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New York Beer: McSorley’s “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies”

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been very busy since I got back from New York but I did have a fantastic time.  Apart from getting engaged (!) we went to quite a few different beer bars, some with a massive selection.  One notable exception to the (sometimes baffling) amount of choice was McSorleys.

McSorley’s, the guide book informed me, usually sells only two alcoholic drinks, its own brand of “light” beer and its own brand of “dark” beer.  However when we went in on a weekday lunchtime they only had the light option.

As usual in New York, they poured a glass of beer to an undisclosed size of their own choosing (just over half a pint, accounting for the size of the head) from keg.  There was a fascinating old beer engine behind the bar, along with the busts of JFK, pictures of the old Pope that everyone liked etc, but it wasn’t in use.

The beer itself was a nice refreshing amber-coloured ale, which I think the Americans would class as an “Irish red ale”, like Smithwicks.  I don’t know what the ABV was (they rarely seem to disclose it in America), but it didn’t seem that strong.  Apparently the beer used to be brewed on the premises but is now brewed by Pabst.

Along with the beer we got a solid ham sandwich with lots of raw onion on white bread, and a really good corned beef hash.  The other customers stood silently at the bar on the sawdust covered floor or sat imperiously on the ancient dark wooden chairs having loud banterful conversations.  It didn’t seem as if any of the other customers were tourists.

I liked McSorleys more than I thought I was going to.  I thought it might be one of the worst examples of an American “Irish pub”.  In fact it’s completely unlike an O’Neill’s, which is what I was dreading, or the “McSorley’s” Irish theme pub in St Andrews (which used to be a pub that Pete Brown worked in and may have become something else since).

McSorley’s is similarly covered in tat (but real, dusty tat – old NYPD badges etc) but is a law unto itself with a long history of its own, including Brendan Behan, Dylan Thomas and a lost legal battle to be allowed to continue to exclude women.  It doesn’t even do Guinness.  I enjoyed spending an hour there and would be happy to go back for much longer.

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