What was Served in Taverns?

tavern food

Taverns were important to colonial society. They provided travelers with a place to stop and rest, get a drink and a bite to eat, and maybe spend the night. They were also where the local community came together to visit and share news. There were many types of taverns. Some were cheap, and others were very expensive. Here in London Town during the early 1700s there were six different taverns!

Taverns rarely had menu choices. Most taverns offered guests a meal that was prepared for that day. It might be a simple stew or roast. However in taverns serving wealthier patrons, there would be different meal options.

Architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe kept a diary of his many journeys through Virginia, including what he ate:

Upon my journey to and from Amelia the dinners were the same—Hog i.e. Ham or Bacon and Greens at one end, and roast Lamb at the other end of the Table; 4 Dishes of salted Chads [Shads] one at each corner, a dish of peas and one of Asparagus on each side, spoiled by wretched stinking butter and Sallad in the middle.1

Moreau de St. Méry's descriptions of the dining habits of Philadelphians in the 1790s gives us an idea of how the meals at the City Coffee House in New London, Connecticut and other taverns might have been served:

They breakfast at nine o’clock on ham or salt fish, herring, for example, which is accompanied by coffee or tea, and slices of toasted or untoasted bread spread with butter.

At about two o’clock they dine without soup. Their dinner consists of broth with a main dish of an English roast surrounded by potatoes. Following that are boiled green peas on which they put butter which the heat melts or a spicy sauce then baked or fried eggs, boiled or fried fish, salad which may be thinly sliced cabbage seasoned to each man’s taste on his own plate, pastries, sweets to which they are excessively partial and which are insufficiently cooked.

For dessert, they have a little fruit, some cheese and a pudding.2

  1. Kym Rice, Early American Taverns: For the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1983), 126.
  2. Rice, Early American Taverns, 87-88.

This project was developed through a Teaching American History Grant partnership between Anne Arundel County Public Schools, the Center for History Education at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and Historic London Town and Gardens.