The McSorley’s Way of Life

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The McSorley’s way of life may not be for everyone, but it should be.  On a recent trip to NYC, my friends Jeff and Stephanie introduced my husband and I to McSorley’s Old Ale House, located at 15 East 7th in the East Village of Manhattan.  It is the oldest Irish Pub in NYC and a place I will never forget.  Sitting amongst the rowdy patrons of McSorley’s, I decided that I should always live like I did for 2 hours that night.

The rules of McSorley’s are easy to learn, and, God willing, should be implemented in all aspects of life:

1.    Listen to the waiter.  These waiters know how to wield their power in order to get things done.  And they get things done quickly.  Here’s the scene:  you and 3 friends push your way into the crowded pub, all the seats are filled, and you can barely snake your way to the bar.  After getting a couple of beers (they serve them 2 at a time here) from the bartender, you spot a waiter, who immediately (and magically) knows you just arrived.  No time is wasted on greetings or flare.  Look at the waiter, mouth the word “four” accompanied by holding up 4 fingers, and wait.  The waiters will get you seats as soon as available.  No need to look for a hostess and seating chart.  They don’t exist in this place; nothing unnecessary does.  When seats look to be coming open, the waiter will motion you towards the table.  “Stand here,” will be all the waiter says as he points to your table and then moves on to the next task requiring his attention.  Stand there, look pretty, drink your beer, and be ready to pounce as soon as Frat Boy and his loud as hell friends who are currently pretending to understand rugby vacate their seats.  Then sit.  The waiter has spoken.  Life is just easier when someone capable takes the wheel.

A special note here for the members of Congress:  would I have preferred the small table up front near the window?  Of course!  But what we really needed, especially for my friend Stephanie who still insists on rocking the four-inch heels on a special night out, was a seat, any seat.  At McSorley’s, indecision, stalling, and hesitation will leave you standing next to the bar scrunching your toes as you try to relieve the pain caused by fabulous shoes.  I’ll take the quick decision making of McSorley’s over whatever it is you think your doing on Capital Hill any day of the week.  Ponder that for a minute, my dearies.  Thank you.  I feel better.

2.  Light beer or dark beer?  That’s it.  That’s your only choice.  This is not a pub full of self-entitled, have it my way, double shot, no whip, skinny latte, coffee house whiney babies.  At McSorley’s you get light beer or dark beer.  No wine.  No liquor.  The lack of endless choices results in a bar that moves quickly.  Not once during the 2 hours spent there did I want to kick some little tart in the neck because she just couldn’t decide between a frozen strawberry daiquiri and an amaretto sour and really thought the bartender could help her decide while the rest of the world was dying of thirst behind her.  Get over yourself, Sweetheart, and just drink a beer.

3.  It is what it is.  And other than finally allowing women through the doors in the 70’s, not much has changed in decades.  Supposedly, not a single piece of the memorabilia that covers every square inch of wall space has been removed since 1910.  (You can throw out that American History textbook.  McSorley’s has you covered.)  From the looks of the small pub, the furniture and sawdust covering the floor was put in place over a century ago.  The seats are wooden, no fancy cushions or arm rests.  The menu is sparse, to say the least, offering a few Irish-themed sandwiches and cheese and crackers, but it offers enough to fill the hole in your stomach.  Like life, this place is loud and smells funny and is really all about the people you get to share a few moments with while squeezing 10 people around a table made for 6.  Complain about it, try to change it, turn your nose up, but at the end of the day, you love it.  You know you will.

4.  Buy another or get out.  This was my absolute favorite part of the McSorley’s way of life.  When the waiter notices your glass is empty, he will ask if you want another.  If you say yes, before you know it another round will be set in front of you.  If you say no, he will motion for you to pay up and get out.  Loitering is not allowed.  Buy another, participate, contribute, or get out of the way.  This is society, baby.  Be functional or be gone.

5.  Socialize.  If you would like to live as a hermit, I suggest buying a cave in New Zealand.  At McSorley’s, you are forced to socialize with strangers.  Now, for us introverts, this can seem like an anxiety filled task.  This goes completely against the “stranger danger” lessons of our childhood.  Maybe it was the volume of the tiny bar or how closely I was forced to sit by the six strangers sharing the communal table, but before I knew what was happening, I was chatting up the couple next to me.  I quickly learned that an Alabama woman and a couple from Washington Heights (north of Harlem) aren’t that different after all.

So, yes, I want to live as I did at McSorley’s Old Ale House for 2 great hours.  Namby-pamby leadership annoys me.  Endless choices bog me down.  Resting on my laurels makes me lazy.  Refusing to accept life for what it is, the good, the bad, and the strangely wonderful, wears me out.  Yes, indeed, I want to live the McSorley’s way of life.