There’s nothing quite like stepping into an old bar. You can just feel the history around you – the walls may be browned from years of tobacco smoke, the initials of past patrons may be carved into the tables, ancient posters and advertisements may be affixed to the wall – and you might feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.
Bars have been a part of American society since before it was a country. In colonial times, taverns served as meeting places, banquet halls, inns where weary travelers could have a warm meal and maybe spend the night, and simply places to simply stop in for a flagon of ale or a tot of rum. Amazingly, some of these colonial-era taverns are still around, and still serving the same purpose.
Swanky modern cocktail bars and Irish-accented pubs have their place, but old bars are something else. The idea of having a drink in the exact same spot – bellying up to the same old bar – as many thousands of others have, over many generations, connects us to the past in a way that few other experiences can.
To determine some of the oldest bars in America, 24/7 Tempo consulted lists of longstanding watering holes on websites including Insider, USA Today, Thrillist, Wine Enthusiast, Oldest.org, Beer Info, and The Coolist. (Dating back far longer than anything in America, here are the world’s oldest bars and restaurants that are still open.)
To be considered for inclusion here, a bar or tavern has to have been in the same location from the time it first served alcohol, although continuous operation is not required. Determining a founding date for these places is rarely easy and often depends on the claims of the establishments themselves. Whenever possible, in addition to the sources named above, we consulted state historical societies in attempting to verify those claims. In each bar’s description, the date listed is when we believe the establishment first served liquor on its premises.
For obvious reasons, America’s oldest bars are taverns constructed in the eastern reaches of the country, where tavern-loving colonists and other early settlers, often from England, first set up shop. For venerable drinking establishments in other parts of the country, see our listing of the oldest bar in every state.
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