Lets get the bad out of the way — McSorley’s has this funky stale onion and beer smell and there’s no bigger display of douchebaggery than on weekend nights; from the bridge and tunnel contingent to the party time NYU frat scene and that’s not even scratching the service when it comes to the idiocy on St. Patrick’s Day. Clearly you’d be hard-pressed to find any sort of literary inspiration but during the first half of the 20th century it was a haven for the working class in the East Village and the artists and writers who were inspired by them. That’s not to say the old timers were exempt from the jerk badge since the bar wouldn’t allow women in until 1970 and only then it was after a court order.
Painters like John Sloan kept coming back to McSorley’s for the vibe their whole career and writers like E.E. Cummings and Joseph Mitchell couldn’t get enough of the fodder. The excerpt below is from Mitchell’s The Old House at Home:
“McSorley’s bar is short, accommodating approximately ten elbows, and is shored up with iron pipes. It is to the right as you enter. To the left is a row of armchairs with their stiff backs against the wainscoting. The chairs are rickety; when a fat man is sitting in one, it squeaks like new shoes every time he takes a breath.
Down the middle of the room is a row of battered tables. Their tops are always sticky with spilled ale. In the centre of the room stands the belly stove, which has an isinglass door and is exactly like the stoves in Elevated stations. All winter Kelly keeps it red hot. “Warmer you get, drunker you get,” he says. Some customers prefer mulled ale. They keep their mugs on the hob until the ale gets as hot as coffee. A sluggish cat named Minnie sleeps in a scuttle beside the stove. The floor boards are warped, and here and there a hole has been patched with a flattened-out soup can….”
Ahh, sounds like my kid of place except on the weekends — I’ll take the smell over the jerks any day.
What: McSorley’s Old Ale House, Sunday thru Wednesday between 4 and 8 (no, really, it does matter)
Who: E.E. Cummings, Joseph Mitchell, John Sloan
Where: 15 East 7th Street