The oldest bars in America are spread across every state. Some are iconic in their structure, their historical relevance-like a speakeasy option, or their famous patrons. Some even have iconic liquor bottle display options. There are plenty of lists out there that will tell you the answer to “what are the oldest bars in America” state by state. This list, however, highlights a few of the oldest bars and pubs in America with some of the most intriguing histories. Some have the most efficient bar setups, some display liquor bottles in a unique way, some are simply the best bars with a quality bar manager salary to boot, but they're all old and glorious in that respect. They even show up in some niche bar books.
What is the Oldest Bar in America
When you research the oldest bars in America, you’re sure to find some disagreements online about what the oldest bars really are. I did. A lot of this comes down to the fact that some of the oldest bars weren't always open, or aren't open now. In other cases, some of the oldest bars moved from building to building, and therefore aren't considered qualified for the list. The famed Green Dragon Tavern in Boston, easily one of the most recognized famous old pubs, went through its fair share of history. While it was one of the first established Boston bars, it’s often left off lists as the original from 1712 no longer exists. While it deserves more than a mention, it won’t be on this list for Boston.
As I dug into the oldest haunts in America, I made my own calls on what the oldest bars are. Those decisions were based on whether they are still in operation or if there was just a really solid record of when they opened. You may find yourself in disagreement with the choices on this list, and that’s okay. The age of these old bars will always be up for debate, especially when that debate happens over a standard drink measure or two.
The Oldest Bar in America
The oldest bar in America is the White Horse Tavern in Rhode Island. The White Horse Tavern opened for business in 1673. With its "clapboard walls, gambrel roof and plain pediment doors bordering the sidewalk," the White Horse Tavern is a step back in time. It’s acknowledged as the 10th oldest operating bar in the world. It’s also recognized as a National Historic Landmark for being America’s oldest restaurant. If you ever want a true taste of Newport, Rhode Island, the White Horse Tavern is the place to go. On the list of the best bars to visit in the U.S., it’ll always be in one of the top spots.
The Oldest Bar in NYC
This list wouldn’t be complete without the oldest bar in New York City: Fraunces Tavern. Opened as the Queen’s Head Tavern in 1762, this NYC staple was a favorite watering hole of George Washington himself. Fraunces Tavern is among the old bars that haven’t always been open and operating since they first opened. That said, it maintains its status as the oldest bar in New York City, because it has always opened back up again. It’s been renovated through the years and doesn’t look quite how it did when Washington used to hang around. However, it remains a reminder of the beginnings of the U.S.
The Ear Inn in New York City is a runner-up for the oldest bar in NYC. Established in 1817, The Ear Inn holds the title of being the longest always open bar in the city. While it hasn’t been open the longest, a lot of history is behind The Ear Inn’s always open doors.
The Oldest Bar in Boston
The oldest bar in Boston is Warren Tavern. Warren Tavern has maintained its location since 1780, and it has a rich past clientele, including Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington. While everything in Boston is steeped in history, the Warren Tavern is more historical than most. If you wanted to pack in some of the best history in Boston, stopping by this old spot would be the way to go.
A contender for the title of the oldest bar in Boston is The Bell in Hand Tavern. The drinks started flowing at The Bell in Hand in 1795. You’ll find many sources that claim The Bell in Hand to be the oldest bar in Boston. Looking back to the 1700s, it’s hard to know for sure. If you’re ever in Boston be sure to check out Warren Tavern and The Bell in Hand. Maybe you'll be able to tell which one’s been around longer.
The Oldest Bar in Philadelphia
Philadelphia’s oldest bar award goes to McGillin’s Olde Ale House. The year 1860 saw the arrival of The Bell in Hand Tavern in Philly, the original name of McGillin’s. However, this tie to Boston’s old watering hole didn’t stick around long. The name McGillin’s started out as a nickname based on the last name of the folks who opened up this historic spot. Ultimately, the nickname stuck as an official title. The bar was renamed officially to McGillin’s Olde Ale House in 1910. This prominent Philly favorite stuck around through the Civil War, Prohibition, and everything else.
The Oldest Bar in New Orleans
In New Orleans, a place that is deeply historical, the honor of being the oldest bar goes to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar. Lafitte’s was built sometime in 1722 or 1723, we really don’t know for sure.
We do know that the building became a bar around 1933. It’s rumored that Lafitte’s may have once been owned by pirates who dealt with types of rum, but there’s no concrete evidence of that. What is concrete, however, is that Lafitte’s survived the fires of 1788 and 1794. Not to mention, it’s one of the last examples of Spanish-Colonial architecture in the French Quarter.
The Oldest Bar in San Francisco
In San Francisco, the Old Ship Saloon of 1851 holds the title of the oldest bar. The Old Ship Saloon is built out of the history of San Francisco - quite literally. In 1849, a ship named Arkansas was wrecked against Alcatraz Island in a bad storm. When the ship got towed to San Francisco, someone saw potential in it and used its pieces to build the Old Ship Saloon.
These days, the building is built out of more than an old ship. It does, however, maintain its maritime beginnings and remains one of the oldest haunts in the City by the Bay.
The Oldest Bar in Washington DC
Last but not least is The Old Ebbitt Grill, the oldest saloon in Washington DC. The original Old Ebbitt started out in 1856. As the story goes, William E. Ebbitt purchased a boarding house, which transformed into the first saloon in Washington DC. The Old Ebbitt is on the list of the oldest bars in America which haven’t always been at their present location. However, despite having moved around, the Old Ebbitt is widely agreed to be the oldest bar in DC. In 1983 the Old Ebbitt Grill made its final move to its current spot on 15th Street NW.
The Oldest Bars in America
Anyone who has studied history knows just how subjective it can be. When you search for these oldest bars in the U.S., you’re guaranteed to find some disagreement. You may also find sites that boast some old bars that have the best liquor storage, or the most unique wine bottle displays. It's hard to agree on any of those points, since we all have our own favorite bars. However, what can be agreed on is there’s something amazing about having a drink in establishments that have been around since America began. They learned how to get a liquor license before liquor licenses were incredibly time-consuming to get. Though the bar equipment layout at these bars may have changed since they opened their doors, the history remains, and brings them into the heights of how much bars make. Any bartender who has worked at these historic spots is sure to include it in their bartender cover letter.