JOHN WILCOCK: Sneaking Julie Bovasso into McSorley's 'Men's Only' Saloon

A prank played on McSorley's Old Ale House in 1961, when it was legal in New York to ban women from entering a tavern. By Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

From an ongoing comic book biography of underground publisher John Wilcock's years in New York. View previous installments of the John Wilcock comic here and here.

Supplemental material:

John's cohort in this prank, Julie Bovasso, was a noted actress in experimental theater in New York in the 50s and 60s. Modern audiences will best remember her as Flo in Saturday Night Fever and Rita Cappomaggi in Moonstruck.

Julie Bavasso in 1956

The Brooklyn Rail interviewed a friend of Bovasso, Rosalyn Drexler, in 2007:

I was friends with Julie Bovasso, who was an actress but she also directed and wrote. A great actress and director.

We met early on when the Feminists began to dance in the streets. I did something I didn’t want to do: I liberated McSorley’s Tavern. I was one of those ladies. [laughs] I felt so bad, because there was an old man at the door who said to me, “why do you want to do this?” I had absolutely no idea. I didn’t want to drink there, I didn’t want to be there. [laughs] And when we went in with Lucy Komisar, the lawyer, I remember saying to ourselves, “what now.” One of us said, “And now we liberate the toilets.” So they went into the toilets in the men’s room to make it a person room, that was the big thing. [laughs] Creating a collaborative shithouse.

Read Daytonian in Manhattan's extensive piece Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies"

Gothamist's Jen Carlson recently posted this good account of McSorley's no-women policy, Remembering How McSorley's Banned Women Until 1970.
The article also includes a link to the original New York Times article from 1970.


VIDEO: McSorley's, No Women Allowed (NBC News, 1970)

NBC: What is McSorley's today? I know you're a last of the line that goes back 116 years and what do you see here today?

Danny Kirwan, McSorley's Staffer/Manager: I think we see a place that's stood for tradition all through the years ... the various owners over the chain of the years have kept the traditions of the people before them and continued on the line. And I think a lot of the people around today appreciate this because there's not too many places of this kind, or I guess there aren't ANY places of this kind in the city where today you can come down and enjoy some of the traditions of yesterday ... where a man can come down and have a few ales and enjoy himself — relax without the presence of women and discuss business or politics or just shoot off at the end of the day and relax themselves and have a good time.


Notable Replies

  1. I will read the FA shortly, but had to post 3 awesome things about McSorley's....

    1. The mustard. Oh the mustard. (to be used liberally on a sharpcheddar, rawonion, and saltinecracker sammich.
    2. The race I won to the bar with another cabbie, after picking up a large group of workerbees and betting the fare on the outcome. I famously (among my peeps anyway) went the wrong way on oneway 7th for the win. Other cabbie didn't like it and wouldn't pay, so my group (who had been whooping it up the whole ride) paid me double.
    3. The pissers. Seriously - best. urinals. ever.
  2. I've been reading Boing Boing for a little bit now, and, while the tech/geek stuff is of interest, I STILL don't get some of the stances on equality. And this article is just... Odd. Is this an act that's supposed to be praised? If a guy today decided to don a set of falsies and a leotard to sneak into a Women's only gym, for, I don't know, I guess Hijinks was at least half the reason in the cited incident, would that be an act to be praised? Or generally regarded as creepy?

    I'm not really turned on by the idea of gendered establishments, but, I can at least see why some activities folks of a similar disposition might wish to be able to let their hair down, so to speak, and drinking/socializing as well as personal fitness might well be two instances of that. But, we've gone way, way down the path of not accepting that, be it for a particular gender, race, etc. (Disallowing "White's only" public institutions, or, as in the article, Men's only Drinking Establishments).

    At some point, it seems like you have to decide, which way is "equal"! Allowing some spaces of separation for certain activities, with different spots for Both/every side, and showing disdain for those that violate those norms? Or mandating such things be dissolved, and cheering those who would brave violating those norms, no matter which direction that violation would go. (And the former option totally ignores the various border situations, but, there's got to be some kind of internet word limit that would be crossed opening that topic right away)

    But allowing separate, restricted space for some, while mandating non-discriminatory access in other cases, is self evidently not equality, be it restrictions on Race, Gender, or even Religion (This would obviously apply to ostensibly "public" spaces, not private homes/property, or even members restricted institutions, though even those are a source of some contention).


  3. If you really want your bar to be men-only, it’s not too hard to arrange without resorting to an Official Policy. Not a lot of ladies trying to get into The Manhole or Toolchest.

  4. "Good Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies"

    The onions were obviously tied to their belts, that being the style at the time.

  5. Subtopic: Worst bar names ever:

    1. The Beer Flat
    2. Hitler's Taproom
    3. Ye Olde Fart Shoppe
    4. Fap Lounge
    5. McDandruff's Scottish Restaurant and Lounge
    6. The Just Budweiser Bar
    7. Squirt's Tavern
    8. ...
    9. ...

    And the number one crappy bar name ever....

    1. Hooters

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