Historic restaurants are time capsules of the past. Dating as far back as the 17th century, the oldest eateries in America remind us how people gathered, ate, and drank throughout the decades. From the swinging doors of a Wild West saloon to a fine-dining establishment favored by New Orleans’ upper crust, here are seven historic U.S. restaurants worth the reservation.
Antoine’s Restaurant – New Orleans, Louisiana
Restaurateur Antoine Alciatore opened his eponymous eatery as a young upstart in New Orleans in 1840. Since then, Antoine’s Restaurant has been passed down through five generations, making it the oldest family-run restaurant in the country. Located in the historic French Quarter, Antoine’s originated as an elegant establishment for the city’s upper class, and it retains that charm to this day.
Today, the restaurant continues to celebrate old-world elegance with white tablecloths, ornate chandeliers, and a strict dress code of collared shirts for men. Serving classic French-Creole cuisine, Antoine’s is the birthplace of dishes such as oysters Rockefeller (baked oysters with a butter-crumb topping) and eggs Sardou (poached eggs over artichokes and topped with Hollandaise).
Fraunces Tavern – New York, New York
Founded in 1762, Lower Manhattan’s Fraunces Tavern has certainly seen its fair share of history. Since the building at 54 Pearl Street was constructed in 1719, it has served as a private residence, hotel, and Revolutionary War watering hole. In fact, it was in these hallowed halls that George Washington assembled a group of officers for a farewell dinner at the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.
Today, Fraunces Tavern is both a restaurant and a museum, with exhibitions that include replicated dining rooms from the late 18th century and art depicting the tavern’s most famous visitor, George Washington. The tavern’s restaurant is extensive, featuring two bars, a dining room with outdoor seating, and a piano lounge.
The Palace Restaurant and Saloon – Prescott, Arizona
The Wild West lives on at the Palace Restaurant and Saloon in Prescott, Arizona. Situated along the historic Whiskey Row, named for all the saloons that once stood there, the Palace opened its swinging doors in 1877 to thirsty cowboys, justice-seeking lawmen, and rough-riding vagabonds looking to imbibe. The saloon was a favorite watering hole of gambling gunfighter Doc Holliday, who used to belly up to the bar alongside lawman Virgil Earp.
Located across from the Courthouse Plaza, the Palace features the ornately carved Brunswick Bar, which dates back to the 1880s and was salvaged from a fire that destroyed the original establishment in 1900. Bartenders and servers dress in traditional Old West garb and may share a story or two of the supposed hauntings that frequent the joint.
Union Oyster House – Boston, Massachusetts
A stone’s throw from Faneuil Hall, Union Oyster House has been in operation since 1826, making it the oldest restaurant in Boston. Located along the historic Freedom Trail, the building was formerly a dry goods establishment, selling imported clothing to high-end Boston residents.
The restaurant’s first iteration, Atwood and Bacon, took advantage of the oyster craze that swept the nation in the early 19th century, and sold oysters, clams, and buttered toast to hungry patrons. After becoming the Union Oyster House, the restaurant installed its iconic circular bar, where statesman Daniel Webster was a daily regular. The Kennedy clan were also famous patrons, choosing to either dine in a private room or in J.F.K’s favorite booth, which still exists today.
Buckhorn Exchange – Denver, Colorado
Founded in 1893, the Buckhorn Exchange is a historic Denver establishment that feels right at home in the Old West. Located across the street from the Rio Grande Railroad, the saloon was once a popular spot for railroad workers in need of sustenance after a long day’s work. The bar’s founder, Shorty Zietz, ran in the same circles as the legendary Buffalo Bill, who would regularly frequent the bar for his signature drink: apple cider and bourbon in a quart-sized jar.
Since then, five Presidents have dined at the Buckhorn Exchange, along with celebrities such as Bob Hope, Will Rogers, and Princess Anne. Filled to the brim with historic artifacts and Old West memorabilia, the steakhouse has a menu featuring prime-grade beef, buffalo, and elk — in addition to a cocktail inspired by Buffalo Bill himself.
McGillin’s Olde Ale House – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Established in 1860, the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected President, McGillin’s Olde Ale House is the oldest, continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia and one of the oldest taverns in the country. These days, thirsty patrons can choose from 30 beers on draft, including several Philadelphia-made microbrews.
The ale house has seen a lot in its 150-year history: the construction of Philadelphia’s City Hall two blocks away, Prohibition (during which it served food, ice cream, and “tea”), and the invention of the Philly Cheesesteak, which McGillin’s began serving in 1930. Stop by for a pint of Yuengling, Pennsylvania’s famous beer from America’s oldest brewery, alongside a plate of fish and chips or shepherd’s pie.
White Horse Tavern – Newport, Rhode Island
When the White Horse Tavern opened its doors in Newport in 1673, the sign outside with a painted white steed welcomed guests inside for food and lodging. Today, the same white horse continues to grace the restaurant’s exterior, while the interior features colonial-era details such as clapboard walls, large fireplaces, and even a resident ghost.
As the oldest restaurant in the United States, the tavern has long been a gathering place. In addition to being the former site of Rhode Island’s general assembly, notable patrons of the establishment include Ernest Hemingway, E.E. Cummings, Bob Dylan, and Jack Kerouac. Today, the menu features fresh meat, fish, and produce sourced from local New England farms.