As a Brit who’s also enjoyed a beer or two in Ireland, I’d like to think I know a real pub when I see one. A lot of bars here in New York claim to be Irish but I’ve never seen any half as authentic as McSorley’s – the city’s first Irish tavern.
This East Village stalwart, which was established on 7th Street in 1854, is an experience: They only serve two types of beer (light or dark) or water and don’t seem to have much patience for anyone asking for anything else. The walls are covered with ancient nicknacks, paintings and posters, while the floors are strewn with sawdust to make clearing up spills easier. And ladies, they don’t exactly care if that sawdust is bad for your shoes – because you weren’t even allowed here until 1970, when the ‘men only’ rule was lifted.
Among the ancient nicknacks – which have stayed untouched since the owner’s death in 1910 – are some very rare, very cool things. Before Abraham Lincoln was president, he visited Cooper Union across the street with its founder, the industrialist Peter Cooper. Afterwards, they popped into McSorley’s where Abe stood on Cooper’s chair and delivered an impassioned speech. The chair, which no one but Cooper ever used, is still there – but it’s now propped up above the bar and crammed full with other memorabilia.
There’s another nod to Lincoln in the bar, albeit a more tragic one. Behind the rows of glass tankards is an original ‘Wanted’ poster for John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated him. The poster dates from April 20, 1865 – five days after the murder – and the reward is $100,000, which is staggering considering the year.
The rest of the place is crammed with pictures, maps, posters and signs that I could spend hours reading – if I wasn’t so busy necking the beer. Ryan had opted for the dark, while I went for the light, and for some reason they give you two (two for $5.50, not bad). Perhaps it’s because the beer has such a frothy head that by the time you get glugging, there’s not much in the glass. Don’t be put off by the lack of choice – it’s part of the fun and the beer is tasty. We couldn’t resist necking a few more. This really isn’t just any old bar and although it gets busy, tables are communal and there’s plenty of space on that sawdust-strewn floor. So leave your fancy shoes at home and get there for those two-for-one tankards.