Description & Building Alterations
When McSorley’s Old Ale House opened its doors for business in 1854, Franklin Pierce was president, the Civil War was still a decade away, and lunch was free to patrons. The only significant change to the motley customers happened in 1970 when McSorley’s was forced by the courts to admit women. After that, the motto was amended from “Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies” to “good Ale and Raw Onions.” McSorley’s, in every other way, has not changed. When pictures were put on the walls in the 1800s, they stayed there, even as other items were added in the intervening years. The souvenirs helped draw tourists and visitors to McSorley’s even more than the ale and onions with saltine crackers. On permanent display, today you can find everything from theater and sports memorabilia to the chair of Peter Cooper, the founder of Cooper Union, a mug that Cooper engraved with an ice pick, and flags, cartoons, clipping, and photographs.
McSorley’s has had a very diverse crowd, and it has attracted numerous celebrities, artists, political figures, and more. Four presidents, including Lincoln and Clinton, have stopped in for a drink at the bar; Brendan Behan had a favorite seat by the fire; John Sloan painted pictures of the bar at least four times (one of which is in the Whitney Museum’s permanent collection); e.e. cummings has a poem about McSorley’s; and New Yorker columnist Joseph Mitchell wrote a famous article about the ale house in 1940 called “The Old House at Home.” Countless other notables have stopped in over the years, and some continue to do so today.
For more information about this building and the neighborhood, please click on the links under Additional Resources.
Block : 463 / Lot : 50 / Building Date : Circa 1865 / Original Owner : John N. Mitchell / Original Use : Residential/Commercial / Original Architect : Unknown