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The oldest restaurants and eateries in America stand apart for their longevity, and even bold resilience to stand up to centuries of change. They serve as living lessons into the passage of time and the evolution of communities, while also serving great food.

Many of America’s oldest restaurants have operated continuously, holding tight to their historic roots. Others have changed with the times due to restoration or a repurposing of its original use as a restaurant. Their enduring legacy is what makes these old restaurants so special.

The following nine taverns, inns, and restaurants all share a place in the bedrock of America’s history.

1. The White Horse Tavern

Newport, Rhode Island

The_White_Horse_Tavern_Newport_Rhode_Island_est._1673
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Billing itself as America’s Oldest Tavern, The White Horse Tavern is a National Historic Landmark and the oldest operating restaurant in the U.S.

The White Horse is acknowledged as the 10th oldest restaurant in the world, having served guests since 1673.

The building had already been up for 20 years when it was acquired by innkeeper William Mayer, Sr., from original owner Francis Brimley. In its 348 years of operation, the White Horse has had only nine owners, with a local ownership consortium taking control in 2014.

The White Horse serves a traditional A La carte menu that ranges from Beef Wellington to Lobster Mac & Cheese, with produce supplied from local Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island farms.

2. Fraunces Tavern

Manhattan, New York

Fraunces Tavern Exterior
Image Source: Tanenhaus via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Manhattan’s oldest standing structure, the diminutive Fraunces Tavern stands out amongst the hulking world of concrete and glass of the Financial District that surrounds it.

While almost a full century younger than the White Horse, Fraunces was first opened in 1762 and is famed for its importance during the establishment of the United States, as a popular spot for George Washington and the Founding Fathers to gather.

According to the official Fraunces Tavern Museum website, it is “the site where, on December 4, 1783, George Washington gathered a group of his officers, nine days after the last of the British troops left American soil, to thank them for their service and bid them an emotional farewell before returning home.”

The Fraunces Tavern, which also serves as a Museum of the American Revolution, offers mainly meat and seafood meals for dinner 7 days per week, with lunch on weekdays and brunch on weekends.

Image Source: Debi R via Yelp

3. The Griswold Inn

Essex Connecticut

Griswold Inn Exterior
Image Source: Joseph P via Yelp

The brothers Griswold opened America’s oldest Inn in 1776 to feed and house the men who worked on the building and commissioning America’s first warship, the Oliver Cromwell.

Since then, the ‘Gris’ has been Essex’ pride and joy, having been at the epicenter of the Steamboat trade along the Connecticut River, then growing along with other developments in the area’s trade and business.

These days, you’ll find the Gris as a backdrop in film and television, from Hallmark Movies to episodes of The Bachelor. The restaurant, headed by Chef Toppin, features traditional American favorites.

Griswold Interior
Image Source: Joe Mabel via Flickr CC by-SA 2.0

4. Gadsby’s Tavern

Alexandria Virginia

Gadsby's Tavern
Image Source: Tom Bastin via Flickr CC BY 2.0

The site of Gadsby’s Tavern is much older, having previously been Mason’s Ordinary from around 1750 until it was bought by Marylander John Wise after the Revolutionary War.

In the cultural and economic boom that followed, Gadsby’s Tavern became an 18th-century version of a restaurant district, comprising the original tavern (1785) and an additional tavern and hotel (1792).

George Washington popped up here too, hosting a Ball in 1798 at the Gadsby’s City Tavern, and also entertained a range of luminaries from Washington D.C., just across the river.

These days Gadsby’s is a storied part of the Alexandria Old Town. The restaurant is still going strong, while there’s a popular museum on site too.

Gadsby's Interior
Image Source: Chris B via Yelp

5. The Union Oyster House

Boston Massachusetts

Union Oyster House
Image Source: Mark Peters via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Originally opening as the Atwood & Bacon Oyster House on August 3, 1826, the second floor of the site was previously home to a dry goods store. In 1796, French King Louis Phillipe (ruled 1830-1848) lived upstairs, teaching American women of means to speak and write French.

The Union Oyster House is known for being the longest continuously operating restaurant in the US (The taverns and inn above may not have served dinner at various times, or had stages of redevelopment that meant kitchen closure).

Its famed semi-circular oyster bar was installed in the late 1800s and is known as the spot where Americans were first exposed to the toothpick, which had been imported from South America by Charles Foster and spruiked by oyster-loving students from Harvard that were paid to ask for the mini wooden staves.

In contemporary dining, oysters remain the star of the show almost 200 years since the Union Oyster House was established, however, a full seafood menu plus steaks and other A La Carte favorites are offered.

6. The New Hudson Inn

New Hudson, Michigan

New Hudson Inn
Image Source: Danielle B via Yelp

The New Hudson Inn was first established as the ‘Old Tavern,’ by businessman Russell Alvord in 1831, after being granted land in the territories by President Andrew Jackson.

The New Hudson Station was a stagecoach service that ran to Detroit and Landing from the East, before Michigan becoming a State. Alvord’s Tavern served as an important transit point for the line and its travellers, where they could get a bed for the night, food, and refreshments.

The town of New Hudson grew around the Inn, then transitioned into the railroad era, and later the roads that spread throughout Michigan.

The New Hudson Inn remains a key part of the community’s fabric, serving patrons tasty sandwiches, burgers, bar food, and beverages daily (they serve a handy breakfast as well).

7. The J. Huston Tavern

Arrow Rock, Missouri

J Huston Tavern
J. Huston Tavern via Yelp

The J. Huston Tavern is the oldest continuously serving restaurant west of the Mississippi, having first opened in Arrow Rock, Missouri in 1834.

It was opened as a rest and refreshment stop for travellers along the popular Sante Fe Trail, which connected Sante Fe, New Mexico with Franklin, Missouri. Sante Fe was an important trading point for goods from Mexico.

The contemporary menu includes mains of pork, brisket, and the Tavern’s famous fried chicken, plus a wide array of Southern sides and sandwiches.

8. Antoine’s Restaurant

New Orleans, Louisiana

Antoine's Restaurant
Image Source: Miguel Discart via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Antoine’s is the oldest family-owned and operated restaurant in the US, having first opened its doors to New Orleans diners in 1840.

After a brief period working in the grand St. Charles Hotel kitchen, youthful entrepreneur Antoine Alciatore opened a pension, a boarding house, and a restaurant, where he sold Creole food.

Its fame grew quickly among the wealthy landowners of Louisiana, which prompted Antoine to expand his operation to the present locale on St Louis Street in 1868.

The most famous dish at Antoine’s is the oft-copied but never bettered Oysters Rockefeller, so named for being a buttery sauce so rich it rivalled the largess of John D. Rockefeller.

Oysters Rockefeller
Image Source: Shao-Lon Y via Yelp

9. Tadich Grill

San Francisco, California

Tadich Grill
Image Source: Brad Coy via Flickr CC BY 2.0

What began as a Long Wharf coffee tent helmed by three Croatian immigrants in 1849 has become the West Coast’s oldest continuously serving restaurant.

Tadich Grill evolved with the sea trade of San Francisco’s piers, serving fresh fish to sailors, seamen, and the businessmen that sent trade to the interior of the USA.

The restaurant’s stock in trade hasn’t changed much in almost 170 years – quality seafood and meats, fresh ingredients with good service and availability make Tadich Grill a great restaurant to visit when you are in the Financial District.

Tadich Grill Interior
Image Source: Shelby L. Bell via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Conclusion

Being able to combine history and food in a story was a lot of fun.

The longevity and sense of history that all of these restaurants possess, plus their reflection of the development of the United States was well worth putting time into.

I hope to get a chance to dine at all of them someday.