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.
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.
> Location: Odessa, DE
> Founding date: 1822
Founded as Cantwell’s Bridge Hotel and Tavern by businessman William Polk, this beautiful Federal-style tavern was purchased by the Ashby Hospitality Group in 2011 and beautifully restored to have cozy fireplaces and plenty of old-world charm. The large menu has raw bar items, pizzas, sandwiches, and local-inspired specialties, along with a wide array of cocktails and local beers.
> Location: Natchez, MS
> Founding date: early 1800s
Located on the Natchez waterfront, formerly a thriving cotton port, Under-the-Hill Saloon originally catered to grifters, cut-throats, and other unsavory types. Today, it’s a homey bar with brick walls, cold beer, and great Mississippi River views from the front porch.
> Location: Freeport, ME
> Founding date: 1801
Built as a private home in 1779 and converted to a tavern two years later, Jameson Tavern served as a meeting place for commissioners of the Province of Maine. It’s where they signed papers to declare independence from Massachusetts and today is known as “the birthplace of Maine.” New ownership took over in 1981, and they restored it to as it may have looked when first constructed. It is now one of the best places in the state for a traditional Maine lobster dinner.
Bell in Hand Tavern
> Location: Boston, MA
> Founding date: 1795
Going strong near Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall since it was opened by the former town crier after he retired (hence the name), Bell in Hand Tavern first attracted printers, politicians, and sailors, and today it’s a beloved hangout for locals and tourists alike. It oozes Colonial-era charm, and is a great place for a beer and bar food in the heart of historic Boston.
Ye Olde Tavern
> Location: Manchester, VT
> Founding date: 1790
Founded as an inn, Ye Olde Tavern (originally called the Stagecoach Inn) catered to the famed Green Mountain Boys and is older than the state of Vermont itself. It was painstakingly restored in the 1970s, and was added to the Vermont Register of Historic Places in 2020. It still looks very much as it might have 200 years ago, and it is a great place for a candle-lit dinner of New England specialties like Yankee pot roast and scrod.
The Hancock Inn
> Location: Hancock, NH
> Founding date: 1789
New Hampshire’s oldest continuously operating inn, The Hancock has been welcoming locals and travelers since 1789. Warm and cozy, it’s home to a bar, restaurant, and a 14-room inn. It was sold by owners Marcia and Jarvis Coffin to a Boston-based investor group in April 2022, and will reopen after a thorough renovation in the summer of 2023.
> Location: Charleston, MA
> Founding date: 1780
This legendary tavern located just outside Boston famously counted George Washington and Paul Revere as regulars. One of the first buildings constructed after Charlestown was sacked by the British, the tavern hasn’t changed much since then, and remains a favorite among locals for its Colonial ambiance, cold beer, and burgers.
The Old Talbott Tavern
> Location: Bardstown, KY
> Founding date: 1779
The oldest Western stagecoach stop in America, The Old Talbott Tavern served as a welcoming haven for pioneers during the country’s earliest days. The building, which is reminiscent of old Warwickshire inns in England, is absolutely brimming with lore: Andrew Jackson warmed up by the fire, Abraham Lincoln stayed there as a child, King Louis Phillippe is said to have stayed there, and Jesse James reportedly left some bullet holes in the walls. Today, it’s home to one of America’s best bourbon bars and a popular restaurant, and offers six well-appointed guest rooms.
> Location: Abingdon, VA
> Founding date: 1779
One of America’s oldest buildings west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, The Tavern – built as a drinking place and stagecoach stop – and has hosted luminaries including Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and Pierre L’Enfant (who designed Washington, D.C.). It served as a hospital for wounded Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War. It was fully restored in 1984, and is today a local fine dining destination.
The Barnsboro Inn
> Location: Sewell, NJ
> Founding date: 1776
The oldest part of The Barnsboro Inn is a log cabin constructed on the highest ground in the area way back in 1720, and in 1776 the home was converted into a tavern, which it has remained ever since. Today it’s a popular bar and restaurant, known for its burgers, bar food, and local beer.
Tap Room in the Griswold Inn
> Location: Essex, CT
> Founding date: 1776
The Griswold Inn is one of the oldest continuously-operated inns in the country – an upscale destination for dining and lodging (there are 33 guest rooms, each unique). Its tap room was constructed as a schoolhouse in 1735 and later moved into its current position by a team of oxen. One of the most beautiful and historic barrooms in America, “the Gris” is known for its clam chowder and house-made sausages.
The Horse You Came in on Tavern
> Location: Fells Point, MD
> Founding date: 1775
Known by locals as “The Horse,” this tavern today claims to be the country’s oldest continually operated saloon. In any case, it’s the only bar in Maryland to have existed before, during, and after Prohibition – and is also said to have been Edgar Allan Poe’s last stop before his mysterious death in 1849. Today, it’s a warm and inviting old bar and popular live music venue.
Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
> Location: New Orleans, LA
> Founding date: 1775
Situated at the quiet end of the city’s Bourbon Street (if such a thing exists), Jean Lafitte’s occupies a building that was constructed around 1722 and is said to have been used by legendary privateer Jean Lafitte as a New Orleans base of operations (although that hasn’t been verified) before becoming a tavern. Today it’s a dark, cozy bar that’s best known for strong, sugary drinks like the grape-flavored, Everclear-spiked Purple Drank.
> Location: New York City, NY
> Founding date: 1762
An anachronism among the hovering skyscrapers of Manhattan’s Financial District, the Colonial-era Fraunces Tavern is New York’s oldest tavern, and is most famously where George Washington bid farewell to his officers after the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. The current building is a reconstruction (nobody is quite sure exactly what it originally looked like), but it’s home to a lovely restaurant, a couple beautiful bars, and a museum.
The Old ’76 House (André’s Prison)
> Location: Tappan, NY
> Founding date: 1755
Built in 1755 and used as a meeting place for patriots, The Old ’76 House was famously used as a prison for Major John André, a British spy who assisted Benedict Arnold in his plan to turn West Point over to the British. George Washington and just about every other luminary of the Revolution dined there, and nowadays it’s a popular tavern, private event space, and live music venue.
The Pirate’s House
> Location: Savannah, GA
> Founding date: 1753
A true Savannah landmark a block from the Savannah River, the Pirate’s House opened as an inn for seafarers and soon became a popular hangout for pirates and working sailors alike. After falling into disrepair by World War II, it was restored in the early 1950s and is today a major tourist destination with a full-service Southern restaurant, bar, and event space.
> Location: Annapolis, MD
> Founding date: 1750
Annapolis’ famous Middleton Tavern has been hosting guests since 1750; patrons have included George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. It served as an important stopping place for travelers for getting on ferries to cross the bay, and also once had an elegant garden. It was restored in the 1970s and expanded in the 1980s, and is today one of the city’s best spots for fresh Chesapeake seafood.
New Boston Inn
> Location: Sandisfield, MA
> Founding date: 1737
Founded as a stagecoach stop, the New Boston is Berkshire County’s oldest inn. The original barroom is a pub to this day, and there’s also an inn with a full restaurant, a “Gentleman’s Parlor,” and seven guest rooms.
The Red Fox Inn & Tavern
> Location: Middleburg, VA
> Founding date: 1728
Built at the halfway point between Alexandria and the frontier town of Winchester, Virginia, The Red Fox Inn & Tavern has hosted everyone from George Washington to John F. Kennedy to Elizabeth Taylor to Tom Cruise over the years. It served as a Confederate headquarters and hospital during the Civil War, and today it’s a charming and elegant retreat with five guest rooms, an upscale tavern, and a cozy pub.
King George II Inn
> Location: Bristol, PA
> Founding date: 1681
Believed to be the oldest continually operated inn in the United States, the King George II was established as a stopping point on the road between New York and Philadelphia. Overlooking the Delaware River, the inn was renamed the Fountain House after the Revolutionary War and was a popular resort in the 1800s. The original name was restored in the 1940s, and nowadays it’s a popular bar and restaurant.
White Horse Tavern
> Location: Newport, RI
> Founding date: 1673
Believed to be the oldest tavern in America, the White Horse occupies a building constructed in 1652 and enlarged into a tavern 21 years later. It has remained one ever since. It served as a meeting house for the Rhode Island General Assembly, and it quartered British troops taking part in the occupation of Newport during the Revolutionary War. It was restored in the 1950s after years of neglect, and today the red-painted building is a warm and inviting bar and restaurant with an elegant Colonial-inspired atmosphere.
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