Category: Archive

Dad clears his conscience at McSorley’s

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

W.C. Fields, Nick Nolte, Leonardo Di Caprio and at least one of the Kennedys have been shown the door at some point.
But on that occasion back in 1994, his friends, all workers in the Financial District, followed him into the Manhattan night without paying the tab.
This year, a chance encounter at a racetrack led him back to the famed East 7th Street bar, where he was determined to make amends.
“It always bothered me,” said the New Jersey resident.
That may have something to do with his grandfather. He’d been a 1930s cabdriver whose favorite story was about a passenger who got away without paying.
“The lady picked him up in Midtown and he took her to some hospital downtown,” Aiken said. “She got out and told him to wait.”
After 10 minutes or so, he began to feel she wasn’t coming back. Indeed, when he investigated he found that she’d escaped out the back door. Four months later, the same woman jumped into his taxi. This time, he anticipated her fare-dodging maneuver and had her pay twice.
“My grandmother said she had never seen him so happy,” Aiken said.
His maternal grandparents had raised their family through the Great Depression. Aiken grew particularly close to them after his father died when he was 12. He loved to listen to their stories, which were sometimes parables about how to behave – like about how you should save for hard times ahead and how you should pay your dues and pay your way.
Aiken didn’t pay his way that night 15 years ago. He and his friends had traveled up from their job at Prudential Securities.
“My friend Billy, who’s a rather stout gentleman, was in a beer chugging competition. He can really knock them back,” he said. “I stood on the chair to root him on him.”
Two McSorley staff members pounced on him and bundled him out the door. His friends voluntarily joined him on the street soon afterwards, where they collectively decided to flee.
Aiken continued to work at Prudential Securities until his job became a victim of downsizing. That event coincided with his wife’s pregnancy and he opted to become a stay-at-home father. “That’s the hardest job,” he said. “I don’t know how my mom did it with five of us.”
In April, he began work again as a certified fund specialist at a small boutique investment bank in Red Bank, N.J.
Three months later he was at Monmouth Racetrack when someone overheard him address his five-year-old son — whom he and his wife, who is Chinese American, named Liam. His fellow racing fan asked him if he was Irish. It turned out the questioner was an employee of McSorley’s. He told Aiken that the bar’s owner, Kilkenny native Mattie Maher, was to make a presentation after the John McSorley Stakes.
Aiken devised a plan that afternoon: he’d do his penance, clear his conscience and at the same time give his little boy an early lesson in ethics.
“I’m going to pay the bill for all of us that night,” he said.
That’s how he found himself with Liam at McSorley’s shortly before opening time on a recent Sunday afternoon. He was sporting his Celtic F.C. colors. He is a former college soccer player and has followed the U.S. national team to the World Cup, but the jersey was an expression of his enthusiasm for his Irish heritage.
Aiken has researched some of his roots, though he has yet to make the trip. He’d like to find out whether he might be related to the most famous Irish person with the family name – Frank Aiken, who was leader of the defeated forces at the end of the Civil War in 1923 and who, as foreign minister in the 1950s and ’60s, carved out an independent role for Ireland at the United Nations.
In contrast, Scott Pullman, McSorley’s night manager, is not Irish, but he has been to Ireland several times. Some years ago, he married one of Maher’s daughters. The father of four introduced himself and his eldest, 14-year-old Sean, to Aiken. “We can’t take your check, Pete,” said Pullman, who’d come in from Queens to meet him on his day off.
However, Pullman had a suggestion. Recently, the FDNY took 40 Iraq war veterans who are being treated for severe burn injuries on a day out in Manhattan. Their last port of call was McSorley’s, where they stayed rather late into the night. Management decided the bar will close to the general public to do its own special night to raise funds for the veterans. Ronan Tynan and John McDermott will sing at the event.
“I’d rather his money went to that,” the night manager said. “He’s done the right thing by even saying it.”
“I’m more than happy to give to such a great cause,” Aiken said.

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