EAST VILLAGE — Historic bar McSorley's Old Ale House was shuttered on Wednesday by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene largely due to a rat infestation, which the pub's owner blames on the years-long reconstruction of the nearby Cooper Square.
The basement of the 162-year-old Irish tavern was invaded by vermin when the reconstruction of Cooper Square wrapped up in recent weeks, according to bar owner Matthew Maher, who has run the neighborhood mainstay at East Seventh Street and Third Avenue since 1964.
"There was a whole load of building equipment here, when the city opened up the pipes and all that, and they just took that away a couple of weeks ago, and that was a haven for rats," he said, noting he had seen the rodents scurrying around near the site during the restoration project from the city's Department of Design and Construction, which included tearing up the pavement in the plaza to install a new gas main.
When a health inspector came by unannounced on Wednesday afternoon, rat droppings were found throughout the basement, said Maher, who suspected the vermin got in when workers installing a new heating system weeks prior failed to shut the basement door on the sidewalk.
But rats are just a part of city living, said Maher — unpleasant, but not uncommon, especially near construction sites.
"Can you imagine New York City anywhere there isn't a rat? Are you kidding me?" he exclaimed.
The city's Department of Health confirmed the tavern had been shuttered due to "evidence of rat activity" and "conditions conducive to vermin and pest activity," but also noted the business was found guilty of storing food at the wrong temperature.
Maher has a hearing at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings on Monday, he said, where he will plead his case. The business has already brought over an exterminator and is working to ensure the basement is securely sealed, and has bought a new refrigerator to make sure food is stored properly, according to Maher's daughter, Teresa.
"We're doing our best to seal the building," said Teresa Maher. "Now we're aware of what we gotta do and that's it."
In the meantime, the owner expects to be answering questions from a lot of disgruntled loyal patrons over the weekend — the day after the closure, Maher stood outside the pub to explain the closure to patrons hoping to come by for lunch. He hopes to have the bar up and running shortly after Monday's hearing.
"There are going to be a lot of disappointed people over the weekend," he said.
This is not the first time the landmark tavern has been in trouble with the city's Health Department — in 2011, Maher was ordered to clean the dust off the historic wishbones hanging from the ceiling, representing soldiers killed in wars dating back to World War I.
The Department of Design and Construction did not immediately respond to a request for comment.