McSorley's Old Ale House By Terrence Lavin
Past the bar, in the back room, are a few more beaten but sturdy tables that ring the walls filled with more fading photographs, pennants and aged paintings. One of the best history lessons you can give yourself is to look at the old photographs of McSorley’s gatherings hanging on the wall, where you can stare into a photo of the exact spot were you are sitting now -- look at these men in their handlebar mustaches, or bowler hats celebrating one event or another -- look at the dates: 1890, 1904, 1926, and nothing has changed! Every picture on the wall, every political poster, every plume of dust is just where it’s been for well over a hundred years!
Beyond the history and lore of McSorley’s, the reason it is still the greatest tavern in America is found in its simplicity, which has remained constant for generations -- they serve only two types of ale, light and dark. Period. And, it is cheaper to buy two at a time -- currently, two mugs of ale will cost you a total of $4. The rule of the house is equally simple, “Be Good or Be Gone!” During Prohibition the New York Times, while remarking on the beautiful painting of McSorley’s by John Sloan twenty years prior (which can still be found in the Detroit Institute of Art), quoted the strict accord for the bar which was passed on from John McSorley to his son, and on down to today. It encapsulates this old ale house beautifully:
Nothing but ale was ever sold over this bar – no beer, no mixed drinks, no “drunks.” A place where the world seems shut out, where there is no time, no turmoil. Had all American saloons been of this kind, no 18th Amendment would now be driving us to ‘hard liquor.’