The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a serious blow to food and drinking establishments, especially bars. Though over the summer restaurants in many states were allowed to reopen at limited capacity, bars opened and then were quickly shut down again.
Many bars have permanently closed. Others are waiting until they are allowed to serve customers again, among them some bars that were established about a century ago. And almost every state has one such drinking establishment.
24/7 Tempo has identified the oldest bar in each state still serving — or hoping to again soon serve — drinks. To be considered, the establishment had to have been in the same location from the time it started serving alcohol, although continuous operation was not required. Whenever possible, we consulted local experts and state historical societies. In each bar’s description, the date listed is when we believe the establishment first served liquor on its premises.
Taverns and bars opened in America as soon as the first settlers arrived on the continent. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin frequented City Tavern in Philadelphia while the Declaration of Independence was being crafted. The melody of our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” is that of a British drinking song. This is the history behind America’s national anthems, songs, and marches.
Longevity in the tavern trade has proved to be particularly challenging during the pandemic, which has prevented social gatherings in enclosed spaces. The oldest bar in South Carolina — McCrady’s, founded in 1778 — closed permanently because of the pandemic.
Almost half of the bars on the list opened before the state they are located in joined the Union. The nation’s oldest bar, Rhode Island’s White Horse Tavern, opened in 1673. Some of these establishments are in America’s oldest towns. Here are 102 American towns founded before the American Revolution.
Many bars have been private residences or other types of facilities over the years, and many were forced to close or go underground during temperance movements in the 1800s and Prohibition from 1920 to 1933. Many of these establishments, however, continued to operate as speakeasies.
To be considered for the list of the oldest bar in every state, the establishment had to have been in the same location from the time it started serving alcohol, although continuous operation was not required. These places sometimes changed hands and name, but patrons today can stand in a place where alcohol was served centuries ago.
Determining a founding date for these establishments was rarely easy and often depended on the claims of the establishments themselves. Whenever possible, we consulted local experts, state historical societies, and more. In each bar’s description, the date listed is when we believe the establishment first served liquor on its premises.