Tuesday, October 5, 2010

McSorley's Lunch

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 people 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, 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."


Someone Said said...

A couple of years ago I was there, the place was packed as usual. Two guys next to me order their beers, then ask me if the two mugs were some sort of happy hour pricing.

I love that bar. The first time I was there was at lunch, that window seat is magic.

City Of Strangers said...


Glad there's still a time of day when McSorley's isn't packed. I've had a soft spot for it for years - ever since I read Joseph Mitchell's 'Up in the Old Hotel' with his classic account of the tavern in the old days. I think the last time I even got in there was four years ago (when, curiously, I met CO Moed) - every time I've gone back since it's been too packed.

Do miss the cheese plate and onions, the two glasses of ale, the sawdust on the floor. Inevitable, I guess, that it would become a tourist trap.

Glad you referenced Mitchell - so few people have heard of him now. And so little of his New York remains . . .


Ken Mac said...

clash of civilizations. Guess who wins..Mitchell's lucky he never saw any of this

Sean said...

Food tour? No wonder. The liverwurst in McSorley's is almost as good as you'd find in Wisconsin!

That's also when I go to the joint, at noon, when a window table is available. The sun still shines in, despite the new buildings. I went regularly at that time of day one February a couple of years ago, and by March I had gotten a tan - seriously a McSorley's tan. People believed me when I told them I had just come back from two weeks in Palm Beach.

It's indeed quiet early on in the day. Peacefully quiet. Then the screamers come in by mid-afternoon, and it's time to leave. I actually was 86d for one day from McSorley's when I yelled at some screamers who had just came in for the first time to STFU! 86d from McSorley's for wanting quiet!

You are absolutely right about the "regulars and the reservations". They'll answer the phone and take reservations for huge parties of goobers, and go back to the bar, laughing madly at their prank.

I guess I must be a regular by now. Pepe the bartender gave me a set of four mugs celebrating their 150th anniversary a few years back. I had been going since the current owner was just fresh from Ireland waiting tables, around 1964, before the broads were let in.

When the "ladies" bring in their children to an ale house, they shouldn't expect civility. So I just curse more loudly and coarsely. Ef 'em if they can't take a joke.

Here's to ya!

VisuaLingual said...

Wow, a food tour and bachelorette parties?!? What is this world coming to?

Patricia Kennealy Morrison said...

Ah, McSorley's...I vividly recall the night when Jim Morrison (then my newly engaged fiance, that very day), Allen Ginsberg and I couldn't go there after meeting up by chance in the VIP box at a Fillmore East Jefferson Airplane show in May 1970, because I was a girl and they weren't...they thought it was pretty amusing. I did not.

And when women were finallyh allowed in, later that year (I think), I refused to set foot in the place, on the grounds that any drinkhole that had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century was not anywhere I cared to be. I've kept to that.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

There's something about ordering 28 beers, a package of saltines and a paper plate of cheese that makes for an awesome afternoon. :)

I spent a lonely Christmas Eve in here a few years ago - me and two other customers. That was the one time I was able to look at everything on the walls and hold the bartender's ear until he kicked me out around midnight. When he did, he sent me over to his sister or cousin's place to get a Christmas meal and told me to tell her he'd sent me. There's really no other place like it.

Melanie said...

Nice piece. I never knew they had food.

Marty Wombacher said...

Nice post and the window seat is definitely the best in the house. Even with all the tourists and screamers and woofers, I'm glad it's still there.

Wilfrid said...

I actually disagree about Joseph Mitchell. That collection has been a steady bestseller for years now, constantly appearing in new editions and prominently displayed at the big bookstores.

I am amazed at how many people do apparently read Mitchell, and sometimes wonder why (I agree he's a remarkable writer, but then I am interested in his subject(s)).

Jeremiah Moss said...

Sean, Patricia, and Goggla, you win for best McSorley's stories.

Jill said...

Karen DeCrow and Faith Seidenberg were the women that sued to allow women into McSorleys.