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David Yarrow


Edition of 20
Archival Pigment Print

McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village is one of the most celebrated Irish bars on the Eastern Seaboard of America. Founded in 1854, it seemingly hasn’t changed much in 170 years and if the walls could talk, it would - “to be sure” - be one very long monologue.

The walls are a museum of the Irish in Manhattan and the joint has such a discernible vibe that Martin Scorsese and his crew did much of their press briefings for The Gangs of New York in the front bar. In the Great War, young soldiers heading to Europe in 1917, left a turkey wish bone on a wire above the bar; the bones of those who never returned still hang there in front of various JFK memorabilia.

The pub has been in the same Irish family hands for three generations and I was honoured to discover that the current custodian - Gregory - was a collector of my work. Naively, we tried to visit him on St Patrick’s Day, but couldn’t get within 200 yards of the pub. The next day, we had more luck and I was charmed not just by Gregory, but by the whole vibe of the joint. It is a truly special place and I knew I had to film there.

I didn’t have long to wait for the opportunity as John McEnroe - one of the most loved and talented of all American sporting legends and a truly uncompromising New Yorker - had agreed to be filmed by me in the city. Although the McEnroes are of Irish origin and therefore McSorley’s seemed like an appropriate destination, the reason that the location made sense went far deeper than that; John personifies the gritty, uncompromising New Yorker who fights for what he believes to be right - he always has. My leaning was the sawdust laden floors of McSorley’s offered a far more appropriate platform to film this blunt, quintessential, street fighter than some smart Upper East side Italian restaurant or cocktail bar. We were going Irish and tough.

McEnroe’s most famous rebuke to an umpire was the “you cannot be serious” line and I thought those words somewhere in McSorley’s - no matter how incongruous they would be to the rest of the décor - would complement John well. I asked him to bring his Gibson guitar and not a tennis racket, as music now defines him as much tennis and besides, we did give a nod to his rival Bjorn Borg in the photograph.

We were on a creative roll now and I sensed we could add further to the visual overload. The band Village People seemed like a good additive, after-all, we were in the Village and they were of the McEnroe Borg era. Then, since we were playing to a sense of community, I thought we may as well throw in a lady of the night. Luckily Vivian from Pretty Woman was on hand to help.

It is a bar full of Village People, which is what McSorley’s presumably was in 1854. McEnroe looks pure Rock and Roll bad ass. To anyone that says, I would not want to be in that bar, I would simply reply “You cannot be serious”.

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