In 1851 John McSorley arrived in New York from Ireland and three years later opened what would become the oldest bar in the city. For decades it was exactly what you would imagine a 20th century working class bar to be. But for some reason, its costumer¿s have always had a special connection with the bar. Over the next century it was the subject of paintings, poems, photography, and literature. McSorley¿s is infamous for one other aspect of its history: for most of the time it has be open, no women have been allowed. Even when the bar was owned by Dorothy O¿Connell Kirwan, she only visited on Sundays, after closing. It was not until 1970 that McSorley¿s, after being sued, was forced to allow women to enter.
The McSorley's of today looks exactly the same as it did one hundred years ago. Most of the décor has remained untouched and the menu is just as simple as always. What has changed is something completely out of the bar¿s control: the area. McSorley¿s was never fancy or eye catching and it has always been able to blend into its neighborhood. Today, however, it is across the street from Cooper Union¿s new harsh, modern construction and down the street from the contemporary Cooper Square Hotel. Now the classic New York City look of McSorleys sticks out amid the high rises and neon lights of college bars. The crowd is now the same as any other East Village bar, college students and young professionals.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries McSorley¿s Ale House was a small, unassuming bar in the East Village, but it has managed to become one of the most famous bars in the city. From its inception it has not been gimmicky or even trendy, yet it still has had something that keeps customers coming back, and much to their client's contentment, the bar has remained exactly the same. The crowd may not be the same as it once was, with rowdy students replacing the afterwork Boy's Club, but it is still reflective of the neighborhood. What was once a working class neighborhood is now caught between upscale trendiness and student budgets. New York City is constantly rotating, what is hot one night is old news the next. New York bars and restaurants are the epitome of mediated transformations, opening on promises of novelty and closing as soon as that novelty wears off. Somehow McSorley's has escaped the mediated rotation of popularity, remaining a bar that has not tried to keep up with trends over the years, and has managed to be the one that survived.
For Further Reading:
"History." McSorley's Old Ale House.
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