McSorley's Old Ale House

Art & Culture | Bars | Restaurants

More than 160 Years of History adorn the walls of this New York Institution

mcsorleys old ale house east village dining

About McSorley's Old Ale House

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • If these walls could talk! McSorley’s exudes history, from Lincoln to Lennon to Babe Ruth and Houdini. It is truly one of the last bastions of old New York.
  • McSorley’s claims to have opened on East 7thStreet in 1854…which is probably true, though records are somewhat hazy. We can say for absolute certain it’s been there since the Civil War, as has its memorabilia. (Check out the original wanted poster for John Wilkes Booth!)
  • Most of the décor and the menu hasn’t changed since the 19th century.
    • It’s called an Ale House because McSorley’s serves ale. Just ale. Light and dark ale. And they come in pairs. Don’t order a Bud Light. Don’t order a Guinness. Order “light” or “dark” and own it.
    • They’ve been serving the chopped onions and cheese since day 1.
    • While the ale and the onions are eternal – the women are new. Women were not allowed in McSorley’s until 1970 – by court order. Prior to that, McSorley’s motto was “Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies.”
  • Another rare change occurred in 1908 when McSorley’s got a new sign, and a new name – because a storm blew down the original sign.
    • The bar’s founder, John McSorley, originally named his establishment The Old House at Home.
    • In 1908, it became McSorley’s Old Time Ale House (“Time” was later dropped).
  • McSorley’s history and its lifeblood are its patrons.
    • Peter Cooper, who founded Cooper Union across the street in 1859, was such a devoted regular that his chair was retired and stationed like a shrine behind the bar.
    • When Harry Houdini escaped not one, but two, sets of handcuffs at McSorley’s, the pub kept both – One for the wall, one cuffed to the bar!
  • Perhaps the most moving shrine to McSorley’s regulars is the wishbone chandelier.
    • Hopeful Doughboys hung wishbones above the bar as good luck charms before they left for WWI.
    • Billy McSorley vowed not to dust them until the boys came home.
    • The remaining wishbones honor the memory of the soldiers who never returned to collect them.
    • The bones are still there, but the decades of dust that encased them were banished by the Health Department, which insisted the chandelier finally be cleaned, in 2011.
  • For some patrons, not even death can keep them from McSorley’s.
    • To date, seven regulars have had their ashes interred behind the bar.
  • And, for most of its history, humans were not McSorley’s only regulars. Up until 2011, when NYC passed a law prohibiting bars and restaurants from keeping cats, up to 18 felines frequented McSorley’s on a regular basis.

Carpe City Trivia

McSorley's is an ale what's the difference between beer and ale?

We know the beer geeks out there are pointing out, “you mean the difference between lager and ale?!?”

Yes, we do. So here it is:

  • It’s all about yeast type and fermentation.
  • Top-fermenting yeast at room temperature produces ale, which is lighter in color than lager.
  • Bottom-fermenting yeast, at a much lower temperature, will give you lager.

By: Lucie Levine
Photography by:

Anne Crays

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