"Two and Two: McSorley's, My Dad and Me" is the true story of the bawdy history, drama and slapstick humor of the oldest Irish bar in New York City. It is also the story of the developing bond of love between a father and his son in McSorley's bar.
For those who are offended by off-color humor, skip reading this book. For others who can handle earthy wit, read sitting down so you don't fall out of your chair laughing.
Rafe Bartholomew is the third-generation "Bartholomew" whose history involved alcohol. Grandfather Frank was an abusive drunk who took his anger out on Rafe's father, Bart. After conquering alcoholism, Bart became a regular staff member at McSorley's starting in 1972. Bart married a woman he met in Alcoholics Anonymous, and they had a son and a daughter.
Bart started taking his son, Rafe, who was then a toddler with him to the bar. Rafe's first job was to take the bar cat Sawdust to the basement when customers were there.
Every Saturday, Bart brought his young son to the bar with him where he taught Rafe the history, humor and culture of the bar that attracted such notables as Theodore Roosevelt, JFK, Babe Ruth, Woody Guthrie, E.E. Cummings, as well as Frank "the Slob" Slovensky, and the neighborhood bum.
The bar was full of mischief, pranks and jokes with nobody being spared. Outside McSorley's doors, in the real world men (women were not admitted until 1970) knew how to behave.
The bar never served anything except light and dark ale because old John McSorley, from County Tyrone, Ireland, felt that man never needed a stronger drink than a mug of ale. His list of virtues was good ale, raw onions and no ladies. The bar did not change much over the years.
As the story unfolds, the love between father and son grows and is illustrated by the way Bart took care of his dying wife with the constant help from Rafe, who loved and admired his mother, a professor of hospitality management and culinary arts at the City University of New York.
Contemplating retirement, Bart decided instead to write a book, "The McSorley's Poems." When Rafe read the first draft, he found himself "genuinely and deeply engaged. In every line of every poem I recognized the artifacts and characters I grew up around and felt them come alive with language." His dad found a small-run printer and had a first run of 2,000 books at the end of 2001. There were five printings in all. That book was revised in 2012 and titled "The McSorley Poems Volume II: Light and Dark," which was dedicated to Rafe.
When Rafe published his own book, "Two and Two: McSorley's, My Dad and Me" in 2017, he dedicated it to his dad and sister. This humorous and touching book may be found in the large-print section of the Cabell County Public Library.
Hazel Palmer lives in Huntington and is an avid reader.