McSorley’s Old Ale House and Maryanne

When planning our New York trip I asked Maryanne what landmarks and icons were on her list of must see. Her response was “happy to tag along with whatever you’re doing but I have to visit McSorley’s”. “Ok, we can do that”  I said, as she continued “Some of my ancestors went to America and opened a pub in New York called McSorley’s, it’s still operates as a pub so I can’t leave without visiting the pub.” McSorley is Maryanne’s maiden name so of course we’ll go to her ancestor’s pub. Even if her maiden name wasn’t McSorley we’d still go to the pub!!!

McSorley’s pub is one of the oldest working pubs in New York. It opened in 1854 – at least 100 years before Maryanne was even thought of – I know I’m giving her age away….I might have to delete this line – if Maryanne reads the blog!!

McSorley’s is on the Lower East Side, not the most salubrious area of New York, around the East Village area. It was mainly a working class neighbourhood inhabited by immigrants and that shows up quite distinctly in the surrounding tenements and general appearance of the area. We were told that the Lower East Side of Manhattan has slowly been undergoing change since the early 2000’s; it’s becoming trendier with new dining establishments and boutiques opening up. New York is not alone in these shifts in demographics. Major cities around the world are experiencing changes in areas that were once the domains of the underprivileged and the working class becoming trendy, well to do neighbourhoods.

Each of us put on gloves and scarves and zipped up our jackets and coats, as the lift moved slowly towards ground level, not too keen on the freezing air that we knew would come rushing towards us as we stepped into the street. We walked towards 72nd Street subway aware that subway closures further down the line may mean a long walk in the cold conditions to reach McSorley’s. Since Hurricane Sandy had battered New York in October subway tunnels in parts of the Lower Manhattan area were still closed and we weren’t sure if this would affect our trip today. Ty had the trusty GPS with us….how did we ever manage to find our way anywhere before a GPS??? The GPS was set to walking mode, an application that proved its worth in Lucca, a medieval town in Italy. In Lucca we parked inside the town walls and we needed to walk back through alleyways to reach the town square. Ty set the GPS to the cars’ location and it plotted our course, when it was time to leave the GPS took us back to that location. Fabulous invention! Oh, dear I’ve wandered off AGAIN…..

We took the subway to E. Houston St and walked along 2nd Avenue till we reached 7th Ave where we turned left. It’s quite a walk along 2nd Avenue through East Village but it’s not a bad walk, there are old brownstones to look at and eclectic shops here and there.

It was almost lunchtime when we finally reached the Ale House. I’m sure Troy would have reminded us several time about lunch.   Both Troy and Ty loved their food! As we turned into 7th street I was surprised by the number of leafy trees lining each side of the street, such a contrast to the stark main road we had just walked along for several miles. First impression as we approached McSorley’s, it looked small and not dissimilar to the typical local pub you see in every tiny Irish village (no disrespect I love the quaint little villages); except the advert for polish dance classes on the window next door and the distinctly Eastern European Church across the road reminded us we weren’t in Ireland.

We kindly let Maryanne step in through the timber and glass doors of the old pub before us. It was indeed old and just as small inside as outside.  As you step in the door of the pub you are in the main, well, the only, bar area with tables and chairs on the far side wall. As you would expect there are a number of stools at the bar. Past the bar was another small room with tables and chairs and at the back of the room was the kitchen and the 2 loos. Nothing fancy here!!


The bar staff also fell into that category as well. There were 2 barmen working on our visit.

The place has loads of character and charm – from the sawdust on the floor to the old timber walls plastered with yellowing news items from over 100 years ago through to present. Family photos also adorned the walls hiding the aged timber. Some from Ireland some American with many clippings containing something to do with the McSorley clan.

It was certainly a busy place but luckily there was a table free for us. Any articles I’ve read about this pub since our visit says how very popular it is and how extremely busy it becomes, people are often waiting in queues outside on weekends and holidays. The luck of the irish was with us today.

Many visitors had felt the need to etch their names in the tables or on the antique wooden cupboard situated behind the table where we sat. Hmm, I think Miss Maryanne was eager to leave her mark as well!!

The main man behind the bar stayed behind the bar but the other barman took table orders and delivered food and beverages. Delivered is probably too polite a word to use – he threw the beer glasses on the table or across the table – depending where you sat in relation to his serving style. I will call it ‘his serving style’ because he was quite abrupt and I prefer to assume he wasn’t just plain rude rather he was acting out a serving style they may have needed in this area 100 years ago!

Regardless, we took no offence and enjoyed the whole experience so much so we ordered lunch as well. This has to be one of the cheapest place to eat and drink in NY. Of course, in keeping with the holistic atmosphere, the menu was very basic and everything was $5.00. We had a choice of Irish fare of irish stew, corned beef and cabbage, hamburger and chips, sausage and mash and a couple of other dishes that I’ve forgotten!! The beer was 2 for $5 – not your schooner glass but a mini glass stein. There were only two choices of beer for $5 – light or dark. Cash only as well…so if you go remember to have cash – you won’t need a lot though.

Our meal duly arrived and we weren’t disappointed with the service, our meals were thrust down on the table in front of us, as we had expected. One of our party asked for a certain condiment and the request was met with disdain but the condiment came skimming across the table shortly after. We did ask our waiter/barman a couple of questions and he mostly grunted the answers. Maryanne started to explain to him how McSorley was her maiden name so these people here would be distant relatives, he wasn’t impressed, he just grunted once again and sauntered off.

They obviously get a large number of long lost relatives arriving for a visit as when Maryanne mentioned this to the other, more congenial, barman he duly opened a folder and handed her a copy of information regarding the McSorley clan and the family that opened this particular pub. A man who was having lunch with friends at the time overheard Maryanne and the barman and came up to say he was married to a McSorley. Ah, it’s a small world isn’t it??

We’d drank a few beers, had a basic lunch and enjoyed the ambience of the oldest pub in New York, it was time to move on. As we were putting all our winter woollies back on I thought to myself how McSorleys would be THE place to be on St Patrick’s Day even though there are many more traditional Irish Pubs in New York.

The next tourist spot on our list was the High Line in the Meatpacking District. As we stepped out of the confines of the ale house it was very chilly with a hint the sun might join us. “Let’s hope the walk to the High Line doesn’t take too long” I mumbled to myself.