Tuesday, February 19, 2008

McSorley's at 154

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:

McSorley’s Ale House, 15 East ... Digital ID: 482568. New York Public Library

McSorley’s Ale House, 15 East ... Digital ID: 482590. New York Public Library


Anonymous said...

Don't forget that today Mayor Sanitizer yet again gets his way, as the vote to close OTB is held. Sadly, it seems to be merely a formality.

Anonymous said...

Those photos remind us of a time when men were still men. Now it's hard to tell the difference.

I guess when the yunnies take over, they bring along their pretentious and unfriendly ways.

PatMinNYC said...

Nice touch including those great B&W Berenice Abbott shots. We probably bumped into one another.
Oddly enough we used almost the same header ;-) - PatMinNYC

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks patminnyc, i just added a link to your great photos

Bob Arihood said...

To the issues of McSoreley's and our nanny ,"Mayor Sanitizer" , wanting to end OTB .

Way back in the old days when there was no such thing as OTB , in the late morning you packed a baloney sandwich and a bannana in a paper bag and went down to Sophie's , the origional one that was where Sidewalk Cafe is now. You sat down at the bar , ordered a glass of beer , talked to a certain neighborhood individual , put your money down , ate the sandwich , drank some beer and waited .The ponies did their thing and whatever happened , happened .

When I first went to McSoreley's it was a men's bar with a men's room with tall urinals with a piece of deoderant at the bottom near the drain at which you could aim your stream .

Later McSoreley's was opened to women .Then standing exposed at those tall urinals playing with that piece of deoderant at the bottom became a different game with new consequences ... exposed now meant really exposed . Women now used this special room too.

Clearly it just hasn't been the same since ...

hollarback said...

At least its still there. Used to be my (semi college) after class spot back in the early 90's, I went to Pratt Manhattan which used to be over by the old knitting factory in the Puck bldg. No frat types back then except on weekends. Just normal people and a few firemen trying to pick us up. The beer (dark) and cracker/swiss and hot mustard was a cheap meal.

These days what used to be the nightmare weekend crowd is always there, it's sad. But I still visit when I am in town. Someday it will be like it was again. Still cracks me up when annoying people complain how "rude" the staff is. Priceless.

I'm a chick by the way you sexist bastards :)

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks hollarback for pointing out the sexism in some of the comments. i doubt that the inclusion of women was the bar's downfall. it was when they started letting in guys in dockers pants and boat shoes. ;)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, walked by there recently on a Wednesday afternoon(planned to stop by for a pint of the dark one) but thought otherwise (since i was neither wearing a Docker's pant nor boat shoes) and when I saw the place was packed with yuppies, yunnies, frat boys & girls, etc... (the same crowd that you'd see in the UPE -- why can't they just stay there, I mean, if an EVillager were to go to the UES we get derided, frowned upon, and scrutinized). Yet, whey they come to "downtown" (esp. the EV)they feel like they're privileged and better than anyone and everyone else). I have never felt intimidated by such a crowd.

There was a time when I can just stroll around the E.Village, browse for books, and used CD's, have a pint in any of the pubs and actually have a conversation to the proprietor and staff of such shops. Now the owners of the surrounding establishments would only speak to money.

The staff at McSorley's were/are never rude (they were just being real), only when the UESiders started to patronize the place that the staff have become rude --they're trying to send a signal to the yunnies and the yuppies that they're not welcome there and they think that it's part of the allure of McSorley's or the E. Village for that matter.