McSorley’s, Legendary NYC Bar, Forced to Dust Chicken Bone Chandelier


At McSorley’s in the East Village, there’s a chandelier (more of a mobile, really) made of poultry wishbones. Since the watering hole has been around since the 1850s, the decoration skews older — “that portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or that wanted poster for John Wilkes Booth,” for instance — and the story behind the bones varies: either the founder, John McSoreley, liked to save scraps from his holiday turkeys or, in the more literary telling, the bones “were hung by doughboys as wishful symbols of a safe return from the Great War,” and the ones still there commemorate the ones who never returned. But if there’s one thing the City of New York hates, it’s tradition. Sorry, we mean “fun.” And also “dust” — the city’s health inspectors hate dust.

According to the New York Times, a health inspector gave the city an A-grade last week, but “strongly, strongly encouraged the removal of those wishbones above — or, at the very least, removal of the dust enveloping them.”

So Matthew Maher, the 70-year-old owner, did it himself: “Reluctantly.” He couldn’t bring himself to ask anyone else to touch it, but like the banning of cats from the bar, it had to be done, lest a tourist catch a disease.

The story gets sadder as the soldier legend grows: Maher says that bones representing soldiers include those from France, and now Iraq and Afghanistan. “Actually, it started with the Civil War,” he claims. Some crumbled in his hands as he cleaned.

It’s a great slice-of-NYC-life story — the space between the Old and the New, and the symbolic casualties along the way — but also, those bones were really goddamn gross.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 7, 2011

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