McSorley’s Old Ale House, established 1854, sits on E. 7th Street, off Third Avenue, in the East Village. They serve only two beers: McSorley’s Light and McSorley’s Dark.
Occupation, from whence, where now?
I’ve been day manager of McSorley’s for 31 years. I grew up in this particular neighborhood. I always thought it was great. My dad, he still lives here in the neighborhood. My brother moved back to his neighborhood. I just moved further uptown because my neice needed my cheap apartment, but it’s still in the family, and I’m here every day, so it feels like I never left. As a matter of fact I plan on retiring here. Everything’s at my disposal.
How many pictures are on the walls?
I would guess several hundred, and I have several hundred I can’t put anywhere. People continually bring something, they want to leave something. Unfortunately, we can’t oblige them all. There isn’t enough room in this place.
When did they first allow women into McSorley’s, and how has the place changed because of that?
August of 1970. The place got busier. At first, the old-timers said they’d never come back, but of course they eventually came back. Now they’re all dead anyway, so that doesn’t matter. Business got better because little boys and little girls like to socialize so they come here. This used to be a place where the elderly gentlemen would come and hide from their wives. I don’t think it would’ve closed, but it wouldn’t have succeeded. Ten thousand bars in this town, and none of them have the same claim to fame—longevity.
It’s hard to imagine that men actually didn’t want drunk girls around…
That was just the opinion of the old-timers. The owner at the time was going to allow women in anyway. He got so much publicity, he just took it for a ride, and apparently it paid off because 34 years later, people are still asking about it.
Where do you go for a drink?
I go home.
Is it true that Abraham Lincoln and J.F.K. have both come here to drink?
Wrong. The only president ever to visit McSorley’s was Abraham Lincoln, and he wasn’t president at the time. He wasn’t even a candidate. But apparently a speech he had given across the street in convinced the northern Republicans to nominate him. Peter cooper, who was one of his supporters, allowed him to use the Great Hall at his school, the largest meeting hall in New York City at that time. He was a regular customer.
What’s a particularly rowdy night at McSorley’s look like?
Never any fights. We like to call it “controlled chaos.” People think they’re having a good time, getting away with murder, but we do have it under control. I’ve only had to lift my hands once to a patron, and it was a woman. She wouldn’t get off the table. She was a cripple, no less. She hit me with her crutches. You never win when you fight a woman, regardless, but I had to subdue her, so to speak. The only time I’d ever had to raise my hand to anyone.
Has she been back?
Could you tell us the legend of the dusty turkey wishbones hanging up there?
The local guys, before they went overseas to fight in the Great War, before it was called World War I, would have a turkey dinner in here. They saved their wishbones and they’d hang them up on the chandelier. Guys that came back took their wishbones off. These were left to commemorate the fellows who didn’t come back. It was the least we could do, considering.
Have you read any of the literature written about McSorley’s? Have they captured the place?
Joe Mitchell’s works, in particular. The poem [by E.E. Cummings]. Most definitely, in their time.
Is McSorley’s New York’s “place where everybody knows your name”?
I thought Coach was great. But then Woody came around, and he was great. You have your regulars and your strangers that visit. I’ve had shrinks like Frasier that visit. They actually take advice more than they give it.
Why do you think this place has become a world-renowned landmark?
This is in at least a dozen different travel books that I’ve seen. One in particular I’ve seen in 20 different languages. And there’s two very nice photos of the interior in it. People gravitate to New York and enjoy the theater and what-have-you. Not just the country but around the world, especially nowadays with the dollar taking a beating. Recently we’ve had planeloads of Europeans coming, loading up, and it was still cheaper than going shopping at home. When you look at it globally right now, the last six months to a year, the euro’s way ahead of us.
After the Twin Towers, what bygone place or thing do you wish were still around?
The reservoir on 42nd Street, the Crystal Palace that was right next to it. But fortunately there’s a beautiful structure in its place: the 42nd Street library in Bryant Park. But people forget there were other beautiful things there as well, prior to them. There was a reservoir there and people would promenade around it on a Sunday, because you were above the rest of the city and you could see all the way down to the Battery.
What’s the best bargain to be found in the city?
Skipping school and riding the ferry for free. That’s what we used to do. Best bargain in New York? Put on a pair of sneakers and just walk. Plenty to see, no doubt about that.
What happened the last time you went to L.A.?
Never been. I’ve met a lot of people that’ve gone that way, and when they come back—surf’s up. They’re never the same.
Any advice for Mayor Bloomberg?
He’s doing a great job with what he’s working with. I’m a big fan of his.
What’d you think of Rudy?
I’m a great fan of his. He had a lot to work with. People forget he was despised when he first started. They said he was a dictator. That’s what it called for at the time.