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Going Back In Time At McSorley’s Old Ale House In New York


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Kristen Prosser



When it comes to experiencing the rich history and vibrant culture of New York City, few establishments can compare to McSorley’s Old Ale House. Located in the heart of the East Village, McSorley’s has been a beloved institution for over 165 years. Stepping inside its doors is like taking a journey back in time, where you can immerse yourself in the stories and spirits of generations past.


Established in 1854, McSorley’s is one of the oldest continuously operating bars in New York City. From the moment you set foot inside, you are greeted by the unmistakable scent of aged wood and the echoes of countless conversations that have filled this historic space throughout the decades.


As you enter, you can’t help but notice the sawdust-covered floors, a tradition that dates back to the early days of the bar. It’s said that the sawdust was used to soak up the excess ale spilled during the lively evenings of yesteryear. This small detail is just one of the many ways that McSorley’s holds onto its rich history and unique charm.


Whether you’re a local or a visitor, stepping into McSorley’s feels like being transported to another era. The walls are adorned with yellowed photographs, faded newspaper clippings, and decades-old memorabilia. It’s a visual feast that tells the story of the city and the generations of patrons who have passed through these doors.


McSorley’s Old Ale House is not just a place to grab a drink; it’s a living museum, a testament to the enduring spirit of New York City. Its walls have witnessed historic events, literary gatherings, and lively debates among artists and intellectuals. It’s a place where time stands still, and the stories of old are cherished and shared with every newcomer who walks in.


Whether you’re sipping on McSorley’s famous ale, marveling at the memorabilia adorning the walls, or engaging in lively conversation, a visit to McSorley’s is an essential New York City experience. So, pull up a stool, soak in the ambiance, and let McSorley’s Old Ale House transport you to a bygone era of New York City history.


History of McSorley’s Old Ale House

McSorley’s Old Ale House has a rich and storied history that spans over a century. It all began in 1854 when Irish immigrant John McSorley opened the doors of what would become one of the most iconic bars in New York City.


Originally known as “The Old House at Home,” McSorley’s quickly became a gathering place for working-class Irish immigrants who sought solace in the familiar tastes and camaraderie of their homeland. It was a place where people could come together, share stories, and find a sense of belonging in a bustling and sometimes overwhelming city.


Throughout the years, McSorley’s endured both triumphs and challenges. During Prohibition, when the sale of alcohol was illegal, McSorley’s managed to stay afloat by operating as a “speakeasy.” Patrons would enter through a hidden door and enjoy the secret pleasure of a pint, at a time when drinking was forbidden.


Despite these hurdles, McSorley’s remained a beloved establishment and a symbol of resilience for the community. Over time, it garnered a reputation as a gathering spot for artists, intellectuals, and politicians. It became a place where ideas were shared, fates were sealed, and friendships were forged.


One of the defining moments in McSorley’s history came during the 1910s and 1920s when an influx of famous writers, poets, and journalists flocked to the bar. The likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, E.E. Cummings, and John Steinbeck were all regular patrons who found inspiration within the walls of McSorley’s.


During the 1960s, McSorley’s Old Ale House faced the threat of closure due to urban development plans. However, a dedicated group of patrons and neighborhood activists fought to preserve this iconic establishment. They succeeded, and McSorley’s was designated a New York City landmark in 1966.


Today, McSorley’s Old Ale House stands as a testament to the perseverance of its founders and the generations of New Yorkers who have passed through its doors. It continues to be a place where history and tradition are celebrated, while providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who enter.


As you sit at the worn wooden bar, surrounded by the ghosts of the past, you can’t help but feel a connection to the countless individuals who sought refuge and camaraderie at McSorley’s throughout the decades. It’s a living testament to the resilience and enduring spirit of New York City, and a place where history comes alive with every sip.


The Famous McSorley’s Ale

One of the most enduring legacies of McSorley’s Old Ale House is its iconic beverage, McSorley’s Ale. This legendary brew has been quenching the thirst of patrons for over a century and has become synonymous with the bar itself.


McSorley’s Ale is a traditional Irish-style ale that has been brewed on-site since the bar’s inception. The recipe has remained unchanged throughout the years, a testament to the commitment to preserving the authenticity of this beloved drink.


When you order a pint of McSorley’s Ale, you’ll receive two small, unadorned mugs. This tradition dates back to the days when patrons were served two beers at a time to keep up with the high demand. It’s a unique and memorable experience that adds to the charm of McSorley’s.


McSorley’s Ale is known for its smooth and malty flavor, with a hint of hops that provides a balanced and satisfying taste. It’s a beer that resonates with both seasoned beer enthusiasts and casual drinkers alike.


One notable aspect of McSorley’s Ale is its low alcohol content. While many craft beers today boast high alcohol percentages, McSorley’s Ale maintains a modest alcohol level, allowing patrons to enjoy more pints without the fear of becoming too intoxicated.


Another interesting fact about McSorley’s Ale is that it is unfiltered and unpasteurized, giving it a distinct character and depth of flavor. This brewing method adds to the authenticity and artisanal appeal of the beer, making each sip a unique and memorable experience.


Over the years, McSorley’s Ale has gained a loyal following, both locally and internationally. It has become a symbol of McSorley’s Old Ale House and a representation of its enduring legacy.


Whether you’re a beer aficionado or simply looking to try something new, a pint of McSorley’s Ale is a must-have when visiting this historic establishment. It embodies the spirit of McSorley’s, bringing together tradition, community, and unparalleled flavor in every glass.


So, raise a mug, toast to the past, and savor the taste of McSorley’s Ale as you become part of the rich history that flows through each pint.


The Unique Atmosphere of McSorley’s

Walking into McSorley’s Old Ale House, you are instantly enveloped in a captivating and unique atmosphere that sets it apart from any other bar in New York City. The combination of its historic charm, traditional decor, and lively ambiance creates an experience that is truly one-of-a-kind.


One of the first things you’ll notice upon entering McSorley’s is the dimly lit interior, with the soft glow of gas lamps casting a warm and inviting atmosphere. The low lighting creates an intimate setting, perfect for conversations and connecting with friends old and new.


The rustic decor of McSorley’s adds to its distinctive charm. The walls are adorned with an eclectic mix of memorabilia, including vintage beer steins, historic photographs, and faded newspaper clippings. These artifacts offer a glimpse into the bar’s rich history and serve as conversation starters among patrons.


The time-worn wooden bar, with its worn edges and scratches, has hosted countless conversations and witnessed the unfolding of both personal and historical moments. Sitting at the bar, you can almost feel the weight of the stories and memories that have been shared within these walls.


The animated conversations that fill the air at McSorley’s add to the vibrant ambiance. Locals and tourists alike gather here to engage in spirited debates, share laughter, and forge new friendships. It’s a place where strangers become companions over a shared appreciation for history, culture, and a love of McSorley’s.


The bartenders at McSorley’s also contribute to the unique experience. Known for their wit and banter, they add a touch of entertainment to your visit. They effortlessly pour pint after pint, keeping the ale flowing while engaging patrons with their colorful stories and quick humor.


One of the trademarks of McSorley’s is the sawdust-covered floors. This charming detail harks back to the early days when sawdust was used to absorb spills, keeping the floors clean during the hustle and bustle of the bar. The crunch of the sawdust under your feet adds to the nostalgic ambiance of the establishment.


Perhaps the most striking aspect of McSorley’s atmosphere is the palpable sense of history that permeates the air. As you sit among the vintage photographs and artifacts, you can almost feel the presence of the countless individuals who have come before you. It’s a place where time seems to stand still, allowing you to connect with the past and become a part of the legacy of McSorley’s.


Whether you’re seeking a quiet afternoon pint or a lively evening among friends, the unique atmosphere of McSorley’s Old Ale House promises an experience that will transport you to a bygone era of New York City. It’s a place where you can savor the past while creating new memories that will be cherished for years to come.


The Memorabilia Displayed at McSorley’s

As you step into McSorley’s Old Ale House, you’re immediately greeted by a mesmerizing display of memorabilia that adorns every inch of the walls. The collection of artifacts is a testament to the rich history and vibrant culture that defines this iconic New York City establishment.


The walls of McSorley’s are covered with a captivating assortment of photographs, newspaper clippings, and various knick-knacks that have been collected over the decades. Each piece tells a story, making a visit to McSorley’s not just a drink at the bar, but a glimpse into the past.


One prominent feature of the memorabilia is the notable figures who have frequented McSorley’s throughout its history. Photos of presidents, celebrities, and influential figures line the walls, showcasing the bar’s status as a meeting place for the famous and the influential. It’s as if you are stepping into a living history book, surrounded by the faces of those who have helped shape the world.


Another fascinating aspect of the memorabilia at McSorley’s is the display of vintage beer steins. These ornate and meticulously crafted vessels provide a glimpse into the drinking culture of the past. Some of the steins date back decades, showcasing the intricate craftsmanship and artistry that went into creating these functional works of art.


The walls also showcase various newspaper clippings, capturing moments of significance throughout McSorley’s history. These articles highlight milestones, events, and stories associated with the bar, offering a fascinating glimpse into how McSorley’s has become woven into the fabric of New York City.


Among the newspaper clippings, you’ll also find historical photographs capturing the essence of the city and its inhabitants throughout the years. These vintage snapshots transport you to a different era, evoking a sense of nostalgia as you witness scenes of bygone New York.


One particularly striking feature of McSorley’s memorabilia is the collection of wishbones hanging from the gas lamps. The tradition of breaking wishbones and leaving them as a symbol of good luck dates back to the early days of the bar. It’s a unique and whimsical touch that adds to the charm and folklore surrounding McSorley’s.


Walking through McSorley’s, it’s clear that every piece of memorabilia has been carefully curated and chosen to showcase the establishment’s rich history. The collection serves as a visual narrative that connects the present to the past, paying homage to the countless individuals who have passed through these doors.


Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a lover of vintage relics, or simply curious about the stories behind the artifacts, the memorabilia at McSorley’s is sure to captivate and pique your interest. It’s a treasure trove of history and nostalgia that makes every visit to McSorley’s a truly immersive experience.


The Legendary Figures Associated with McSorley’s

Throughout its long and storied history, McSorley’s Old Ale House has been frequented by an array of legendary figures who have left an indelible mark on New York City and beyond. From politicians to writers, from actors to activists, McSorley’s has welcomed them all, becoming a gathering place for the movers and shakers of their time.


One of the most notable visitors to McSorley’s is President Abraham Lincoln. Legend has it that Lincoln stopped by for a drink on his way to his inauguration in 1861. His visit remains a cherished and well-documented moment in the history of McSorley’s.


Not far behind, Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was a regular at McSorley’s. Known for his love of adventure and his larger-than-life personality, Roosevelt would often stop by for a pint of McSorley’s Ale, mingling with the locals and immersing himself in the vibrant atmosphere.


McSorley’s has also been a haven for writers and artists. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the iconic author of “The Great Gatsby,” found inspiration within the walls of the bar. E.E. Cummings, the renowned poet, was known to frequent McSorley’s as well, drawing inspiration from the lively conversations and unique ambiance that permeated the bar.


John Steinbeck, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, was another prominent figure who sought solace and inspiration at McSorley’s. It was said that he was often spotted sitting at the bar, observing the patrons and absorbing the vibrant energy of the place.


In addition to writers and presidents, McSorley’s has seen its fair share of celebrities over the years. Actress Mae West was a regular patron, known for her quick wit and glamorous presence. Not to be outdone, Woody Guthrie, the legendary folk singer and songwriter, often performed at McSorley’s, mesmerizing audiences with his heartfelt music.


Yet, it’s not only the famous who have left their mark on McSorley’s. The bar has been a gathering place for activists and thinkers, too. Emma Goldman, a prominent anarchist and feminist, was known to frequent the bar, engaging in spirited discussions with like-minded individuals.


These legendary figures, along with countless others, have contributed to McSorley’s status as a hub for creativity, intellect, and camaraderie. Their presence and influence can still be felt within the walls of the bar, creating an ambiance that is rich with history and a touch of magic.


Stepping into McSorley’s today, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe and reverence for the prominent figures who have graced the bar with their presence. Their legacy lingers, reminding us of the profound impact that one establishment can have on the cultural fabric of a city.


So, as you raise a pint at McSorley’s Old Ale House, take a moment to appreciate the legendary figures who have walked these hallowed grounds before you. Their spirits live on, adding to the allure and mystique of this beloved New York City institution.


McSorley’s Old Ale House Today

Despite the passage of time and the ever-changing landscape of New York City, McSorley’s Old Ale House remains a beloved institution that continues to captivate both locals and visitors from around the world. Today, McSorley’s stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of camaraderie, tradition, and history.


Walking into McSorley’s today, you’ll find the same distinct charm and atmosphere that has drawn patrons for over a century. The sawdust-covered floors, the weathered wooden bar, and the collection of memorabilia still grace the walls, creating an ambiance that is both nostalgic and inviting.


Despite its iconic status, McSorley’s has managed to retain its authenticity. The bar’s commitment to preserving its storied past is evident in every aspect, from the unchanged recipe of its famous ale to the carefully curated collection of artifacts that line the walls.


While McSorley’s is deeply rooted in history, it continues to adapt to the modern world. The bar now accepts credit cards, a departure from its long-standing cash-only policy. This change reflects the evolving times and makes it more convenient for patrons to enjoy the unique experience that McSorley’s offers.


While McSorley’s is a destination for tourists seeking a taste of authentic New York City, it remains a cherished local hangout for the East Village community. Locals gather here to catch up with friends, engage in lively conversations, and escape the fast-paced world outside.


McSorley’s also continues to host events and celebrations, ensuring that it remains a vibrant and lively place. From St. Patrick’s Day festivities to live music performances, there is always something happening at McSorley’s to keep the atmosphere buzzing with energy.


Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of McSorley’s today is the diverse mix of patrons who walk through its doors. The bar attracts people from all walks of life, from artists and intellectuals to blue-collar workers and college students. This melting pot of individuals contributes to the vibrant and inclusive nature of McSorley’s.


As you enjoy a pint of McSorley’s Ale or engage in conversation with fellow patrons, you become part of the ongoing story of this historic establishment. McSorley’s is not just a bar; it’s a community, a living testament to the enduring spirit of New York City.


So, whether you’re a first-time visitor or a longtime regular, a trip to McSorley’s Old Ale House is an experience that should not be missed. It’s a chance to step back in time, immerse yourself in the rich history of the city, and forge connections with the past and present. McSorley’s remains a beacon of tradition, friendship, and the enduring magic of New York City.



McSorley’s Old Ale House is not just a bar; it’s a living testament to the history, culture, and spirit of New York City. For over 165 years, this iconic establishment has welcomed patrons from all walks of life, providing a space where stories are shared, friendships are forged, and history comes alive.


Stepping into McSorley’s is like taking a journey back in time. The sawdust-covered floors, the vintage memorabilia adorning the walls, and the lively conversations that fill the air transport you to a bygone era. Here, you can savor the famous McSorley’s Ale, steeped in tradition and enjoyed by generations of loyal patrons.


The atmosphere of McSorley’s is as unique as the history that permeates its walls. It’s a place where presidents and writers have found solace, where activists and artists have engaged in spirited discussions, and where friendships have blossomed over pints of ale.


Today, McSorley’s Old Ale House continues to thrive as a cherished institution. While it remains steeped in tradition, it also embraces the evolving times, ensuring that both longtime regulars and new visitors feel welcome.


McSorley’s is not just a bar; it’s a symbol of resilience, community, and the enduring spirit of New York City. It’s a place where history and modernity coexist, where the past merges with the present, and where countless stories are waiting to be shared.


So, whether you’re a history buff, an ale aficionado, or simply curious about experiencing the authentic atmosphere of New York City, a visit to McSorley’s Old Ale House is an absolute must. Immerse yourself in the rich history, raise a mug of McSorley’s Ale, and become part of the ongoing legacy of this legendary establishment.


As McSorley’s continues to serve as a gathering place for kindred spirits and a testament to the indomitable spirit of the city, it stands as a reminder of the power of tradition, camaraderie, and the shared experiences that shape our lives.