This past weekend, McSorley's celebrated its 154th anniversary, complete with balloons, party hats, drunken out-of-towners, and men with muskets.
The only good time to go to McSorley's is around 11:00 on a weekday morning. If you're very lucky, you'll arrive just as the coal truck, a ghost from the distant past, unloads its bulk down the sidewalk grate and into the basement to be shoveled into the pot-bellied stove on winter mornings.
At 11:00 in the morning, the crowds have not yet arrived. You can sit at a table by the window. You can appreciate the way the sunlight illuminates the sawdust on the floor and the dust that furs the lamps along the ceiling. A cat might slip past your legs.
For just an hour or so, it's quiet enough to hear the soft talk of old men at the bar proclaiming the wonder of "sody crackers," and to hear, as e.e. cummings put it, "the Bar tinkling luscious jigs dint of ripe silver with warmlyish wetflat splurging smells waltz the glush of squirting taps."
But then noon comes and the crowd rushes in. Strange businessmen who, you imagine, must have come from some other part of town in their shirts and ties. Wifely women with bleached blonde hair done up with sprays. Frat boys. Frat girls. They come flocking for reasons I will never understand.
And part of me says, Be grateful--without them, McSorley's might be a Starbucks instead. But is this the trade-off? With more of them coming every year and soon worse. Notice how, reflected in the window of this venerable ale house from yesteryear, the specter of our future gleams, sleek, massive, indifferent.
A glimpse into McSorley's past, thanks to Berenice Abbott. At 11:00 on a weekday morning, it doesn't look much different than this: