What’s the most famous Irish bar in New York City?

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McSorley’s, the venerable Irish pub, proudly holds the distinction of being the longest-standing tavern in New York City, maintaining its operations uninterrupted over the years. In 1970, a significant shift occurred as the pub opened its doors to female patrons, marking a pivotal moment.

Nevertheless, the essence of McSorley’s has persevered for well over a century and a half, virtually untouched. From the time-honored sawdust-strewn floor to the eclectic assortment of memorabilia adorning its walls (including priceless artifacts like Houdini’s handcuffs), every corner echoes with the spirit of yesteryears. Central to the experience is McSorley’s Cream Stock Ale, a signature brew available on tap, which further immerses visitors in the nostalgia of historic New York City.

the most famous Irish bar in New York City
McSorley’s Old Ale House

The History of the most famous Irish Bar in New York City

Originating as a modest Irish working-class pub, McSorley’s journeyed from offering complimentary cheese and crackers alongside affordable beer to attaining mainstream recognition through a 1940s profile in the NEW YORKER magazine. This iconic establishment is steeped in the rich tapestry of American culture. Presidents, locals, authors, and even those of less savory intent have all congregated under its roof, all adhering to the unspoken decree of McSorley’s: “Be Good or Be Gone.” Presented here is a chronological narrative — a blend of oral tradition and visual anecdotes, a fusion of reality and whimsy.

McSorley’s Bar

1827 John McSorley, birthplace: Co. Tyrone, Ireland

1847 Onset of the Potato Blight in Southern Ireland

1850 Impact of potato crop failure spreads to Northern Counties of Ireland

1851 John McSorley arrives in New York City aboard The Colonist ship from Liverpool

1854 At 15 East 7th Street in New York City, John McSorley establishes an ale house named “The Old House at Home”

1855 Marriage of John McSorley and Honora Henley

1856 Birth of their first child, Peter McSorley

1861 Birth of William J. McSorley, John’s favored son and the future steward of McSorley’s Old Ale House

1864-65 The structure at 15 East 7th Street undergoes improvements, evolving into a five-story tenement where John and his family reside above the bar

1868 The passing of Honora McSorley leaves John to care for their three children

1872 John McSorley weds Catherine Donovan

1875 Bill McSorley, apprenticed in the art of the ale house, cultivates a deep affection for the establishment

1882 “McSorley’s Inflation,” a play featuring a bar owner named Peter McSorley, graces the Broadway stage, performing over 100 times

1888 Property ownership shifts as John and Catherine acquire the building at 15 East 7th Street

1904 The 50th anniversary celebration of The Old House at Home

1905-06 An experimental phase commences, briefly serving hard liquor alongside ale; however, McSorley’s returns to exclusively offering ale

1908 A storm-induced mishap necessitates replacing the sign with “McSorley’s Old Time Ale House,” later simplified

1910 At the age of 83, John McSorley passes away in the second-floor flat above the bar

1911 Bill McSorley assumes ownership of the ale house, converting it into a tribute to his late father

1913 John Sloan unveils his painting “McSorley’s Bar” at the Armory Show, priced at $500 but remaining unsold

1920 Prohibition takes effect, rendering various alcoholic beverages illegal; McSorley’s adapts by selling “Near Beer”

1925 Renowned poet e.e. cummings authors the poem “Sitting in McSorley’s”

1928 John Sloan captures “McSorley’s Saturday Night” in a painting, depicting patrons with mugs in hand

1932 Passing of Catherine McSorley, widow of John McSorley

1933 Prohibition concludes; McSorley’s retains its core principles despite societal shifts, embracing “Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies”

1934 Fidelio Brewery introduces bottled McSorley’s Ale, Stout & Lager Beer

1936 Bar ownership transfers from Bill McSorley to Daniel O’Connell, an NYPD officer and patron, maintaining continuity

1938 Bill McSorley passes away

1939 Ownership transitions to Daniel’s daughter, Dorothy O’Connell Kirwan; patrons speculate on potential changes, but the essence remains untouched

1940 Journalist Joseph Mitchell’s visit results in the pivotal article “The Old House at Home,” breathing new life into the aging establishment

1943 Joseph Mitchell’s articles coalesce into the book “McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon”; Life Magazine spotlights the saloon in a photographic feature

1954 McSorley’s centennial celebration, still maintaining a no-women policy, including its owner, on all days except Sundays

1960 Harry Kirwan’s son, Danny, begins his apprenticeship at the bar

1964 Chance encounter in Ireland introduces Matthew Maher to McSorley’s; he becomes a fixture, later purchasing it

1969 Legal pressure mounts for McSorley’s to admit women

1970 Under legal obligations, McSorley’s opens its doors to women, though facilities for them remain limited; predictions of its demise prove unfounded

1974 Dorothy Kirwan passes away

1975 Harry Kirwan’s death transfers ownership to his “beloved son,” Danny Kirwan

1977 Matthew Maher, night manager, purchases the establishment, marking its third ownership change

1986 Introduction of a women’s restroom at the Old House

1994 Teresa Maher de la Haba, daughter of Matthew Maher, becomes the first woman to tend the bar

Learn more about McSorley’s in this Fascinating New York City Prohibition Tour:

Fascinating New York City Prohibition Tour from Viator

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