Opened in 1854 by Irish immigrant John McSorley, McSorley’s Old Ale House stands as one of the oldest operating taverns in the United States. Patrons of this storied institution can only choose between two drinks: Light or Dark Ale. Despite this, or maybe because of it, McSorley’s has been incredibly popular since it opened over 160 years ago.

Today, the sawdust-covered floors of this East Village establishment have many secrets to share, from early 20th century memorabilia to its association with rock icons and prominent political figures.

10. McSorley’s Was Once a Speakeasy

‘McSorley’s Bar’ (1912) by John French Sloan. Photo via Wikimedia: public domain

McSorley’s has been open since 1854, and managed to stay so because, at one time, it operated as a speakeasy. The iconic mugs that McSorley’s ale is served in today are a vestige of the Prohibition era when the bar would serve “near beer” (beer with little to no alcohol content) to most patrons.

According to legend, bartenders would step on a special pedal to fill the mugs with the real deal to longtime customers. McSorley’s managed to avoid legal trouble because many of Tammany Hall politicians drank there throughout Prohibition. Throughout these years, American painter John Sloan also famously created a series of still life paintings of McSorley’s, such as the one above.

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