McSorley’s Old Ale House in Manhattan’s East Village is one of the city’s oldest drinking establishments still operating. Patrons are transported to a bygone era. Here, I take you on a tour that explores the pub’s past, present and future.
Entering McSorley’s, the scene was like a page of history. Customers were surrounded by mementos dating back to the early 1900s, sawdust covered the floor and aging newspaper articles covered the walls.
McSorley’s Old Ale House – established on Feb. 17, 1854 — is regarded as the oldest “Irish” tavern in New York City. Originally a “Men Only” bar, it was not until 1970 that women were legally allowed access to McSorley’s. Through the years McSorley’s has served noteworthy customers from Abraham Lincoln to John Lennon.
Steve “Pepe” Zwaryczuk, the bar’s day manager, said his transition into his job at McSorley’s was natural.
“Bars, Alcohol, women. It just happened you know. I started here working part time. Going to school, I had other jobs. Next thing you know I’m out of school, and I’m working full time. And here I am 40 years later,” Zwaryczuk said.
Zwaryczuk said although he no longer resides in East Village, he feels as though he’s never left the neighborhood. He’s always busy working at McSorleys “ I grew in East Village until I moved uptown to 19th Street. But I went to school around the corner at St. George Elementary School. I went to high school at St. George Academy which is also around the corner,” he said.
Zwaryczuk said that McSorley’s has served the same two types of beer since they first opened up– McSorley’s Light and McSorley’s Dark—making the establishment unique as opposed to other bars that serve a full line of liquors and other beers and beverages.
McSorley’s is packed immensely with memorabilia prior to 1910 that it feels like a museum that supplies beer. “I know what the oldest piece is in here. That’s a description of the battle of Waterloo. A little article we have up on the wall. That dates back to I believe 1825,” he said.
Steve said attempts have been made through the years by customers to steal such memorabilia. “We used to have a federal tax stamp on a Bill of Lading but it was stolen from here. Right off the wall. That was the oldest artifact we had in here. But that’s not unusual, people come in with screwdrivers all the time, trying to take something of the wall. And when the place is wall to wall, you can’t really see what is going on,” he said.
Zwaryczuk acknowledged that the memorabilia reflects what the original owners the time, John McSorley, enjoyed. “ The theater district was here in this neighborhood. He loved to go to the theater. And if you look closely you’ll see playbills on the wall that date back to the 1860’s ,1870s ,1880s,1890s. Our collection grew so much in the early years that we don’t have much room to include new additions,” he said.
East Village has been heavily gentrified through the past 20 years. Ongoing developments continue to affect local businesses within the area. “Every neighborhood seems to have had some sort of gentrification. Cause everyone wants to live in New York. And unfortunately the poor get displaced,” Zwaryczuk said.
Zwaryczuk acknowledged the ramifications of Mayor Bill De Blasio rezoning plan. Which would target 14 city neighborhoods in order to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing. “ Bill De Blasio telling everybody he’s gonna do this and going to do that but I don’t see that happening so far. I see more and more people out on the street than ever. You can’t travel through Penn Station without being bothered by the homelessness. That’s just there. In one of many public facilities,” he said.
Zwaryczuk said that student housing is another is factor to be further analyzed. “Everywhere you look in this neighborhood there’s more and more student housing. What does that tell you? They need it, they drive the prices up of this immediate neighborhood. I think that’s the biggest factor of the driving rental prices up in this neighborhood,” he said.
Zwaryczuk is optimistic about the future of East Village and his current neighborhood. “McSorley’s is presented in at least a dozen travel books. For years we have served travelers from different places around the world like Europe. We’re doing our thing and for many years I firmly believe we have been doing it right,” he said.