McSorley’s in 1937, taken by Bernice Abbott. Via MCNY.
With rising rents and ever-changing commercial drags, New Yorkers can take comfort that the city still holds classic bar haunts, some of which have been serving booze for over 100 years. Some watering holes, like the Financial District’s Fraunces Tavern, played a crucial role in major historic events. Others, like Midtown’s 21 Club and the West Village’s White Horse Tavern, hosted the most notable New Yorkers of the time. These institutions all survived Prohibition–managing to serve alcohol in both unique and secretive ways–and figured out ways to serve a diverse, ever-changing clientele of New Yorkers up to this day.
6sqft rounded up the seven most impressive bars when it comes to New York City history–and they’ve got the legends, stories, and ghosts to prove it. From longshoreman bars to underground speakeasies to Upper East Side institutions, these are the watering holes that have truly withstood New York’s test of time.
This way for the roundup
6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, award-winning photographers James and Karla Murray return for Saint Patrick’s Day with a look inside McSorley’s Old Ale House. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
With Saint Patrick’s Day just around the corner, McSorley’s Old Ale House–located in the East Village on East 7th Street by Cooper Square–is readying to welcome a crowd of beer-loving New Yorkers and out-of-towners alike. What sets this watering hole apart, aside from its limited “dark or light” menu, is that it’s the oldest bar in the city, a distinction proven after extensive research by the bar’s official historian Bill Wander. We recently paid the Irish tavern a visit to capture its historic details such as the original wooden bar and pot-bellied stove; iconic tchotchkes adorning the walls, which run the gamut from shackles worn by a prisoner of war from the Civil War to a horseshoe that legend says came from one of the horses that pulled Abraham Lincoln’s hearse; and the fun-loving crowd that can be seen there on a typical day. We also chatted with Teresa Maher, the very first woman to work behind the bar in 1994.
See all the photos and hear from Teresa
Undoubtedly, there are hundreds of New Yorkers and out-of-towners planning to stop by McSorley’s Old Ale House today for a St. Patrick’s Day round of beers. But beyond the brews and bros, there’s a deep history rooted in this East Village institution, and we’ve found the man who knows it all.
The official historian of McSorley’s, Bill Wander can give you the full timeline that dates McSorley’s to 1854, making it the oldest bar in the city. He can also fill you in on all the tchotchkes adorning the walls of this Irish tavern, none of which have been removed since 1910. But more important than the textbook facts related to McSorley’s, Bill has an undeniable passion for this watering hole, for both its important cultural history and the unique social atmosphere that keeps the bar a neighborhood mainstay after all these years. We recently chatted with Bill to find out some of the lesser-known details about McSorley’s and what the title of “official historian” entails.
Read our full interview with Bill Wander here
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Images: Helicopter via alexjamesfitz via photopin cc (L); Fish market via nchoz via photopin cc (R)