I’ve had a few beers at McSorley’s Old Ale House on more than one occasion, but never have I had one there on St. Patrick’s Day. Many do, though, and they spill out of the ale house onto 7th Street in Manhattan’s East Village. McSorley’s has been there since 1845, so that’s well over 150 years serving green beer once a year.
Actually, I don’t know for certain that they do serve green beer since I’ve never been there on St. Patrick’s day (probably not.) It opens at 8 am and fills up right away. People start lining up as early as 6 am.
I found the following passage about McSorley’s (but not on St. Patrick’s Day) written by Joseph Mitchell in 1940 for The New Yorker. It’s fun to read right from the get go. How can you not like rickety chairs that squeak like new shoes every time a fat man breathes? And I love a misspelled chalkboard-menu, too.
from The Old House at Home (1940)
by Joseph Mitchell
McSorley’s bar is short, accommodating approximately ten elbows, and is shored up with iron pipes. It is to the right as you enter. To the left is a row of armchairs with their stiff backs against the wainscoting. The chairs are rickety; when a fat man is sitting in one, it squeaks like new shoes every time he takes a breath. The customers believe in sitting down; if there are vacant chairs, no one ever stands at the bar.
Down the middle of the room is a row of battered tables. Their tops are always sticky with spilled ale. In the centre of the room stands the belly stove, which has an isinglass door and is exactly like the stoves in Elevated stations. All winter Kelly keeps it red hot. “Warmer you get, drunker you get,” he says.
Some customers prefer mulled ale. They keep their mugs on the hob until the ale gets as hot as coffee. A sluggish cat named Minnie sleeps in a scuttle beside the stove. The floor boards are warped, and here and there a hole has been patched with a flattened-out soup can. The back room looks out on a blind tenement court.
In this room are three big, round dining room tables. The kitchen is in one corner of the room; Mike keeps a folding boudoir screen around the gas range, and pots, pans, and paper bags of groceries are stored on the mantelpiece. While he peels potatoes, he sits with early customers at a table out front, holding a dishpan in his lap and talking as he peels. The fare in McSorley’s is plain, cheap, and well cooked.
Mike’s specialties are goulash, frankfurters, and sauerkraut, and hamburgers blanketed with fried onions. He scribbles his menus in chalk on a slate which hangs in the bar-room and constantly misspells four dishes out of five. There is no waiter. During the lunch hour, if Mike is too busy to wait on the customers, they grab plates and help themselves out of the pots on the range.
“The Old House at Home” originally appeared in The New Yorker in 1940 and was reprinted in McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, published by Random House in 1943 and reprinted by Pantheon Books in 2001.