by Carly Marsh
This post was updated on Feb. 20.*
Fresh off the train from Omaha, Neb., for businessmen Bob Schwanke, 50, and Mark Kuecker, 47 headed to McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village Thursday afternoon. They sat at a round wooden table next to the 160-year-old coal stove and ordered two beers each.
“Reputation is in Omaha is this is the first place to come when you’re in New York City,” Kuecker said.
“A friend of ours was here from Omaha six or eight months ago,” Schwanke said.
“I just sent him a picture of us and our four beers. He’s jealous,” Kuecker said.
Since 1854, McSorley’s Old Ale House on East 7 Street near Cooper Square has drawn New Yorkers and tourists alike. There is no formal advertising for this bar; its popularity multiplies through word of mouth. And on Feb. 17, the city’s oldest authentic Irish pub, famous for its sawdust covered floor and signature light and dark brews served two at a time, will quietly mark its 160th anniversary.
The bar has survived despite the ups and downs of prohibition and anti-Irish sentiment in the early 20th century. It stayed open during prohibition serving “near beer,” a non-alcoholic ale in the same fashion as the signature light and dark.
It’s helped six Irish owners and three families make livings. It’s had to kick out the famous cats that once lounged below the coal stove and dust off the wishbones that hang on a lamp above the bar to comply with health inspections.
But it’s still here and still serving up beers the same way it has for 160 years.Bartenders in crisp white button downs stand behind the bar pouring mug after mug of light or dark ale, in even numbers only. Waiters wearing untucked light blue dress shirts with blue jeans take orders, rack the mugs on the bar and then slam them down onto the table.
Watier Shane Buggy, 27, moved from Laois, a town in southeast Ireland, to New York in 2008 to work with his cousins at McSorley’s for a few months. Today, six years later he’s still here, and lives above the bar, like many McSorley employees before him.
Memorabilia and knick knacks that cover practically every nook give the bar an antique-store like charm, but despite its age, the bar keeps getting busier At Christmastime, Buggy said he worked one of the busiest nights he had ever seen at the bar.
“They drank so many, just darks,” he said. “I looked like I had a fake tan on my hands after I was done with work.”
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*The caption for slide two originally stated the portrait was of John McSorley, it is of Peter Cooper. Slide four originally stated that Bill McSorley posted the wanted poster in the bar. It was his father John. In slide seven the employee who caught the fish was updated and identified as Harry Kirwan. The caption for slide eight has been clarified to specify that the “shrunken heads” are not real heads but coconuts carved to look like heads.