Guest Post by Jenn the Vagarious Wanderer
Ahhh Boston, Massachusetts, home to the American Revolution and thus home to some of the oldest and most historic restaurants and taverns in America. Most tourists visiting Boston typically fall into one of two categories:
- History buffs looking to follow in the footsteps of some of our Founding Fathers along the Freedom Trail.
- Foodies that flock to Boston to indulge on lobster rolls and steaming bowls of creamy New England clam chowder.
But why be one when you can easily be both?
If a restaurant is one of the oldest restaurants in Boston, chances are pretty good that it is also one of the oldest restaurants in the US. Take a step back in America’s history, enjoy some delicious and ridiculously filling food. And to top it all off sip on some good ol’ fashioned Sam Adams libations at one (or all) of these stops.
Historical Restaurants in Boston: The Green Dragon Tavern
Open since 1654, The Green Dragon Tavern is easily my favorite historical restaurant in Boston to talk about. The food is fine, the beer is always cold, but the stories never cease to amaze.
Green Dragon Tavern is known as the “headquarters of the Revolution” and was often the location of Sons of Liberty meetings. It is a well-known fact that the Sons of Liberty even planned the Boston Tea Party here!
In 1775, a 13-year old boy overheard the British discussing plans to invade the towns Lexington and Concord. The message was then sent to the home of Paul Revere. While I’m sure you know the rest of the story of “the midnight ride of Paul Revere”, you probably don’t know that there is a rumor that he stopped at the Green Dragon Tavern for a quick beer before taking off on his famous ride.
Boston Tavern: The Warren Tavern
The Warren Tavern, located in Charlestown, boasts the lofty title of the “oldest tavern in Massachusetts”. After being ravaged by the Revolutionary War, Charlestown residents needed a place to come together as a community to have a meal and a drink. Because of this, the Warren Tavern was one of the first buildings rebuilt in 1780. It was frequented by the likes of George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Paul Revere.
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Oldest Restaurant in Boston: Bell-in-Hand Tavern
The Bell-In-Hand Tavern first opened its doors in 1795 under the ownership of Jimmy Wilson. He was the retired town crier who had announced news of important events like the Boston Tea Party and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
While the oldest continuously operating tavern in America was often frequented by Paul Revere, it was best known for the Bell in Hand Ale. This beer was so incredibly thick that you needed a separate glass just for the foam. Thankfully, today’s Bell in Hand Ale is brewed by Sam Adams and now only requires a single glass.
Confused by this being the oldest tavern in America since I just told you that the Warren Tavern was the oldest tavern in Massachusetts? Yeah, so was I.
The Warren Tavern is the oldest tavern still in its original location. Over the years it has had multiple owners and shut down for periods of time during the transitions. Bell in Hand is the oldest continuously operating tavern, having only shut down during Prohibition.
Historical Restaurants in Boston: Ye Olde Union Oyster House
Ye Olde Union Oyster House (popularly known simply as “The Oyster House”) opened its doors in 1826 and bears the title of the oldest US restaurant.
Long before opening its doors as a restaurant, the building played multiple important roles in the American Revolution. In 1771 Isaiah Thomas printed his infamous newspaper “The Massachusetts Spy” on the top floor of the building. Throughout the years of the Revolution, famous wives like Abigail Adams and Dorothy Quincy used what is now the dining area as a place to mend clothes for the soldiers.
While nothing can really top the excitement of the Revolution, the Oyster House has had two additional claims to fame.
The Oyster House was often frequented by the Kennedy family. JFK himself preferred a quiet booth upstairs that has since been dedicated to him. You’ll find that this is a pretty common thing throughout all of Massachusetts; a president frequented, or simply sat down that one time? Gotta put a plaque on it!
And the other claim to fame is the Ye Olde Union Oyster House was the very first place that toothpicks were ever used in the US. The most exhilarating fact you’ll hear all day, I know.
Historic Restaurants in Boston: Parker’s Restaurant
Parker’s Restaurant is newly near and dear to my heart, and I’m embarrassed to say that it took me until 2019 to learn what they are most famous for.
For those of you that have never experienced the deliciousness that is a Boston Cream Pie, let me describe the gist of it to you:
Boston Cream Pie is layers of yellow sponge cake with creamy custard inside. The “pie” is topped with a chocolate glaze and, if purchased at a grocery store like I frequently do, it has a little red maraschino cherry on top.
“Why is it called pie if it’s actually a cake, though?” Apparently once upon a time there was no such thing as a cake pan or a pie plate; cakes and pies were baked in the same type of pan. Because of this, the terms pie and cake could be used interchangeably. (Thank goodness we now have clear distinctions.)
Okay, back to the history of Parker’s Restaurant. Parker’s Restaurant, which opened in 1855 and is located right inside the Omni Parker House Hotel, made the original Boston Cream Pie!
With the opening of the first chocolate mill in Dorchester, MA, already a huge chocolate city and one of the most popular desserts of the time was a chocolate pudding cake. Chef Anezin changed the game when he drizzled chocolate over yellow sponge cake and created what he originally called the “Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie”. Over the years the name morphed into Boston Cream Pie, and in 1996 it was declared the official dessert of Massachusetts.
Parker’s Restaurant is super fancy, complete with white tablecloths and multiple forks. If this isn’t quite your style, head upstairs to the bar.
Parker’s Bar resides in what used to be the Parker House library and is the perfect place to enjoy your Boston Cream Pie in a more casual setting. There are plenty of big, comfy leather chairs to kick back in, an impressive cocktail list, and a smaller, though still filling, food menu to choose from complete with other Boston staples like clam chowder, lobster rolls, and Boston baked beans.
Due to its popularity you can enjoy the original Boston Cream Pie in just about any part of the hotel. You can buy it in the gift shop to take back to your hotel (if you’re not staying at the Omni Parker House). If you’re not in the area, you can even have it shipped to your house.
Boston Tavern: Amrhein’s
I’ll be honest, Amrhein’s was a bit of a disappointment. I went in looking for their claims to fame and one was practically impossible to find.
After parking in the much-coveted off-street parking in South Boston, you round the corner of the building and approach Amrhein’s where you are welcomed by two different storefronts: the new, swanky entrance to “A Bar” and the original Amrhein’s entrance. They look like two separate entrances, but you actually always use the A Bar entrance.
When you first walk in, before you even reach the hostess stand, take a look to your left. Displayed in a glass display case is the first-ever draft beer pump used in Boston. As a self-proclaimed beer connoisseur, this was the real draw for me. It’s super cool to see such a huge part of Boston beer history! The only disappointing thing is that there’s no description of where the pump was originally used (I would assume Amrhein’s?). It was also half blocked by a Brunch sign and there were booster seats sitting on top of it.
Amrhein’s is also home to the oldest hand-carved bar in the US that is still in use. Despite how old it is, this stunning and intricate bar takes center stage at the new and improved A Bar. It’s currently hard to see all the intricacies through the beautiful fall decor. However, that just means you’ll have to check it out for yourself!
Rumor has it that a local favorite meal is Amrhein’s lobster pie. I’ve only been for lunch where, sadly, the lobster pie is not on the menu. I can, however, highly recommend their pizza which has crust that is made in-house daily!
About the Author
Hi there, I’m Jenn (aka the Vagarious Wanderer)! I am a 9-to-5er and travel blogger encouraging women to explore their own backyards. Based in Boston, MA I have plenty to explore right here in New England. I want women across the world to take advantage of what their hometowns have to offer (even if they seem super touristy). Follow along with my adventures either on the blog or my Instagram.