The Tavern: A People’s History

Ah yes, you have arrived at the pub to gather with friends and family to have a joyful evening. You look around and think to yourself what a good idea this is. A place to gather for comrade re and drinks. But where did it all come from? How did it come to be and have they always been around in our country?


The concept of the tavern jumped the pond with new settlers in America. They were very close copies of the ones in Britain which are called pubs. County officials recognized that there was a need for taverns which helped to maintain order by essentially possibly avoiding drinking on Sundays. Tavern Keepers were created to hold responsibilities for the establishments.

Colonial Americans relied heavily on taverns and most especially in the South where towns were almost non existent. Much like today where you would gather to meet with friends and catch up on the latest word, colonists would frequent them to arrange trades, find out current crop prices and hear newspapers read aloud. It was also a place to discover business opportunities and place bets on gambling. They became a place for rural Americans to have a connection to the society that lies beyond.

Much like today where you can find pool tables, pinball or video lottery, the taverns of old also had games for leisure. They too had billiards tables and there was always a deck of cards. It was the end game for military training exercises and horse race crowds would frequent there before and after the race. Organized clubs and private rooms were a part of upscale taverns.

Taverns spread to the South and boundaries of gender, race, and class were overlapped at this meeting place. The growing vastness of drink types and clubs began to show the spread of the English style pub throughout America.


Can you imagine getting a drink at the bar and then being offered a room too? Some taverns long ago if they were big enough would provide lodging for travelers. If it was one that was of high class, there would be a lounge with a huge fireplace including a bar and dining. The lodging here was pretty posh with separate ladies parlors, good food, cozy rooms and fires in every quarter. It was a different story in the backwoods with filthy conditions, but better than no tavern at all.

These old bars were sometimes the place for early governments to gather. Namely the Virginia government met at taverns in the 1600’s. The City Tavern in Philadelphia is where the First Continental Congress was formed. Congress sometimes met at Fraunces Tavern in New York City when City Hall was under construction.

Maybe a drink and then give the bartender a letter to mom to send off? Sounds funny, but old taverns also served as post offices. The United States Postal Service had its origins in taverns. In Silver Spring, Maryland, the Eagle Tavern doubled as a post office and it has been depicted as a place where Civil War troops read their mail. Even today in Leavenworth, Washington the Old Post Office Tavern is still in operation as well as Old Kelley’s Tavern in New Hampshire.


The first tavern which opened in 1634 is in Boston, Massachusetts in which Samuel Cole established the “first house for common entertainment.” The tavern in the oldest building is in Newport, Rhode Island and Jean Lafitte’s Black Smith Shoppe in New Orleans, Louisiana claims to be the oldest bar continuously operating before 1775.

So next time you park it with your favorite people for a night out, remember that you are partaking in a very historic tradition of our country.

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