Fraunces Tavern in New York’s financial district is the city’s oldest restaurant by far, dating back to the 1700s.
First built in 1719 and having served as the stage for some of American history’s greatest figures like George Washington, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere, the restaurant exudes history from every wooden bench.
There are tributes to history all over the restaurant and the museum upstairs, now owned by the Sons of the Revolution, a fraternal organisation of descendants of members of the Revolutionary War.
We recently visited the tavern to see what it’s like.
Fraunces Tavern is located in the heart of the financial district at the corner of Pearl Street and Broad Street.
You can’t miss it. The big red brick building was first built in 1719 by Etienne “Stephen” DeLancey. It was DeLancey’s home until his heirs sold the building to Samuel Fraunces in 1762.
Fraunces originally called the tavern the Queen’s Head. It served as a meeting place before the American Revolution for the Sons of Liberty, the landmark political organisation headed by Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and others.
If you’re unsure if you want to eat, check out the menu outside. It has some cleverly named dishes like George Washington’s Horseback (applewood bacon, dates, almonds) and Jefferson’s Cobb Salad.
It looks like a very old colonial house on the inside. When I visited it was decked out with holiday decorations and a massive holiday tree that was clearly too big for the room.
Feel free to sign your John Hancock in the guest book. I wonder if there was a guest book in the colonial days.
The restaurant spans many rooms. Ask if there’s a particular room you’d like to eat in. I was seated in the Porterhouse Bar room. The restaurant was pretty busy, even for lunch on a Monday.
The Tallmadge room is named after Frederick Samuel Tallmadge, the grandson of Benjamin Tallmadge, Washington’s chief of intelligence during the war. Tallmadge helped the Sons of the Revolution purchase the building in 1904 to prevent it from being turned into a parking lot.
The Bissell Room is named after General Daniel Bissell, who served in the Revolutionary War. The room is decorated with lots of traditional colonial furniture and moldings.
The callbacks to American history are everywhere — with good reason. The tavern was a meeting place for many prominent colonists, was used for a court martial trial conducted in George Washington’s presence, and served as a location for the New York Provincial Congress.
This massive mural depicting New York in 1717 was actually painted in the 1980s.
There are portraits of George Washington everywhere. The tavern held some peace negotiations between the British and Americans at the end of the war.
The Wine Room is one of the smallest in the restaurant. It looked like a nice place to have a drink and nibble on some charcuterie.
There’s also Lafayette’s Hideout, presumably named after Marquis de Lafayette. It serves as the tavern’s sports bar.
The Porterhouse Bar (where I sat) is a popular happy hour spot and a good place to catch some live Irish music.
Or taste test some whiskeys.
I kept it simple with the rib eye steak sandwich with caramelised onions. At $US18, it wasn’t a cheap lunch, but it was a tasty sandwich.
Afterwards, I headed upstairs to check out the museum. The Sons of the Revolution, a fraternal organisation made up of descendants of Revolutionary War fighters, still owns both the tavern and the museum.
At the top of the stairs, you’ll find this engraving of George Washington and his generals at Fraunces Tavern. Washington was giving his famous farewell address at a banquet at the end of the Revolutionary War. The room where he gave the address is next to the engraving, but there are no photos allowed.
Like any good museum tour, I started in the gift shop. There wasn’t a lot to buy though.
But if you like scavenger hunts, you can take one of these flyers to see if you can spot every hidden “Easter egg” in the museum.
Next to the so-called “Long Room” where Washington gave his address is an exhibit of various portraits of Washington. On the right are some of the first depictions of Washington that appeared in Europe.
The engraving on the right, based on an unfinished painting by artist Gilbert Stuart, is the basis for George Washington’s portrait on the $US1 bill.
This bust was made using a mould made by French neoclassical sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. Houdon and his assistants made the mould in person at Washington’s estate at Mt. Vernon in 1786.
This is the Clinton Room, named after George Clinton, New York’s first American governor. Clinton hosted the victory feast for Washington at Fraunces.
The next room is more or less a big ode to the Sons of the Revolution, who have preserved the building. The museum actually spans five buildings on the block, but they’re all interconnected upstairs.
There are lots of cool historical artifacts in the room, both related to the building and the many members of the Sons of the Revolution.
These are all pieces of the building recovered during renovations. That brick on the top left is from the original tavern in the 1700s.
This plaque is a description of Washington’s farewell dinner at Fraunces written by Benjamin Tallmadge, who was present at the dinner.
The museum has rotating exhibitions like this one of the paintings of John Ward Dunsmore, which depict scenes from the American Revolution. A museum attendant described the paintings to me as “about as accurate as a made-for-TV movie.”
They look like the art you see in history textbooks. Like this one of John Adams proposing George Washington as Commander-in-Chief.
This room was an exhibit called “Valuable,” which highlighted many of the artifacts of historical importance in the museum’s collection.
This is a panel from the coach that carried George Washington to his Presidential inauguration in 1983. On the panel is the Great Seal of the United States.
This is Martha Washington’s slipper. Looks like she could use a new one.
This is a letter written by Washington to Elbridge Thomas Gerry, a member of the Second Continental Congress. Gerry ended up becoming fifth vice president of the US. Fun fact: his name is the source of the term “gerrymandering.”
The museum also has more than 200 historical flags in its collection. When I visited they were showing off how the British flag evolved into the American flag.
The last exhibit was an exploration of spy craft during the American revolution.
If you ever wanted to send coded message like Benedict Arnold, this cypher is how they did it. There are helpful instructions to explain how they used the cypher.
Various letters and engravings from the period tell the stories of Benedict Arnold, the famous British spy, and Benjamin Tallmadge, who was an American spy.
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