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Health Concerns Prompt McSorley's to Clean Historic Wishbones, Report Says

By DNAinfo Staff on April 7, 2011 1:46pm

By Olivia Scheck

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — A purportedly century-old relic of New York has reportedly been sanitized in the name of public health.

The collection of wishbones that hangs above the bar at McSorley's Old Ale House — a symbol of soldiers killed in wars dating back to World War I, according to the bar's current owner — were cleaned for the first time ever at the behest of the health department on Sunday, the New York Times reported.

For decades the epically dusty wishbones hung on an old gas lamp above the 157-year-old bar, where patrons clamor for homebrewed suds.

McSorley's owner, Matthew Maher, who began as a bartender there in 1964, said the bones were placed there by soldiers on their way to war. The remaining wishbones belong to those who never returned, according to the Times.

Maher told the paper in 2004 that the first wishbones dated back to World War I; more recently he insisted that the first wishbones were left during the Civil War, according to the Times.

But on Sunday, Maher was reportedly forced to tamper with history.

Heeding strong words of encouragement from an official from the city Department of Health, Maher reluctantly cleaned the many layers of dust that had collected on the wishbones, damaging a few in the process, the Times said.

Even with the dusty artifacts hanging overhead, McSorley's managed to earn a nearly perfect score on its health inspection in September 2009, beating out some of the neighborhood's fancy cocktail lounges.

But the East Village pub faltered during recent visits from the health department, earning a violation for exposing food to a "potential source of contamination" on March 28, 2011, the health department's website showed.

In addition to the wishbone dust (which Maher saved and brought home to Queens), McSorley's was forced to abandon its tradition of allowing cats to roam freely in the bar, according to the Times.

Longtime pub pet Minnie the cat has been barred as a result, the paper noted.