In the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, make it a point to grab a brew and a bite at McSorley's Old Ale House, the oldest Irish pub in the city. Established in 1854, the bar has seen its fair share of wars, presidents and mobsters, from the Civil War to Prohibition to post-World War II. Today it is an East Village icon—a tourist destination as much as a local hangout—and home to some of the city's rowdiest bar crowds after 6 p.m.
In addition to its "Be Good or Be Gone" motto, one of the original slogans of the restaurant was "Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies." Since 1970, only the first two still apply. Two types of beer are offered: light and dark house ale, an order of which comes in two smallish mugs for $5.
Raw onions make their way into just about everything else, including their classic Cheese Plate ($4), a bare-bones arrangement of sliced cheddar or American cheese, raw onions, and a pack of Saltines. Pile the cheese and onions on the cracker and dab a bit of McSorley's (in)famous mustard—a house-made mixture of Coleman's hot mustard powder and dark ale—for a nasal-clearing palate explosion, an experience only to be tempered with a deep swig of beer.
Hash ($5.50), a corned beef and red cabbage concoction served with steamed vegetables, is one of the better items on the short menu. Salty and sweet and not too greasy, the well-priced plate is a satisfying meal after several rounds of ale.
Stronger palates may prefer the Liverwurst Sandwich ($4), a monstrous hunk of a sandwich bursting with liverwurst and raw onions. With a swab of mustard, it's a sammy that'll put hair on your chest. In contrast, McSorley's Burger with Fries ($7) is an unmemorable one, cooked well done with the cheese completely unmelted on top.
To salvage the burger, order up a bowl of Chili ($3.50) and use the crispy fries from the burger to dip into the chili. Thick and chunky, it carries the distinct flavor of canned chili, the kind dumped over hot dogs at your local sports clubhouse—so bad yet oh-so-good.
Surly as they may look, the hosts and bartenders at McSorley's tend to be nice, willing to help out anyone who is just trying to have a good time. (Special shout-out to rockstar server Brendan A., who went out of his way to help us out.) Just be sure to bring plenty of cash—there's still no credit card machine, after 150 years.
We fully admit that the food at McSorley's is the kind that gets better with each round of beers, but hey, that's the way it's intended to be. Sláinte!
McSorley's Old Ale House
About the author: Nancy Huang, who comes to New York by way of Los Angeles, writes The Wanderkind, a food and travel blog of adventures here and abroad. She loves noodles, subway maps, and word games.