Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies

MCSORLEY'S OLD ALE HOUSE was founded in 1854 by a Quaker Irishman John McSorley, this East Village bar (at East Seventh Street near Second Avenue) and was first known as The Old House at Home, and modeled after public houses in Ireland.  McSorley’s was originally a bar for working Irishmen and a men’s-only bar.  Its motto was:  “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies.”  It is the “oldest continuously operated saloon” in Manhattan.  Women were not admitted until 1970 when the National Organization for Women won a lawsuit in against McSorley’s discriminatory policy toward women, but it took the bar until the year 1987 to install a women's bathroom. 

Women, however, did not lack for bars and taverns to frequent.  In pre and post Civil War times there were many saloons and taverns with such ominous names as Hole-in-the-Wall and the French Madame (the latter  offered dark coffee, wines and liquors).  In The Gangs of New York, Herbert Ashbury paints a dark picture of an underworld of the City with evil and sinful dives, gambling houses, drunken brawlers, street fighters, night walkers (prostitutes), and houses of prostitution.  There were neighborhoods known as Murderers Alley and Den of Thieves, Paradise Square (where prostitutes sit in windows as they do  in today's red light district in Amsterdam), Sisters' Row (a row of seven houses of prostitution on West 25th Street operated by seven sisters from New England), Satan's Circus (24th to 40th Street between Fifth and Seventh Avenues) a neighborhood of some of the City's worst dives, Slaughted House Point (in downtown Manhattan at James and Water Streets) frequented byriver gangs and members of organized crime, and the Tenderloin, a very popular red-light district.

American artist, JOHN SLOAN – known for his paintings of every day people and life -- added to McSorley’s fame with his series of paintings of the bar (from 1912 to 1930).  A Life magazine photo story on the bar in the 1940s and essays published in the New Yorker by Joseph Mitchell (which later became a book, McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon) brought the bar national fame.  The bar’s name was officially changed to McSorley’ Ole Ale House in 1908 after its original sign blew down.  Its popularity with New York City policemen and politicians was so great that it remained open during the entire Prohibition period.  Due to its long history, visitors to McSorley’s have included many celebrities and artists and presidents (including Abe Lincoln).  Folk singer/composer Woody Guthrie was a regular.  While John McSorley and his son, Bill, ran the bar, the nightly tradition was that the evening’s last round was on the house.  McSorley’s golden rule was:  “Be Good or Be Gone.”  Some say the sawdust on the floor and the old photos, cartoons, newspaper and magazine clippings hanging on the walls are more memorable than the beer served here.  

Visit both McSorley's and Saint George's Ukrainian Catholic Church, designed in classical Ukrainian Byzantine architecture, at East 7th Street diagonally across the street from the bar.