McSorley’s Old Ale House

It’s a strange moment when you find yourself crossing paths with old school mates. I’m only twenty-one, after all. But I’m far from where I went to high school with Carolyn Wiedeman and Katie Murphy and so it made for an interesting day in New York yesterday, when we reunited.I told them to meet me at McSorley’s Old Ale House on East 7th between 3rd and 2nd Avenue. At 154 years, it’s the oldest Irish tavern in New York City. It was “mens only” until the 1970s and one step through the archaic saloon-style swing doors, I could see why. The walls are covered with greek letters, newspaper articles and black and white photos of old men and presidents; Houdini’s handcuffs grip the bar rail; soldiers heading to the front lines in WWI left wishbones still hanging on a lamp. E.E. Cummings called the”snug and evil” bar’s ale that “which never lets you grow old.”

And I believe it.

We sat down on the end of a long, black wood public table. Give or take a few girlfriends, we were surrounded by men, young and old, white-collar and blue-collar. A moody bearded guy approached Carolyn and grunted “light or dark?” It took us a few seconds to understand, McSorleys serves only two kinds of ale – light and dark – and at 2 for $5, we were all smiles. He came back with a fist clenching six mugs, dropped them down in front of us and walked away. With a laugh that said where-the-hell-are-we, we got to drinking. Bottoms up, the ale was good. Legendary crook Boss Tweed and folk legend Woodie Gutherie drank this stuff, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt did too.

McSorleys is the kind of bar you read about in Charles Dickens novels, you see them depicted in movies like Gangs of New York. You picture surly regulars, rowdy tables, deafening chatter and thuds from mugs hitting the tables. It was all real. Katie, Carolyn and I drank four a piece before moving on, promising to return for our next reunion.