Posted by: philipfontana | May 8, 2013

McSorley’s 2013

Three Sons & A Dad’s

McSorley’s Trip 2013


     The facade of McSorley’s Old Ale House as it has looked since 1854 in New York City.   – – Located at #15 East 7th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues near Union Square & Cooper Union.

     Excuse us for living, but this April 2013 marked my fifth trip with my three sons to the one and only Mc Sorley’s Old Ale House in New York City. We have been doing so every other year since 2004. (Last year’s trip was postponed until now due to #2 son’s one and one-half year work sojourn in London.) To my delight, the “boys” seem almost more enthused than I am with each visit to my old haunt. Actually, I am thrilled too that we have this time together relating in a very unique way.

     As my sons’ jobs and abodes changed location over the years, so have the details of each trip. Suffice it to say, we all rendezvous at McSorley’s at 3:00 PM on a Saturday in the spring. The custom of this NYC landmark is to serve 2 mugs of ale, one dark and one light, at the same time to each person as “a round.” No trip is complete without a dish or two of American or Cheddar cheese, crackers, raw onions, and HOT mustard. Now the mustard is so hot, it requires an ale in hand to quickly wash this unique culinary treat down as fast as possible. This routine goes on for anywhere from 6 to 9 rounds. Now that totals 12 to 18 mugs a man! We’re talkin’ some serious beer drinkin’! To everyone’s amusement, an ever so brief mock business meeting of the “Three Sons & A Dad’s Club” is conducted by yours truly according to a loose interpretation of parliamentary procedure a` la Robert’s Rules of Order. Plenty of photographs are taken in the course of our spell at McSorley’s to incriminate all! We always terminate our visit by 5:00 PM. At that time, we take a traditional photo around one of the green barrels placed on the sidewalk outside the storefront. – – Cigars passed around to all concerned! Then, it is off to dinner with wine, of course, at a preordained, with much “research,” Italian restaurant nearby. Such evenings end with retreat, inevitably, to one son’s NYC apartment for an “overnighter” to sleep it off! – – Full diner breakfast Sunday morn & then everyone off on their respective trips back home.


     Every trip to McSorley’s includes a photo like this of all four of us. Left to right after me is #2 son Peter, #1 son Andy, & #3 son Tom. We know this is “special” & “one for the ages.”


     If you don’t try the cheese, crackers, raw onions, & HOT mustard at McSorley’s, you just haven’t been there! It’s part of the experience & what a treat, what fun!


     Here we are leaving McSorley’s & taking another traditional photo with me sitting on one of the old barrels out front.

     The roots of this McSorley’s tradition date back to my years at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 1965. Members of the Rutgers Glee Club, to which I belonged, introduced me to McSorley’s one fateful weekend. It was love at first gulp! The atmosphere was infectious from the sawdust on the floor to the memorabilia on the walls going back to 1854, when its doors first opened. “We were here before you were born,” became McSorley’s motto, painted on the front window, at some point over the years. In those college days, “2 Draught Ale .30 cents,” says the menu (which hangs today in my house over my upright piano), “Coca Cola-Seven Up .20 cents, Cheese & Crackers & Onions $1.00 Large, .50 cents Small.” Even our meager college allowances could afford McSorley’s. And all we had to do as members of the Rutgers Glee Club was to break into song , as we inevitably did, and the clientele saw to it that we “drank free” with all the rounds they bought us. Today, the 2 drafts are up to $5.50 now! But the cheese and crackers are only $5.50….. “Go figure!”


     Waiter Richard Buggy, known to all who frequent McSorley’s, proudly meets Andy a few years ago. He was waiting tables at McSorley’s  going back to my Rutgers years & I knew him then! He retired around 2010. On the wall of McSorley’s is a small newspaper article about Richard Buggy’s regular job as an NYC Police undercover cop in all sorts of disguises!

     McSorley’s Old Ale House is the oldest Irish tavern in New York City, founded by John McSorley in 1854, just a few years after he arrived from Ireland. It’s “claim to fame” was having been one of the last “Men’s Only” pubs. This practice ended in 1970 when the doors of McSorley’s opened to women as a result of a discrimination case brought to District Court and won. But the establishment took 16 years to add a proper “Ladies Room,” sharing a unisex bathroom with the gents all those years! The memorabilia on the walls is an eclectic collection from art work to newspaper articles, literary pieces, and items dating back in history and politics from photographs to campaign buttons and so much more! McSorley’s is considered one of New York City’s “top 5 Historic Bars,” located within the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District. Patrons of McSorley’s go back in history to include Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Peter Cooper, Woody Guthrie and a long list of literary figures.

Photos of McSorley’s Interior “Ambiance”  






     Excuse us for living, but to visit McSorley’s will add much to the “living” and with no need to “excuse”!

     Comments: Please! This was a real “fun write” with photos…almost as much fun as this last trip!  Thanks, guys for trip #5!!!


  1. Love these shots and the story! I remember hearing about one of your earlier trips from Peter–this is a wonderful tradition. Nice work, Fontanas!

    • Danielle, Thanks so much for you interest & caring about our exploits!!! Peter spreads the good word about McSorley’s! Yes, I agree re the tradition that grew out of the idea of a neat thing to do with my sons. Fun photos, hey???!!!

  2. Phil,

    Sounds like one great tradition in a great place!

    • Sandy!!! How nice of you to respond to “a bar scene”!!! I get gun shy sending this out!!! But it has really become a special bonding in a neat place as you indicate. –an “ale house,” not a bar! Ha! Thanks so much. Phil

  3. Philip, I think every college town has its version of McSorley’s. In Boulder, home to University of Colorado, it used to be Tulagi’s but their lights have long ago gone dark. The most famous and iconic dive now (well, it was a smoke-filled dive when I worked there in the 60s – they have since cleaned up the place) is The Sink. On Friday nights and, not surprisedly, during final exam weeks, it took a crowbar to get inside it was so crowded. I met many of my future wives there but after a hot few hot and lurid hours we both changed our minds and went home, separately, in search of aspirin, trying to remember each other’s name and phone number. Oh, well.

    Even President Obama stopped in for a unique pizza last year. Just a short block from campus, many a student pops in for a cheeseburger and a beer for lunch, or a couple of cool ones on the way home from class, and/or for a study break around 9:00pm. The place has been around since the 20s and was originally called “The Sunken Garden.” Old farts make sure they go by the Sink when in town for reunions or football games, and many of them bring along their kids and grandkids. Ah, the stories that get told. Some are probably true but who cares.

    Good article. I forwarded it to a friend of mine whose son attended Rutgers. Keep them coming.


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  4. Jim, Your comments make a GREAT Column yourself!!! From Tulagi’s to The Sink now, it sounds as if Boulder & the U of Colorado have no shortage of ale & fun to go around. What a long tradition among undergrads, alumni, & families to carry on the revelry! Not bad going back to the 1920’s!!! Good place…..& to attract President Obama, it must be THE PLACE to go! If ever in New York City, try to include McSorley’s on your itinerary along with all the famous stops! So nice of you to comment! Phil

  5. oh my phil! Did your boys have to WHEEL you out of McSorleys? tee-hee—I think that it is a great tradition that you and your fellas carry on….Such memories to look back on…

    • Thanks, Margaret!!! This McSorley’s event has taken on a life of its own. The boys really love it & I have only realized myself how very much as the years go by!!! Isn’t that great! Thanks! And Hi to Jim! Phil

  6. Phil, …….We always have enjoyed the McSorley stories through the years but your choice pics made this one priceless! You captured the moment and the flavor of the establishment of which I could only imagine until now. Glad you were all able to make up for the delay in your annual visit. Great write up capturing history and “the Fontana Boys Family Fun”.
    Thanks ….Don & Vin

  7. Vin & Don, Thanks so much for the meaningful, real comments: photos, the moment, the flavor, the occasion, the writing, the history, & our fun!!! You hit all the buttons! I really appreciate all you said!!! Love back to you both, Phil

  8. Phil, what a terrific tradition you are celebrating with your sons. In a circle of life kind of way, I feel I am there with the four of you now, since I was there with you all the way back in 1965 with the RU Glee Club. You and Geri have been blessed with a family of three wonderful young men.

    • Rich, First, Geri & I cherish your every word here. Thanks! And you certainly ARE there with us in our McSorley’s tradition. My sons recognize that we enjoy these moments today because of a common past that I shared with you & others. They must be great sons to do this together, right? The guys already “take care of me” on such trips!!! –no details necessary! Phil

  9. Phil–I never knew you were a McSorley’s guy. I have been there, but not for along, long time. Ironically I mentioned McSorley’s to a fellow cheese shop worker just last week–commenting about peanut shells on the floor. Are they still there? Very cool post, and nice to see the photos of you and your sons. Interestingly, I’m going to see my younger son, Jesse (now 37) for the first time in about 5 years tonight–he has been in CA for that time, and has moved back here in Ithaca with his girlfriend–for how long I don’t have a clue. Thanks for your posts–I just posted another of mine today–more photos from the 50’s…later, Ray

    • Ray, So glad to hear from you!!! This post has kept me busy with replies & emails so much that I have not read your latest post yet but only looked at it & the great photos as always!!! Will get to it soon! Yep, it’s sawdust on the floor at McSorley’s. Thanks for your nice comment about our sons. Glad you will see son Jesse soon & the move from CA to NY!!! Keep up the great job on your blog & that will be your book putting all the posts together!!! Phil

  10. This article brought all of your stories of past rendezvous with your boys at McSorley’s to life. It sounds like a fun tradition and one that will be very memorable for all of you. ” Boys just gotta have fun!!” How did you skip mentioning this most recent 2013 adventure when we last saw you? The photos are great too. Sue

    • Sue, We are “at it early”!!! Saw your response! Thanks! Ron & I were talking about McSorley’s during our Saturday visit because I had this article on my mind…..I had not posted it yet. But we were talking about when we went there together & if we took our Dads there. I don’t know if I told Ron the boys & I were there in April. But thanks. It has become a tradition the boys really cherish & great memories for posterity for them. So nice of you!!! Phil

  11. Awesome posting Phil. Looks like fun!!

    • “pk,” Thanks! It really is a great place with a history behind it. And no snobbery there….down to earth…all equals! There’s a camaraderie among everyone there, patrons & waiters & bar tenders…although those McSorley’s bartenders are in charge, make no mistake about it! The volume of ale, dark & light, they serve up is astronomical!!! My sons worship the place & our mutual experience going there every other year!!! Thanks so much!!! Phil

  12. What a lovely, loving tradition to have with your sons. Trust you never stop sharing this special, testosterone-laced time together. :). Does Geri enjoy an annual “my three sons” crafts party with the boys?

    • Viv, Thanks for the “feel good” look at our little event every two years or so. “Testosterone-laced” it ain’t! As I age it’s more like the guys taking care of Dad!!! –like the year I FELL OUT OF THE TAXI CAB FLAT FACED ONTO THE PAVEMENT!!! They keep me in the middle seat now! No, Geri doesn’t do an equivalent event but just takes pride that we still pull this off & drives us to/from the train when necessary. Then she has peace for 24 hrs. Happy Mother’s Day! Phil

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    • Carrol, Glad you like the theme of the site! Tried not to get pigeon holed into one category of story & viewpoint. This way I can do commentary on what I choose & avoid certain topics, especially those with political positions because then I would lose 50% of my audience. But on that score I have to restrain myself! Regarding balance, after I was doing this well over a year, I read what I happened to be doing right by instinct: not too long paragraphs & mix it up with photos for interest. –Very user friendly too as you indicate. Glad Firefox is good for you. Me too. Thanks for the kind words. Phil

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