McSorley’s Old Ale House

October 10, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | Filed under Brewer: McSorley's, Country: America, Grade: B regular, Grade: C regular, Style: Lager.

15 E. Seventh Street, New York City

I don’t do bar reviews and I’m not exactly gonna do one here.  Fact is, there ain’t a need to, more words have been written about McSorley’s than probably any other bar in America.  Hell, you can even find an article simply about the urinals at the bar, first installed in 1911 and first made uncivilizably disgusting probably three minutes later.  Thing is, every New Yorker knows–or thinks they know–about McSorley’s and it’s the one bar we’ve all pretty much been to in town. We all love to spout off the “facts” we know about the place–some true, some false, most kinda true–but just like the newspaper editor so famously said in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valiance“: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Here are some of my favorite legends (“facts”) which I neither know if they are true, false, nor half-true, but which I know are all indeed interesting.  You can do the research for yourself:

*McSorley’s is the oldest still-open bar in New York and America.

*Houdini’s handcuff’s hang in the bar, though I’ve never seen them myself.

*Abe Lincoln once drank there.  So did Teddy Roosevelt.

*Though women weren’t allowed to drink there til the 1970s.

*And when McSorley’s owners were finally forced to allow women entry, they made them use a bathroom behind the men’s bathroom.  As in women had to enter the men’s room, walk behind the backs of countless barbarians pissing at the aforementioned urinals, and then enter their ladies room.  Awesome.

But as you’ve probably guessed, not a lot of ladies go to McSorley’s.  Gentlemen either.  Or at least, any ladies and/or gentleman are quickly vulgarians upon entering the place.  You know, like it’s kinda impossible to simply be a watcher at an orgy.  Uh…never mind.

McSorley’s is still kinda rough and tumble, all the wall decorations caked in filth that could probably be carbon-dated back to the 1800s, saw dust still covers the floors, vomiting is all but encouraged, and there’s probably still spittoons in the corners.  The bartenders are rude as hell and have earned the place a nickname of McSurley’s.  If you haven’t been tossed from the place at least once, then you’re a saint of epic proportions or a liar.

But it’s all pretty much a gimmick.  Shit they even have a nicely designed website nowadays*.  McSorley’s is now just a faux-dive bar.  A safe place for yuppies to feel like they’re actually drinking in a scary place.  A real honest-to-god Eye-reesh bar!  Having said that, though it is faux-divey and scary, it is legitimately filthy.  I’d encourage you to garb yourself in clothes that are just one wearing away from going to Goodwill.

I hit the Old Ale House once or twice a year, but only when I have friends in town.  And, I had a friend in town this weekend and thus we went.

Imbibers at McSorley’s quickly learn there’s not much of a drink selection at the bar, but more on that in a second.  First, my favorite McSorley’s story ever, of which the opening line sounds like the start to some old guy’s lame joke:

So a fey and effette youth walks into the bar:

“Whatta ya’ haf?” says the surly barkeep whose seen more shit in his life than a turd farmer.

“Cosmo.  Up please.”

The bartender remains stoic, “We ain’t got d’ose.”

“OK, then a pinot grigio.”

Without turning his head or changing his expression, the bartender juts his left arm at the door like a Nazi salute but with only his pointer finger extended.


You see, literally the only thing one can drink at McSorley’s is their two house beers on tap.  Known simply as “dark” and “light,” they come in half-pint mugs which go for two bucks a piece.  No one goes to McSorley’s to sip, you go to drink, like that guy who used to appear at the end of “The Man Show,” thus with big crowds and insatiable thirsts, most people order ten beers for themselves at once.


5.93% ABV on draught**

I believe this is a dark lager and, you know, it’s not half bad.  I typically drink the darks by a ratio of about 3:1 over the lights.  It’s very easy to drink but some in your party may still struggle with it.  I’m absolutely convinced that sight is the absolute worst sense for a macro-drinking amateur to use when imbibing.  I have friends that the second they see a dark beer it’s, “Oh, it’s so heavy!  It must be so caloric!  It’s impossible to drink.”  Doesn’t matter if it’s a 4.2% 95 calorie Guinness, they still act like it’s a 20% 500 calorie Dogfish Head 120 Minute.  By the same regard, if they see a golden beer–kinda like they’re used to with macro crap–they have no problems.  This is best exhibited by the fact that most amateurs have no problems drinking golden tripels but faint at the sight, smell, and taste of the lower-ABV brown-colored dubbel.  What a buncha maroons.



3.9% ABV on draught***

And this is almost certainly a light lager and what your macro friends will exclusively drink at McSorley’s.  They may sip one dark, but they’ll quickly go back to the lights.  Fine with you, they already bought ten darks and now have nine left that they don’t want any more.  Damn it’s fine to be a skilled tippler!


My most recent visit to McSorley’s lasted two rounds of ten beers (i.e. fifteen minutes) before we were so fed up with the idiots congregating near us that we bolted.  Wise move.  Best to get in and out of this place late on weekend nights.  Better to go in the afternoon.

*Then again so does my dear mother. No you don’t get that hyper link.

**I’m using the listed ABV for the bottled versions which I’m not 100% positive are the exact same.  I’ve quite frankly never actually known.  And being that I’m always shitcanned when I drink at McSorley’s and have only had the bottled versions–bottled by Pabst Brewing no less!–a few times, I really can’t offer any thoughts as to whether they are similar formulas.


5 Responses to “McSorley’s Old Ale House”

  1. Dave says:

    I always wanted to stop by here, next time I visit my cousin in Hoboken I’ll look you up so we can stop by here and have a few =)

  2. Definitely. I actually used to live in Hoboken right out of college.

  3. Dave says:

    I was born in Jersey City so I know the area pretty good even though it’s been a long time since I’ve lived there.

  4. JC’s kinda hopping nowadays. I’m even going drinking and football watching their tomorrow afternoon.

  5. Dave says:

    Yeah, I heard it got built up a bit, well in certain areas. I do miss it sometimes but I don’t miss getting robbed. But I had some good childhood memories there.

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