Transport yourself to colonial times at this tavern in Alexandria

Transport Yourself To Colonial Times At This Tavern In Alexandria

Photo courtesy of the Virginia Tourism Corporation

By Aila Boyd

February 21, 2024

Living in the 21st century can make it difficult to imagine what life must have been like in the 1700s. However, it’s still possible to get a literal taste of what Colonial life was like by visiting Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town Alexandria.

Origins

The tavern traces its roots back to two buildings: a 1785 tavern and 1792 City Hotel. Surprisingly, the hotel was viewed as a skyscraper when it was first erected.

Taverns were quite popular in seaports like Alexandria, which was founded in 1749. According to Gadbsy’s, they provided travelers with “much needed rest, food and drink, the latest news, a place to make business deals and to hold political discussions, and a variety of entertainment.” This particular tavern catered specifically to middle-and upper-class white men.

Gadsby’s takes its name from Englishman John Gadsby, an entrepreneur who leased the buildings and operated them as tavern keeper from 1796-1808. During that time, the tavern and hotel were the center of the city’s economic, political and social life.

Notable Colonial-era visitors included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and James Monroe.

“Nearly all of the founders of American independence enjoyed the warm tavern hospitality of Gadsby’s Tavern,” the restaurant said. “No public building in America is more intimately associated with the struggle for independence and establishment of national sovereignty.”

According to surviving letters and journals from guests, the tavern was described as “the finest public house in America.”

Modern times

Although the buildings were slated for demolition in the early 20th century, they were preserved by American Legion Post 24.

Now, Alexandria continues to preserve the buildings by operating Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and leasing the restaurant space.

Museum

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is in what used to be the tavern. A trip to the museum offers visitors insight into how people were fed and entertained during the late 18th and early 19th century.

Make sure you look for Gadsby’s collections, which include various pieces of ceramics and furniture. “Each object tells the story of the evolution of hospitality in the 18th and 19th century,” the museum said. “Showcasing the 20th century, the Photographic Collection documents the journey from run-down buildings to world-class museum.” The Photographic Collection includes more than 10,000 images, including Civil War-era photos of the buildings when they still maintained their basic 18th century appearance.

John Gadsby’s Silver is perhaps one of the most notable items in the collection. The silver collection consists of cutlery, serving platters, chafing dishes and wine chillers, all of which graced the tables of his various hotels and his private residence. The items can also be viewed online.

The museum is open at different times, depending on the season. During the spring and summer, it’s open every day, with the exception of Wednesday. It’s only open Thursday through Sunday during the fall and winter.

Those who can’t visit the museum in person can still learn about the tavern’s history by going on an online tour. Spaces on the tour include the public dining room, private dining room, assembly room, dormer sleeping rooms, passage, east bedchamber, and ballroom. The museum encourages tour goers to consider who might have been found in each space, the unique position of taverns in the community and the challenges people faced living in a fledgling country.

Menu

The restaurant space is in what used to be the City Hotel. Although the price of a meal is no longer 50 cents the way that it was back in 1801, a meal at Gadsby Tavern is just as tasty today as it was back then. The current tavern serves lunch and dinner, as well as Sunday brunch.

If you go for lunch, start off with a Tavern Sallad. It comes with mixed greens, roasted peanuts, grapes, gruyere cheese and tavern vinaigrette. Pair it with a John Gadsby Burger, which comes topped with gorgonzola cheese, sweet potatoes, crisp lettuce, and ripe tomato. All burgers are served with hand-cut fries, coleslaw, and pickle.

Start with a petite savoures when you go for dinner. Don’t miss out on the Mini Crab Cakes. They come with sweet corn relish and citrus cocktail sauce. You can’t go wrong with George Washington’s Favorite as your entree. A roasted half duck comes with corn pudding, roasted potatoes, rhotekraut and a cherry orange glaze.

If brunch is more your thing, Poached Eggs Chesapeake will surely hit the spot. The eggs come resting over biscuits and jumbo lump crab cakes with hollandaise sauce. It’s served with asparagus and home fries.

Wine lovers will be delighted to hear that the tavern offers a robust assortment of reds, whites, and sparklings. The Grey Ghost Chardonnay from Rappahannock County is a standout option. It’s described as being “aged in a French oak” and offering “delightful aromas of tropical fruit and pear with hints of vanilla.”

“Delicious food, excellent service, and the whole family felt like regular George Washington dining here,” a reviewer wrote. “We particularly loved the bread and butter and the peanut soup!”

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.Transport yourself to colonial times at this tavern in AlexandriaTransport yourself to colonial times at this tavern in Alexandria

  • Aila Boyd

    Aila Boyd is a Virginia-based educator and journalist. She received her MFA in writing from Lindenwood University.

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