I used to go for lunch at McSorley's, back when things were quieter. Then the crowds started growing, and I stopped. Now and then I go back. I like the single table by the window. I like the sunlight, though the new Cooper Union building and Cooper Square Hotel have blocked most of the old sun. I like the possibility of a cat underfoot, rolling in the sawdust, and there's always a cat at McSorley's.
At 11:55 AM, there's no one in the place except a trio of regulars. They stand at the rail and talk about their union jobs, their nights in strip clubs, their days placing bets at the OTB.
"Working at the OTB," says one, "That used to be a real tit job. You had to know a congressman to get a job at the OTB. You had to know a priest or something. It was a real tit job, and that was just 10 years ago."
They go to Belmont and bet on the horses. At Belmont, says one, "I'm happier than a pig in shit." They worry about the OTBs closing down, about having to bet over the television like they do in England. They worry about Type 2 diabetes and cholesterol. They think A-Rod is a "steroid-shooting motherfucker."
"They say in the paper," says one, "that cats grieve when their siblings die. You think that's true?"
"Sure, remember when Minnie died? Stinky went right after her, just like that. They get attached, cats."
There's been a cat called Minnie at McSorley's since Joseph Mitchell used to go there, and probably long before that.
By 12:15, the yellow cabs start rolling up outside, disgorging families of tourists, cameras around their shoulders, guidebooks in their hands, sunglasses on lanyards around their necks.
Two perky girls walk up to the bar, "Hi! We're here with the Food Tour? You know, the Food Tour? Would it be okay if we ordered 25 light lagers now?" They do, and 50 Food Tour people come pouring in to the quiet.
"Food tour? And all they ordered was lagers?" says one of regulars, "I always told my wife beer was a food!"
The payphone on the wall keeps ringing. The regulars answer it. Someone wants to come in with a fashion model and do a photo shoot. Someone wants to make a reservation for a bachelorette party.
Says one of the guys, "Remember the time I took that reservation for the bachelorette party? 'Oh sure, Miss, 25 people for 9:00? We'll have your tables waiting.' You know they actually showed up? They were like, 'Hey, where's our tables?' At 9:00, everybody knows, you can't even get in the door."
Score one for the old guard.