Every thirsty New Yorker has (sometimes reluctantly) stopped by and ever tourist guide book recommends popping in, but McSorley’s Old Ale House at 15 East 7th Street just off of Astor Place is no tourist trap. It emphatically remains well worth the $5.50 cost of two small beers.
Open since 1854, McSorley’s has clung to life though economic depression, prohibition and gentrification. It continues to serve its unique light and dark brews — found nowhere else — to a crowd that has shifted from working class, to intellectual, to bridge and tunnel today. Household names like Woody Guthrie, E. E. Cummings, Teddy Roosevelt, Peter Cooper, Boss Tweed, Hunter S. Thompson, Brendan Behan, LeRoi Jones, and even Abraham Lincoln have stopped by for a creamy glass of ale.
Inside, expect old-timey kitsch covering ever square millimeter of wall space and absorbent sawdust on the floor — look for Houdini’s handcuffs on the bar rail, a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt and wishbones left by World War 1 servicemen hung above the bar. Tables are crowded and communal. Bar service comes fast and without frills as dozens of glass pile up at each table. There are lots of familiar faces working here but don’t expect to catch the bartender’s name, he’s likely to respond with a snarl.
It’s an atmosphere that has been condescendingly described as “Olde New York,” but it’s in fact mostly the real McCoy, and we find the space positively transportive. You can easily imagine a 19th-century politician standing atop a table to deliver and impromptu speech.
Now, on top the question at the heart of the matter: the drinks. Well, in city dominated by craft beers and 15-step cocktails, McSorley’s simple and heady home brew can seem a little passé. But approached with the right expectations, we think you will find the bar’s light and dark ale intensely quaffable.
Our verdict: if you haven’t been, go!