You can newbies by the way they order their drinks. On my left a man asks for a beer list and a white wine. For a brief and agonizing moment I feel the embarrassment that is about to smite him. The bartender, being a true professional gives it to him lighter than I would have. As I am eavesdropping in on the conversation someone taps my right shoulder. I swing around mug to lips and see a skinny man in his sister’s jeans. “Sorry, could you please slide down a step? You have your foot on Howard Houdini’s handcuffs and I’d like to show my friends here. I’m kinda a Houdini nut.” The pixie in black slid up his shirt sleeve. Sure enough, on a pale forearm, was tattooed the face of the great magician. For the first time since I took my position at the bar I noticed that my foot was in fact resting on a loose bit of hardware. I lifted my sneaker and confirmed with a “No shit?” that my Chuck Taylor was covering a pair of handcuffs that, given my location, were not exactly out of place. The bar tender in his white jacket had witnessed the entire exchange.
“If heaven is what we want it to be, I’ll see you all at McSorely’s after I’ve gone.”
I wrote those words in a journal the first time I had visited the sacred pub. For me, no trip to NYC is truly complete until I’ve had a beer at McSorely’s. In some ways it’s like paying respect or doing your patriotic duty. In other ways it’s like a beer drinker’s comfort food.
Like most hallowed ground there are rules and there is etiquette:
- Don’t get too comfortable. Your seat is only your seat until the man in a blue blazer says that seat over there is now your seat. Don’t know the people at your new table? Well let me introduce you to your new friends.
- There are 2 things served at McSorely’s. McSorely’s Light or McSorely’s Dark beer. No hard stuff, no diet coke, no blenders.
- Cash only. Your tab is calculated using mental math by true professionals. Don’t question the price. Just pay your shit.
- Unless someone from behind the bar yells your name upon entry, YOU ARE NOT A REGULAR. They know you’re a tourist. (This rule breaks my heart.) All you can really do is throttle back the tourist and act like a “regular tourist.”
- It’s dirty, get over it. The place has been open since 1854, it may have picked up some dust over the years. (Although, on my most recent visit my new bar tender friend informed me that the health department had made them scrub every police and fire badge in the place. We’re talking hundreds of badges spanning centuries from retired and deceased public servants.)
- When ordering beer, it’s either “light,” “dark,” or “2 and 2.” Do not freak out when you say, “2 lights please,” and receive 4 beers. He heard you correctly. As should always be the case, beers come in pairs.
I looked down the bar and watched as Houdini Tattoo took some selfies with the handcuffs. I was now within shouting distance of the bartender when he asked, “Where are you from sailor?
“No shit!? What are you doing here?”
“Oh yeah? What do you do?”
“I’m a pilot.”
Before I could say another word he yelled out:
“EXCUSE ME EVERYONE CAN I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE? If you’re on the 10:30PM flight to Cleveland this is your captain. Be sure to head to the airport before he does and you should make your flight.”
I laughed and nodded at some applause. He shook my hand and smiled as I asked, “So, are those really Houdini’s handcuffs?”
“No… But those are.”
He pointed to another set of handcuffs directly behind him hanging above an old picture of a police officer. “Those handcuffs down there are the cuffs that that guy *points to the old picture* put on Houdini right before he broke out of them.”
“Shouldn’t those be in a case somewhere? I mean I had my foot resting on them.”
He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Hey, this is McSorelys.”