Taverns a Part of America’s History


May is National Tavern Month, making it a good time to examine the roots, history and contributions of taverns since Europeans first landed in America more than 400 years ago.

The American tavern is a direct descendant of the British pub (short for public house). The name itself traces back to the ancient Latin term “taberna.” The Greek taverna shares the same language heritage.

Although styles vary from place to place, most taverns sell food and licensed beverages for on-premises consumption. Most “neighborhood bars,” many “cocktail lounges” and even some “nightclubs” could be described as taverns.

In colonial America, especially in New England, taverns formed the center of community social life. They often had sleeping rooms for visitors and thus were great places to learn of news from travelers.

The National Register of Historic Places lists more than 250 places with “tavern” in their name among the more than 6,000 most historic places in the country.

Some Bits Of Tavern History:

1. City Tavern in Philadelphia, built in 1773, was the political, social and business center of the United States. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere all dined there. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution both owe much to the food and spirits consumed in this establishment.

2. The Catamount Tavern in Bennington, Vt., actually was known as Fay’s House, or the Green Mountain Tavern. During the Revolutionary War, it was the meeting place of Ethan Allan and the Green Mountain Boys. It was here they planned raids on British positions in nearby New York, including Fort Ticonderoga. The original tavern burned down in 1871.

3. Gadsby’s Tavern, in Alexandria, Va., was the “neighborhood tavern” for George Washington, whose Mount Vernon estate is not far away. You still can enjoy colonial style meals there and hear the latest “news” from staff in period costume acting as runners just in from distant battlefields.

4. Tunnicliff’s Tavern in Washington, D.C., originally opened as a hotel in 1793. It was Washington’s oldest hotel, servicing its clientele for more than 100 years. Throughout history, politicians have frequented Tunnicliff’s, making deals in a relaxed environment. In 1800, President John Adams spent many nights at “Mr. Tunnicliff’s Hotel.” In 1850, Sam Houston and Jefferson Davis requested their senatorial colleagues to meet in “Mr. Tunnicliff’s Tavern in the parlor after supper” to discuss a bill on “maintaining flogging in the military.”

5. President Martin Van Buren, born in 1782, was the son of a tavern owner near Albany, N.Y. He often worked at the tavern.

6. President Abraham Lincoln is said to have operated a tavern in his early life. There also is evidence that he and his young wife, Mary Todd, were living in one room at the Globe Tavern in Springfield, Ill., when their first child, Robert Todd, was born in 1843.