I walked through the saloon style swinging doors of McSorley’s Old Ale House and felt far removed from Manhattan. The tables were full of loud Irish-accented men surrounded by empty beer mugs, which were strewn across the tables. Men in grey shirts walked the sawdust covered floor clearing over a dozen “empties” with a single grab–Skill! Quickly they would return to each wooden table top to slam down more foamy ales.
Arriving solo, I made my way to the far end of the bar right below the dust-covered wishbones* and ordered a light beer. Light or Dark, that’s the only choice of beverage. “We keep it simple here” said the bartender who I quickly began chatting with. I beg to differ. Simple, yes, but only in some ways: Stools are nonexistent, cash registers have no use, beer is one of two options and the place is heated by an old fireplace in the middle of the room. But the amount of memorabilia dating back 158 years (that’s how old this place is) makes me think that simple is not an appropriate description. Every inch of the two rooms that make up the bar are covered with history. Pictures, original WANTED posters, canes piled up in a corner (I like to think they were used by men in the 1800s) and so much more. You just have to go to experience it for yourself!
Once my friends arrived (did I mention it was my birthday?) we asked to be seated. Simple enough, one of the “men in grey” showed us to a table…a table where two men were already sitting. This was our introduction to communal seating and it turned out to be quite the experience. Imagine sitting, drinking with strangers, talking about the stories surrounding you (the stories plastered all over the walls) and about life in general. Very “un-New York,” since people tend to stick to themselves rather than engage in conversation with strangers.
It was a great spot to spend my birthday and I will soon be returning to share the enchantment with any and all visitors to NYC.
*These wishbones have been collected since World War I. The soldiers had wishes to stay home, to come back alive and for the war to be over. So they placed the wishbones on the chandelier and when they returned safely from war they would take the bone down. The remaining bones are representations of soldiers lost in battle, those soldiers unable to return to the bar to take their wishbone down. These bones have about an inch of dust on them, except for one at the very end. One bone is actually very white and new. This bone, I assume, is from a soldier fighting right now in the Middle East. I hope that the next time I go to McSorley’s the bones are all old and dusty, meaning that this soldier has made it safely home!