A boy comes of age in one of New York’s most storied watering holes.
There is no bar in New York City—perhaps even all of America—with as much history as McSorley’s Old Ale House, which opened on East 7th Street in 1854. It was a campaign stop for Abraham Lincoln, a gathering spot for Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall cronies, and a hangout for decades of artists, poets, and musicians. But for former Grantland editor Bartholomew (Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin' in Flip-Flops and the Philippines' Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball, 2010), McSorley’s was just home. His father, Geoffrey “Bart” Bartholomew, was a bartender, doling out pints of the bar’s signature light and dark ales for 45 years—an almost unimaginable career choice for a recovering alcoholic. As a child, Bartholomew would spend magical weekend mornings at the bar with his father, playing with the mouser cat in the basement, eating hamburgers in the kitchen, and doing odd jobs. Bart never wanted to see his son behind the bar; he was a working-class kid from Ohio who’d nearly been killed by his drunk of a father and a long-suffering aspiring writer who’d never seen his literary dreams actualized. But when Rafe had a college degree in hand and a day job as an editorial assistant at Harper’s, Bart acquiesced and let Rafe pick up a few shifts (Rafe quickly realized that his tips would eclipse his full-time publishing salary). The author expertly weaves together entertaining stories from his nights behind the bar (note: never work at an Irish pub on St. Paddy’s Day) with more poignant moments between father and son—particularly after Rafe’s mother (who was not much a part of life at McSorley’s but “was everything else”) died from a quick and unexpected bout with cancer.
Bartholomew does both his father and McSorley’s proud with this touching, redolent memoir.