Peter Cooper and McSorley’s Ale House

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I was recently reading sections of  Up In the Old Hotel, which anthologized  Joseph Mitchell’s writings for the New Yorker.  It included a 1940 article on “McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon“, where Peter Cooper frequented:

“Mr. Cooper in his declining years, spent so many afternoons in the back room philosophizing with the workingmen that he was given a chair of his own; it was equipped with an inflated rubber cushion. (The chair is still there; each April 4th for a number of years after Mr. Cooper’s death, on April 4, 1883, it was draped with black cloth.) Also like other steadfast customers, Mr. Cooper had a pewter mug on which his name had been engraved with an icepick. He gave the saloon, a life-sized portrait of himself, which hangs over the mantel in the back room. It is an appropriate decoration, because, since the beginning of prohibition, McSorley’s has been the official saloon of Cooper Union students. Sometimes a sentimental student will stand beneath the portrait and drink a toast to Mr. Cooper.”

After the visit to Peter Cooper’s Grave on February 12, 2012,  some Friends of Cooper Union, gathered for a drink at this watering hole. (FYI: McSorley’s Ale is vegan).   Some things have changed since Peter Cooper’s days at McSorley’s.  Most notably, the inclusion of women starting in the 1970.  (Previous motto was, “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies.”).  Cooper Union, in contrast, opened its doors to women since its inception in 1859, and never discriminated by race, gender, creed or class.

McSorley’s other motto “Be Good or Be Gone,” is still in effect, and Cooper’s table, chair, and portrait are still on display.  The lyrics of a song about Peter Cooper’s Table are also mounted on the wall.

For more information about the current situation facing  Cooper Union: visit the  Friends of Cooper Union website.  For additional posts on Cooper Union click here.

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