Finance: Inside one of New York City's oldest and most famous bars, which serves only 2 beers and didn't allow women in until 1970


A bartender at McSorley's Old Ale House, one of the oldest bars in New York.

Established in 1854, McSorley’s Old Ale House is one of New York City’s oldest bars.

  • Established in 1854, McSorley's Old Ale House is one of New York City's oldest bars.
  • The bar is still open in its original location.
  • Hundreds of items hang on its walls, some of which have been there since the day it opened.

McSorley's Old Ale House is one of the oldest bars in New York City. Established in 1854, the bar still serves its signature ale and sits in the same location as it did from the beginning.

Plenty of famous people have walked through its doors, like Teddy Roosevelt, Woody Guthrie, John Lennon, Babe Ruth, Hunter S. Thompson, and Harry Houdini. President Abraham Lincoln is rumored to have paid McSorley's a visit, and E.E. Cummings even wrote a poem about the bar.

Going inside McSorley's feels like a trip back in time, and there are signs of its history all around. Ahead, take a look inside the famous ale house.

McSorley's Old Ale House is located in the East Village, on 7th Street near 3rd Avenue in the St. Mark's Historic District.

Established in 1854, the pub boasts the slogan: “We were here before you were born.”

Only two types of beer are served at McSorley's: a pale ale and a dark porter. Ordering is easy — you simply say “light” or “dark.”

Within seconds, your drinks are slammed down on the table.

You might be sitting with strangers since the tables are communal.

The ale house was founded by John McSorley, an immigrant from Ireland who landed in New York in 1851. The location (where it still stands today) was prime — nearby was a transportation hub for horse carriages, and there was a busy market across the street.

During the era of Prohibition, McSorley's ale was made in washtubs located in the cellar. The owner at that time would refer to it as “near beer.”

Source: The New Yorker

Remarkably, the same art and tchotchkes still hang on the bar's walls, gathering dust and grime from the bar's many years in business. The collection has only grown.

They serve as a reminder of the history that the bar has lived through. The last time something was removed from the walls was back in 1910.

Source: Atlas Obsurca

You'll see portraits of past presidents, firefighters' hard caps, patches, and pins. According to the official historian of McSorley's, Bill Wander, there are even shackles that were worn by a prisoner of war during the time of the Civil War.


Sports memorabilia is also prevalent throughout the bar.

Wishbones hanging from a light fixture are also among the bar's most famous mementos.

During World War I, McSorley's began a tradition of giving soldiers heading off to war a turkey dinner and, of course, pints of ale. The turkey wishbones were hung and left as a good-luck charm, and those who returned would bring their wishbone back down.

The bones left still hanging represent the unlucky soldiers who did not return. In 2011, the two dozen wish bones were finally dusted off and cleaned in response to health inspectors' orders.

Source: Atlas Obsurca, The New York Times

Women were not allowed into McSorley's until 1970, when a city ordinance banned discrimination against women in public places. The ladies' bathroom, however, wasn't added until 1985.

Another tradition McSorley's has kept is its sawdust-covered floor. Back in the days when its patrons were chewing tobacco, spit would go flying, and the sawdust would absorb it along with any beer spills. The sawdust also makes sliding a large box of beer across the floor much easier.


McSorley's also has a food menu.

In 1966, The New York Times published an article titled “McSorley's Saloon: A Gentleman's Preserve,” which featured the bar's chili recipe. Even then, the writer noted, “All the tables at McSorley's have a rather distressed appearance.”

Source: The New York Times

Not much has changed — except for the price. In 1940, The New Yorker reported that beer cost only a dime per mug, and in 1966, two of the half-pints cost a mere 35 cents. Today, a beer costs $5.50.