The Session #42: A Special Place, A Special Beer


I've recently stumbled upon The Session, a roundup of beer bloggers started by eminent Bay Area blogger Jay Brooks and the equally note-worty Stan Hieronymus. This weeks Session is hosted by Derrick Peterman over at Ramblings of a Beer Runner. Once I read the topic for this month I knew exactly what I wanted to write about.

My friends will find it no surprise that I am once again waxing poetic about McSorley's Old Ale House in New York City. I've written about it before, in what some might call a back-handed tone. While it might seem disingenuous, I feel that my previous post was at least accurate. There really are old wishbones dangling from a light fixture, and yes, they have collected so much dust that they have formed stalactites (Stalagmites? My elementary teachers are banging their heads right now).

So why am I fascinated with the place? If it were any other dive, I’d rip it a new one on Yelp and be done with it. What keeps me coming back? The answer is personal history. Oh, and beer.


My parents met at New York University in the 70’s, and spent many a night huddled around one of the deeply carven and unvarnished tables of McSorley’s. My mother remembers fondly the day that the bar was finally forced to admit women. It was a strictly male establishment for well over a hundred years (When one of the owners died in the early 1900's the deed passed to his wife, but she never stepped foot in the place the whole time she owned it). My mother was no “Women’s Lib” activist by any means, but she did love sticking it to the old geezers who haunted the place. She loved it so much she had her bachelorette party there. Spite, it seems, is a very good drug.

It isn’t just that family connection that keeps me coming back to this dingy old place. It’s not the history either, though sitting in this bar and simply looking around is worth a semester in a history class. It’s the beer. This is perhaps the last old-world pub in America serving their own beer (light and dark, no crazy brand names here) the same way they have been for generations. Although the beer itself is now contract brewed off-premises, drinking it in the surroundings of McSorley’s adds a dimension that isn’t quantifiable. I’ve tasted the bottled version of McSorley’s Ale, and it’s not the same. You need to have this beer poured into two small mugs, half full of foam by a barkeep with a black trashbag tied around his waste. You need to order a round of these beers for your friends, be amazed as the bar-back grabs ten of these mugs Oktoberfest-style and jump as he slams them down on the table. Then you’ll be able to taste the difference that drinking at McSorley’s makes.