While New York City is home to hundreds of bars, very few can claim the history and character of McSorley’s Old Ale House. They can boast being open for over 150 years and serving everyone from Abraham Lincoln to John Lennon. One of their mottos is “We were here before you were born.” (The other is “Be Good or Be Gone.”) With its sawdust-covered floors and memorabilia of decades gone by covering the walls, a visit to McSorley’s can feel a bit like stepping back in time. A pair of Harry Houdini’s handcuffs dangle from the bar rail. A “Wanted” poster for John Wilkes Booth hangs on the wall. You can look around and almost expect to see Boss Tweed sitting in the corner. If you find yourself near East 7th Street, duck in and have a cold beer at McSorley’s. Don’t miss an opportunity to see Old New York!!
- Take a historic NYC bar tour.
- Save on eating and drinking in New York City.
- Self-guided tour of the East Village
How to Get to McSorley's Old Ale House
McSorley's is located in between the West and East Village on East 7th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. We recommend using this Google map for directions to this historic New York bar. The closest subway stations are Astor Place (for the 6 line) and 8th Street/NYU (for the N + R lines). It's located nearby Cooper Union and NYU Universities.
Important Information About McSorley’s
Address: 15 East 7th Street
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11am-1am; Sunday 1pm-1am
Closest Subway: 6 train to Astor Place
Note: McSorley’s can get very crowded, especially at nighttime. While the throngs of people can add to the experience and make it more exciting, it may not be a great choice if you have been on your feet all day and are tired. If you have a chance to go during the day it is significantly quieter, crowds-wise. There is no website, but you could learn more at their Wikipedia page. Check out images and reviews on their Yelp page.
A Brief History…
Though there is some discrepancy over the actual date of establishment, McSorley’s states that they opened in 1854. The original owner was John McSorley, who, like many of his countrymen, was fleeing the Irish Potato Famine. He arrived in New York City in 1851 and established his bar three years later. He originally named it “The Old House At Home.” He continued to run the bar until his death in 1910 at the age of 83. His son, who had been working as his apprentice, took over operation of the bar, now called “McSorley’s Old Ale House. Operation continued through Prohibition, as McSorley’s sold Near Beer, in accordance with the new laws. They survived Prohibition and went back to making their regular ales. Even though the times were changing and most bars were beginning to admit women, McSorley’s stuck by their motto of “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies.” The bar was sold in 1936 to Daniel O’Connell, marking the first time it was not owned by a McSorley. The “No Ladies” policy continued until 1970 (including a time period when the bar was actually owned by a woman!) In 1970, the courts ordered McSorley’s to admit women. They did so, but did not add women’s restrooms, in a final defiant gesture. (Don’t be afraid to visit, ladies. They added a women’s restroom in 1986.) Just as they always have (except for a brief experiment with hard liquor in 1905-6), McSorley’s only serves their own ales, as delicious as ever!
- There are two drink options at McSorley’s: light ale or dark ale.
- Glasses are $2.75 each.
- A classic McSorley’s Cheese Plate comes with a package of Saltine crackers, cheese and raw onion. Just like in their old motto!
- E.E. Cummings wrote a poem about McSorley’s in 1925
- A collection of wishbones hangs over the bar. According to McSorley’s legend, these were placed there for good luck by soldiers heading off to fight in World War I. The soldiers who came home collected their wishbones from the bar. The wishbones remaining hang there in honor of those who didn’t make it back.
- McSorley’s has had a long line of feline inhabitants, the most recent being Minnie the Cat. In 2011, the Department of Health told the bar that Minnie the Cat was not longer allowed in the bar while they were open, to much public outcry. Cats have always been a part of McSorley’s. John McSorley’s son, Bill, kept as many as 18 cats in the bar at one time. The legend is that when the cats are in the windowsill, Harry Houdini’s ghost is visiting McSorley’s. Though she is not allowed in the bar anymore, Minnie maintains a Facebook fan page.
- When Abraham Lincoln was campaigning for candidacy for the 1860 Presidential Election he gave a speech at the Cooper Union. He unwound later over a beer at McSorley’s.
- Though McSorley’s didn’t allow women, a woman named Dorothy O’Connell Kirwan owned the bar for many years. It was left to her by her father, Daniel. She promised her father that she would never set foot in the place during operating hours and she stuck to her word, only visiting on Sundays when it was closed. The bar began admitting women under the management of her son, who wanted his mother to be the first woman served. She refused, still honoring her promise to her father.
- When the New York Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup, they took to McSorley’s and drank beer out of it. They had to return it to the NHL for several days afterwards for repairs.
There is no denying that McSorley’s is a unique piece of New York City history. Head down to East 7th St to grab a beer and a cheese plate! Raw onion and all!
Written by Katherine Weatherford
+++Katherine is a NYC tour guide with Free Tours by Foot. We offers pay-what-you-like walking, food, bike, and bus tours of New York City.+++