McSorley’s Old Ale House is a New York City institution rich in history and ritual: For 163 years the only alcohol served from its wooden bar has been two types of ale, light and dark. Its floors are coated in sawdust and the walls cloaked with newspaper clippings.
There for the past 45 years Geoffrey “Bart” Bartholomew has worked at this East Village venue, considered one of the the city’s oldest continuously operating bars (since 1854). In May his son Rafe published “Two and Two: McSorley’s, My Dad, and Me,” a book about how the dusty old bar, filled with artifacts and junk, fostered their tight-knit relationship. Rafe shared some of the life lessons he absorbed from his father, while hanging out at the bar on Saturday mornings before the doors opened.
In an interview from his familiar post behind the bar, Bart reflected on their experiences — as did Rafe from inside Salon’s studio:
Rafe on "growing up" at McSorley’s
When I was a kid, going to the bar with my dad on Saturday mornings was the absolute highlight of my week — or my life.
My dad reminds me of the original name of the bar, which was the Old House at Home. He likes that because the bar, McSorley’s, certainly has become a home and a family for us.
Bart on bartending at McSorley’s
It’s one of those things: Emotionally you get attached to a place. It’s sort of like going on a long cruise, but in this case it never ended.
There’s an oral tradition that is passed down here as well, the history and the characters in the bar, and all the memorabilia on the walls. It all sort of comes to life and gets [to be] part of you, sort of in your DNA, if you will.
How a humble bar furthers a father's relationship with his son
He got to know a lot of the regulars and he’d listen to the stories we’d tell. So he became attached to the place as well and it was sort of like it became a second home for him. I didn’t really realize what I was sowing the seeds of.
Watch as the Bartholomews reveal quirky McSorley's traditions, including the turkey wishbones hanging above the bar since World War I.