A friend sent me an article written in 1940 about an Irish bar in New York. It is beautifully written and the description of the old boys who frequented the bar leaps off the page. It’s full of descriptions like the bar being “10 elbows wide”. It is a wonderful article which should only be read with a stout in your hand.
My favourite quote was this:
The most important member of the staff of McSorley’s, however, is not actually an employee. His name is Tommy Kelly, and he is called Kelly the Floorwalker. He is not related to Barney Kelly, the prohibition brewer. Since around 1904, Kelly has acted as a sort of volunteer potboy and master of ceremonies. During prohibition, Bill had him on the payroll, but most of the time he has worked for the pleasure of it. When business is brisk, he totes mugs from the bar to the tables; also, he makes an occasional trip to the butcher for Mike. In the winter he keeps a fire going. When he shows up, around 8:30 A.M., he is just an average, sad-eyed little man with a hangover, but by noon lukewarm ale has given him a certain stateliness; by six he is in such a good humour that he stands near the door and shakes hands with incoming customers just as if he were the proprietor. Strangers think he is the proprietor and call him Mr. McSorley. Technically, Kelly is a truck-driver, but he always says business is slow in his line. Once, for a brief period, he took a job as night clerk in a funeral parlour in Brooklyn, quitting because a corpse spoke to him. “This dead guy told me to take my hat off,” Kelly says. In one way or another, death pops up repeatedly in Kelly’s talk. Each morning, Mullins, the bartender, asks him how he feels. If he doesn’t feel so good, he says, “I’m dead, but I just won’t lie still.” Otherwise he says, “For an old drunk with one leg in the grave and not a penny to his name, I can’t complain.”
Here’s the article
This is a photo of the 5th owner of the bar since 1854, who died earlier this year. The bar was forced to admit women in the 1980’s when they lost a case in Court.
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