Written by: J. Vigotsky
Dining out at local eating establishments is a time-honored tradition that nearly everyone can appreciate. The food, the ambiance, and the people are just a few reasons why going to a restaurant is so special. And while America has been around for nearly 250 years, some of its restaurants date back even further than that. The following list includes 6 of the oldest restaurants in the United States. Take a trip back in time by visiting any one of them.
Griswold Inn – Essex, CT
This classy establishment has run continuously since its inception all the way back in 1776. Providing shelter and sustenance to shipyard workers who built vessels during the Revolutionary War, the Griswold Inn successfully stood the test of time. The tavern was captured by British troops during the war of 1812 and briefly turned into a base of operations. Playing host to a long list of historical figures like Mark Twain, Katherine Hepburn, Albert Einstein, and even George Washington, the Griswold Inn gives patrons the chance to dine with the ghosts of legends.
For visitors who want the deluxe experience, the Griswold Inn has 33 rooms for overnight stays. Antiques populate rooms, and there are no televisions. Instead, classical music sets an elegant ambiance that transports to diners to a different time and place. To this day, many of the restaurants original decorations are still place. Despite this throwback atmosphere, the Griswold Inn thankfully features modern bathrooms.
White Horse Tavern – Newport, RI
Founded in 1673, the White Horse Tavern is the oldest and certainly one of the most unique restaurants in America. In nearly 350 years since it was founded, this Rhode Island bar has sheltered pirates and also briefly became a boardinghouse. The restaurant fell into disarray before being restored in the 1950s. Delicious drinks like the Darn and Stormy, a classic cocktail that combines rum and ginger beer, keep local patrons coming back for more—even after all these years.
Fraunces Tavern – New York, NY
Located in NYC’s Financial District, the building that eventually became Fraunces Tavern was built in 1686. Initially home to NYC mayor Stephanus Van Cortlandt, the building was eventually sold to Samuel Frances—who renovated the building and transformed it into a successful tavern in 1762.
The Sons of Liberty—a secret society formed by John Hancock and Samuel Adams to protect the rights of America’s colonists—regularly met at Fraunces Tavern prior to the American Revolution. The tavern was also the site of a dinner held in 1783 for George Washington and his troops. The gathering was in celebration of Washington pushing the British army out of New York.
Today, the Fraunces Tavern has expanded to occupy an entire block and include five separate buildings. The traditional restaurant includes 8 separate dining spaces, and a museum commemorating the tavern’s history features 9 distinct galleries.
Union Oyster House – Boston, MA
This Union Oyster House building was erected in the early 1700s and originally served as a formal dress store. Expansion in 1771 welcomed the “The Massachusetts Spy” newspaper to the building’s second floor, but it wasn’t until 1826 when the Atwood & Bacon Oyster house was born. That same year, the restaurant changed its name to the Union Oyster House and hasn’t looked back since. Today, the restaurant is a National Historic Landmark and holds the title of longest continuously operated restaurant in America.
With an elegant, New England-themed interior, the Union Oyster House features paintings, framed newspapers, an even beautiful dioramas. Its menu consists of traditional New England seafood like oysters, clams, and lobsters. A favorite establishment of famous diners like the Kennedy family and Daniel Webster, who was well-known for devouring several plates of oysters at a time, the classic restaurant is also rumored to be where the toothpick was popularized.
Antoine’s Restaurant – New Orleans, LA
The oldest family-run restaurant in the United States, Antoine’s Restaurant boasts sophisticated décor and has been serving delicious Louisiana Creole cuisine since 1840. It’s located in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter and is known for being the birthplace of oysters Rockefeller.
Steeped in rich history, Antoine’s Restaurant features private rooms named after Carnival krewes like Rex, Proteus, and the 12th Night Revelers. During Carnival season, these krewes are the organizations that put on Bourbon Street’s famous Mardi Gras parade.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Antoine’s Restaurant is the Mystery Room, which earned its name during the prohibition era. While alcohol was outlawed, patrons would go through a door in the ladies room that led to a secret room, which served coffee spiked with booze. When drinkers returned to their tables and were asked where they’d gotten the coffee, they’d simply respond, “It’s a mystery to me.” There are several other rooms throughout the restaurant, each of which has its own interesting story.
Tadich Grill – San Francisco, CA
When thousands of ambitious prospectors headed west in search of gold in 1849, they needed something to help keep them going. Capitalizing on the opportunity, a small coffee stand opened to give prospectors much-needed energy boosts. The coffee stand was bought out by John Tadich in 1887 and quickly became a full-fledge restaurant. That restaurant was named the Tadich Grill and lays claim to being the first in the U.S. to cook seafood on a mesquite charcoal grill.
Today, the Tadich Grill still specializes in serving fresh seafood. Refusing to take reservations, the restaurant is usually packed with diners during lunch and dinner. So if you plan to go, it’s best to arrive on the early side.