McSorley’s golden rule “Be Good or Be Gone”.

Updated: Jan 4, 2019

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McSorley's Old Ale House E 7th St, New York, NY 10003

From it’s humble origins as an Irish working man’s saloon — cheese and crackers on the house-beer for pennies to its rediscovery by the mainstream in a 1940’s NEW YORKER magazine profile. McSorley’s is steeped in a cultural cacophony of Americana. Presidents, residents, authors and thieves — the lot of humanity have sat and shared, all abiding by McSorley’s golden rule “Be Good or Be Gone”. What follows is a chronological history — some oral, some visual — some fact, some fancy…

  • 1827 John McSorley is born: Co.Tyrone, Ireland

  • 1847 Potato Blight begins in the South of Ireland

  • 1850 Potato crop failure reached the Northern Counties of Ireland

  • 1851 John McSorley arrives in New York City on the Ship The Colonist from Liverpool

  • 1854 John McSorley opens up an ale house at 15 East 7th Street in New York City. He calls it “The Old House at Home”

  • 1855 John McSorley marries Honora Henley

  • 1856 First child Peter, is born to Honora and John McSorley

  • 1861 William J. McSorley born, John’s favorite son and the son who will take the helm of McSorley’s Old Ale house.

  • 1864-65 The building at 15 East 7th Street is improved to become a 5 story tenement. John and family move upstairs over the bar.

  • 1868 Honora McSorley dies at the age of 35, leaving John to care for 3 children.

  • 1872 John McSorley marries Catherine Donovan.

  • 1875 Bill McSorley is apprenticed in the ways of the Ale House. It becomes his first love.

  • 1882 The play “McSorley’s Inflation” opens at the Theatre Comiqe on Broadway. It features a bar room set, a bar owner named Peter McSorley. It plays over 100 performances.

  • 1888 John and Catherine purchase the building at 15 East 7th Street. They are now landlords.

  • 1904 50th Anniversary of The Old House at Home.

  • 1905-06 A brief experimental period begins; McSorley’s serves hard liquor along with the ale. The experiment ends as suddenly as it begins. McSorley’s is an Ale house only from this point on.

  • 1908 The sign over the front door falls in a storm. It is replaced by one that reads “McSorley’s Old Time Ale House”. Later the word “Time” is removed.

  • 1910 John McSorley dies in the second floor flat above the bar. He is 83 years old.

  • 1911 Bill McSorley takes over the Ale House. He begins to make it a shrine to his departed father.

  • 1913 John Sloan displays his painting “McSorley’s Bar” at the Armory show. Priced at $500, it does not sell.

  • 1920 Prohibition begins. Beer, ale, wine, liquor and hard cider are illegal. McSorley’s sells what they refer to as Near Beer.

  • 1925 Poet e.e. cummings writes the poem “Sitting in McSorley’s”

  • 1928 John Sloan paints “McSorley’s Saturday Night.” Everyone seems to have a mug in his hands.

  • 1932 Catherine McSorley, widow of John McSorley dies.

  • 1933 Prohibition ends. McSorley’s is still there. Though many bars now admit women. McSorley’s still goes by their philosophy of “Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies.”

  • 1934 Fidelio Brewery markets bottled McSorley’s Ale, Stout & Lager Beer.

  • 1936 Bill McSorley sells bar to Daniel O’Connell, a patron and NYC policeman. O’Connell retires from the force to become the first non-McSorley to own the place. He changes little.

  • 1938 Bill McSorley dies.

  • 1939 Daniel O’Connell dies, leaving his saloon to his daughter, Dorothy O’Connell Kirwan. Patrons fear she will renovate and innovate. She does neither, staying out of the place as she promised her father she would. After some minor management problems, she makes her husband Harry Kirwan the manager. He will be in charge until his death.

  • 1940 New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell visits the Saloon at 15 East 7th Street. He writes a watershed article, “The Old House at Home” for the New Yorker. A new life begins for the old saloon.

  • 1943 Joseph Mitchell’s articles are compiled in a book, entitled “McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon.”

  • 1943 Life Magazine does a feature photographic article on “McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon.”

  • 1954 McSorley’s celebrates its 100th anniversary. Women are still not permitted inside, including the owner. She only visits on Sundays after they are closed.

  • 1960 Dorothy and Harry Kirwan’s son Danny begins his apprenticeship at the bar.

  • 1964 While visiting Ireland Harry Kirwan’s car breaks down. He is picked up on the road by Matthew Maher. Harry promises him a job in New York. Matty goes to NY to work as a waiter and bartender at McSorley’s.

  • 1969 McSorley’s Old Ale house is sued to allow women to enter.

  • 1970 McSorley’s under order of the court and law from the city council considers becoming a private club, but relents to the pressure and opens its doors to women. There are no restrooms for the women. Danny Kirwan wants his mother to be the first woman served. She refuses citing the promise she made her father. Predictions of the end of McSorley’s are heard around the world.

  • 1974 Dorothy Kirwan dies.

  • 1975 Harry Kirwan dies. McSorley’s old Ale house now belongs to their “beloved son” as Harry refers to him, Danny Kirwan.

  • 1977 Matthew Maher, night manager of McSorley’s buys the place from Danny Kirwan. It is now owned by the third family since opening.

  • 1986 Women’s restroom installed at the Old House.

  • 1994 Matthew Maher’s daughter, Teresa Maher de la Haba, becomes the first woman to work behind the bar.

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