One of New York City’s oldest bars recently was shut down for a few days. McSorley’s Old Ale House has operated in the East Village for 162 years, and even kept its doors open during Prohibition. (They peddled “near beer” during those dark days.) It’s a grand old place, whose walls and ceiling are covered with historical artifacts, such as a Teddy Roosevelt campaign poster. A pot belly stove sits in the front room, and saw dust is thrown on the floor to soak up spilled beer.
McSorley’s almost always is busy. Patrons include neighbors and tourists, blue-collar and white-collar guys alike, who fill the place with banter. A fussy visitor looking for froofy drinks and fancy cuisine will quickly be disabused; McSorley’s pours only two brews: McSorley’s light and McSorley’s dark. The menu is limited to simple fare, like ham sandwiches and sleeves of saltines served with blocks of cheese.
Inspectors from the city’s creepily-named Department of Health and Mental Hygiene claimed to have found rodent droppings in the basement, where the bar stores kegs of beer. So, boom, the bar was forced to close. Owners and employees lost earnings, and a couple who planned to get hitched at the bar that day had their nuptials disrupted.
Why exactly the bar needed to be closed is far from clear: did inspectors imagine that the beer somehow would be tainted? And what exactly was McSorley’s supposed to do to fix the problem: spray the whole basement with poison?
McSorley’s explained that any rat activity was likely due to renovations.
“We apologize for not being opened for you today, tomorrow or Sunday. The NYC Board of Health closed our doors this week without even firing a warning shot. Never in all their record-keeping-years have they ever discovered in our ‘Home’–and home (above the bar) its been for many since 1854 who’ve worked ‘down below’–those vermin among vermin. Until this week that is and only after we started construction in our basement which began on Monday to replace every single gas line throughout the entire building starting with the main line that runs from East 7th street right in through our building by way an ancient stone wall–yes, a stone wall older than the very bar itself. With such digging-up and breaking-down of walls this week there’s been opportunity for unwanted visitors like the two Health Inspectors (one in training) who visited Wednesday.”
The kicker is that the the city government banned cats from eateries some years back. Formerly, McSorley’s always had cats prowling the place.
I brought up the McSorley’s kerfuffle with a Gotham restaurateur, who erupted. “I have 11 different government agencies I have to deal with,” he groused. “Do they not realize that we provide a service that makes people happy? We help keep the block clean, washing the sidewalk out front. And we collect taxes for the city. And this is the thanks we get?”
Sadly, the answer appears to be: no, they do not realize this nor do they care.
McSorley’s, thankfully, re-opened, and certainly the next time I am in the city I will drop by to thank it for making the world a better place.