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The Worst Business Bar in America

And why, sometimes, it's exactly the bar you want.

McSorley's is not the best bar in which to do business. In fact, it's probably the worst. It's old--over 150 years--and it's rickety and it's not exactly clean. Plus all it has to drink is beer, the service is brusque at best, and the food could more accurately be termed "grub." What's more, any table with empty seats must be shared, and because the beer is cheap and it's far too easy to drink too much of it, the people you're sharing with tend to the loud and boisterous.

All of that's why I like to hold meetings there. Not all the time, mind you. McSorley's isn't for planning or strategizing, and it's definitely not for closing the deal. It's a place for figuring out who it is you're dealing with. McSorley's, you see, is a sort of people-meter. Say, for instance, the party with whom you're engaged is seated in the chair by the door, right under the pay phone, and that phone rings. How long does it take him (or her--McSorley's has been letting women drink there since 1970) to figure out that it's his responsibility to answer it? If he lets it ring 10 times before answering, he might be a little dim. When he does answer, does he do so with good humor and grace? If not, be warned. If he just lets it ring, also be warned: You're dealing with someone who feels too important to answer a phone. The same could be true if he quails at the thought of drinking ale or eating corned beef hash, although that could also be because he's delicate. Neither is a good quality in a business relationship.

On the other hand, I've seen people with whom I'm planning to do business embrace the McSorley's experience too tightly--have a dozen rounds of beer, talk drunken nonsense, order seconds of the hash, take belligerent offense at the waiter, try to make time with the married Belgian woman with whom we were sharing the table (she would have none of it). That, too, is very good to know.

McSorley's is a tough test, but a fair one: For every high-hat or frat boy I've seen revealed there, I've also seen a casual business acquaintance become a friend. Sometimes the worst bar is the best bar.

McSorley's Old Ale House, 15 E. Seventh St., New York (212) 473-9148

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This article was originally published in the July 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Worst Business Bar in America.

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