the walls.

Above the bar a line of dusty wishbones hang on a light fitting, put there by troops of New York’s 69th Infantry Regiment who were served turkey dinners in 1917 before they deployed to Europe to fight in World War I.

The bar also marks the terror attacks on 11 September, 2001, carried out by al-Qaeda, which flew planes into the World Trade Centre skyscrapers that were just three kilometers away.

“This place is crazy for the 9/11 anniversary,” said one of the “steadies” Phil Lavigne, a retired policeman.

Soldiers of the “Fighting Sixty Ninth” were among the first re sponders at Ground Zero.

The bar’s logbooks tell the colourful story of McSorley’s, formerly known as The Old House at Home, with entries from Cassius Clay – as boxer Muhammad Ali was called when he visited – and comic actor Jackie Gleason asking in a scrawl “where are all the dames”.

As for the future, Maher’s son Sebastian, 19, is learning the ropes, helping keep the lunchtime crowd fed and watered on a recent Thursday. “Of course I want to run it one day,” said Sebastian.

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