After dinner Bruce, Glenn, and I stayed to have a drink in the corner bar to make sure we completed the oldest bar experience. There are four separate bar areas in addition to the dining areas which were all ornately adorned and every area was full of people! It was easy to see how Old Ebbitt Grill for several years was the restaurant that boasted the highest sales in the country. We barely had room to enjoy our beer, but it was worth the squeeze to look around and enjoy all of the artifacts, antiques and artwork that made the atmosphere so unique. The Saloon began in 1856 as a boarding house owned started by William E Ebbitt, and moved locations, changed owners, and accumulated a priceless collection of fixtures and furnishings. The mounted Walrus head is said to have been shot by Teddy Roosevelt and the walls are covered with beautiful paintings, and everything you see looks beautiful, old, historic, and probably has a good story! Unfortunately the place was far too busy to talk to anyone there about the history but it was an incredible environment for the three of us to enjoy some beer together!
Washington D.C. - Old Ebbitt's Grill
Maryland - Middleton Tavern
Maryland has some controversy over which bar claims the title of the oldest. Matt Meltzer’s Yahoo article on oldest bars credits Middleton Tavern as the oldest bar in Maryland, established in 1750, however just up the street we found a bar, Reynolds Tavern that claims they have 3 years on Middleton. If we discount Reynolds because they had converted over the years to a private residence and to a bank, than we may have to discount Middleton anyway because “The Horse You came in on Saloon” established in 1775 claims to be the oldest continuously operating bar in MD. “The horse” claims they are the only bar in Maryland that operated through prohibition. In any case, we visited both Middleton and Reynolds in Annapolis and love Maryland enough to come back someday to visit “The Horse you came in on” at Fell’s Point in Baltimore.
Middleton Tavern is located right on the end of a really cool historic area surrounding a water inlet in almost a park-like setting. The building itself is old, charming, and beautiful, but the highlight was probably the oysters Bruce enjoyed, including their famous Oyster shooters. This is a shot glass filled with an oyster and cocktail sauce to be slurped and chased with another shot glass of beer. Bruce found new love with that shot! Though the bar itself was open to a two story ceiling and was quite ornate and beautiful, it maintained its local warmth. Joining us at the bar were two regulars, one woman who makes Middleton a regular stop for lunch topped with an oyster shooter and another gentleman who happened to be from the chamber of commerce. To me, when we meet friendly locals at these bars it makes the experience more authentic and says a lot about the character of the bar.
The next stop on this double bar tour in this historic section of Annapolis was Reynolds Tavern. Reynolds Tavern was converted into a bed and breakfast tea house, but the old original kitchen in the cellar was converted into a bar. When you walk in, it feels like walking into a museum with antiques decorating the elegant dining rooms. Though we had confirmed prior to arriving that they are a tavern, I wondered if we had made a mistake since this certainly did not feel like a tavern. When we asked if they still had a bar, they lead us down stairs to a pleasantly cool cellar. The old stone walls, large kitchen fireplace, and low beamed ceilings gave the place a pleasantly quaint atmosphere. They featured local artisan beers and surprisingly a full service bar in its seemingly hidden location. The owner even joined us to talk about the buildings history which included a complete conversion in the early 1900’s to Farmer’s Bank.
Walking through this historic neighborhood of centuries old buildings, it was easy to picture what it may have been like over 200 years ago. As we passed a sign showing were the Treaty of Paris of Paris was signed, it was daunting to think of the great men including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Monroe, who walked these streets and even frequented Middleton Tavern, the very same place where we had just eaten lunch!
Kentucky, The Old Talbott Tavern
I never would have guessed you could find so much history in one little tavern out in the middle of Kentucky. Prior to visiting a new bar on our list we like to find out as much as we can about the bar’s past so that while we are there we can soak in the historical ambiance. The Old Talbott Tavern has it all! Abe Lincoln stayed there with his family as a child, the exiled French King Louis Phillipe had murals painted on the second floor during his stay, Daniel Boone testified there while the building was being used as a courthouse, and Jessie James even left his mark by leaving bullet holes in the wall! Of course, being built in the year 1779 with that kind of guest list to boast of, to my delight, the place has plenty of ghost stories as well.
The bar itself was pleasant enough and the displayed bottles clearly reflected the Kentucky bourbon culture with Maker’s Mark bottles and signs prominently displayed. In fact, the bar is listed as a bourbon bar but we didn’t find any evidence that made it much different from most other old bars. Hitting the bar in the afternoon as we seem to have been doing in our past few trips seems to be the best time to get there, while business is slow because it gives us a chance to talk to the bartender. Heather didn’t have any good bartender ghost stories but she did make some great beer recommendations including the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. Loved that beer!
The second level porch just outside our room which overlooks the square was the perfect place to relax with a glass of wine and watch the horse drawn carriage make its rounds throughout the evening. While enjoying the evening, we made two new friends who were also relaxing on the shared porch, and discovered serendipitously that they are also from Tampa! They were there hoping for some ghostly encounters, as well. Okay, truthfully, Bruce wasn’t looking for ghosts, but the rest of us were. We learned that the bullet holes which can be viewed in the Jessie James room were put there after Jessie James had retired to the room to sleep off too many drinks in the tavern downstairs and decided to shoot at the birds in the paintings on the wall. Unfortunately, the ghost of Jessie James chose not to materialize to any of us that night, nor did any of the other ghosts. We had to settle for great stories, new friends, a beautiful night in a historic old Inn, and after a night like that, I don’t think it could have gotten any better. (Well, until we toured the Jack Daniels Distillery on the way home in TN the next day!)
Considering Nashville’s music notoriety and history of nightclubs, you’d think the oldest bar would be a swank, historic destination. It is not swank. The reviews we read on Yelp, in fact, called it “the divyest dive bar you’ll find.” One review even said, “walked in, turned around and walked right back out. I still smell like smoke”. We went to Nashville prepared to clutch our wallets close and watch our backs for a knife fight. We arrived in the early afternoon, under the protection of broad daylight, and took pictures of the near windowless, signless, painted shed like exterior. Not deterred by the broken window in the front, determined to fulfill our mission of visiting the oldest bar in every state, we held our breath and walked in.
We were immediately greeted by Angel, a very friendly sweet bartender. There was no one else in the bar yet, so we took a seat at the bar and looked around. The atmosphere was definitely divey but with charm and character. They weren’t serving any food yet in the afternoon, but invited us to bring over barbecue from Hog Heaven next door which was so good we went back for more. By the time we were on our second beer, there were 7 or 8 patrons who had strolled in, about half through the back door, who not only all seemed to know each other but were friendly enough to strike up conversations with us. We learned this is the quintessential local bar where everybody knows each other and are warm and welcoming to strangers.
Most of these posts are written by Cheryl and edited and added to by Bruce. Learn more about us on our About us page.