“Two and Two” by Rafe Bartholomew: a McSorley’s Memoir
McSorley’s Old Ale House is wonderful. Memoirs are almost always—in some way—a good read. Put the two together and you get something special, in this case Two and Two, a McSorley’s memoir by Rafe Bartholomew, “A deeply stirring memoir of fathers, sons, and the oldest bar in New York City,” to quote Amazon.
I love McSorley’s, and yes, yes, I know it’s touristy at times. I don’t care. I like it when it’s quiet, mid-week, or in the afternoon. It’s a writerly bar (the boss Mattie Maher said to me,”Once you start comin’ here regular, you never stop writin.'”), and deserves to be praised and preserved in print. Joe Mitchell did this famously in his sprawling New Yorker piece from 1940, “The Old House at Home.” This was his McSorley’s memoir of a sort, and man, did Mitchell love the place. And the New Yorker piece—if you haven’t read it before, do. From Mitchell:
“It was opened in 1854 and is the oldest saloon in the city. In eighty-six years it has had four owners—an Irish immigrant, his son, a retired policeman, and his daughter —and all of them have been opposed to change. It is equipped with electricity, but the bar is stubbornly illuminated with a pair of gas lamps, which flicker fitfully and throw shadows on the low, cobwebby ceiling each time someone opens the street door. There is no cash register. Coins are dropped in soup bowls—one for nickels, one for dimes, one for quarters, and one for halves—and bills are kept in a rosewood cashbox. It is a drowsy place; the bartenders never make a needless move, the customers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agreement for many years.”
Bartholomew now has his say, which centers around his relationship with his dad and the bar where they both worked. Give it a look. As I said, I love the place, so much so that it was one of the first bars I drew in my Great Good Places series of bars, taverns and dives New Yorkers love.
(The book comes out in March, published by Rizzoli and you can pre-order it at your favorite dotcom bookstore now.)