Wanna get drunk in the same tavern our founding fathers would down bottles of liquor? The original George W’s favorite hang out? The Son’s of Liberty’s secret meet-up? Then you definitely need to head to Fraunces Tavern. It is considered THE oldest tavern in New York City still running today.
Fraunces Tavern is actually one of the coolest places in New York City; it’s a hidden historic gem. Fraunces Tavern was established in 1762 and was originally called Queen’s Head Tavern, run by Samuel Fraunces. The tavern was popular among the founding fathers, and George Washington was a major patron. Although New York City was loyal to the crown, Fraunces was secretly a Patriot sympathizer, and allowed the Son’s of Liberty, a secret society formed to protect colonists rights against the crown, to gather in his tavern. Throughout the revolution, the tavern was a center for secret patriot meetings. The tavern was so popular among the men that, in fact, after the Revolution ended, George Washington hosted a farewell dinner and gave a speech to his officers in a private upstairs room in Fraunces Tavern. According to historians, George Washington said to his officers: “with a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.” The farewell dinner is Fraunces Taverns claim to fame.
Today, the upstairs has been turned into a mini museum, and the room of George Washington’s farewell speech displays a typical tavern scene from Revolution Era New York. There are also signs with interesting information, like the fact that back then, men would typically drink an entire bottle of liquor by themselves on an average night (tough). The museum stretches beyond this one very historic room and includes historic paintings of the revolutionary war, and some original early American flags, along with other memorabilia. The entrance fee is small and more than worth it.
I would highly suggest a guided tour in the museum. We did not sign up for a formal tour, but happened to get lucky when one of the women working there gave us a long history of Fraunces, his family, the tavern, and relation to George Washington. We learned some facts that we would not have heard other wise. Some interesting facts:
In 1775, revolutionaries seized a canon out near what is now battery city, and fired at a nearby British warship. The ship retaliated by peppering lower Manhattan with canon balls all night. A canon ball came through the roof of the tavern that night.
Upon George Washington taking office, he asked Fraunces to come be his head household steward. He served the president in both New York and Philadelphia.
When Fraunces went to work in Washington’s household, he sold the building to the US government, and it became the first headquarters for the US Department of Foreign Affairs. Eventually the US capitol moved south, at which point the building went back to being a tavern.
And a lot more but I can’t type out an entire history book here.
The actual tavern today has an awesome laid-back vibe, with beautiful woodwork, and fires to curl up beside. (if you have visited Copenhagen, you would probably describe the Tavern as very “hygge.”) They serve a wide variety of beers including an original Samuel Fraunces Ale, which I tried – it was fine, but not amazing – and traditional tavern food. They even frequently have great live music.
Being in the presence of such unique American history is really special. You can walk the freedom trail in Boston and see major sites of war, but Fraunces Tavern is really extraordinary because the revolution was a grassroots movement – places like Fraunces Tavern are where the movement was started, where people came to trade ideas of liberty, equal rights, and everything that drove the revolution. If these walls could talk…