The Oldest Bar In The United States Has Been Around For 350 Years

Established in 1673 in Newport, Rhode Island, the White Horse Tavern has the distinction of being the oldest bar in the United States. Registered as a National Historic Landmark, it is also the oldest operating restaurant in America, and the 10th oldest restaurant in the world. Today, the restaurant serves contemporary fine dining cuisine that focuses on locally-sourced produce, meat, and seafood. Hungry locals and thirsty travelers have been coming to the White Horse Tavern for centuries to enjoy its kitchen, bar, and lodging, and the tavern brings a 350-year legacy of New England's rich history.

Built as a residence in 1652, the 17th century colonial building was converted into a tavern in 1673 by its founder, William Mayes, Sr. Local governing bodies used the tavern's meeting space for nearly 100 years. In 1702, Mayes' son William took over. A known pirate, he was granted the bar's liquor license, and under his keep the inn gave shelter to other pirates engaged in the lucrative rum trade. The tavern later passed on to William's sister, Mary Mayes Nichols, then to Jonathan Nichols, who in 1730 gave the White Horse Tavern its name. 

In 1776, the family left when enemy troops occupied the inn during the Revolutionary War, but Walter Nichols later returned and built the building's third floor and gambrel roof. The tavern was run by the same family for nearly 200 years. 

A look inside America's oldest restaurant

By 1954, the White Horse Tavern had fallen into disrepair and faced demolition when the local preservation society acquired and restored it. Its most recent development came in 2014 when a group of Newport locals took over and created the modernized restaurant guests enjoy today. Led by executive chef Kevin DeMarco, the restaurant features classic American fare and has become a popular Rhode Island foodie destination (reservations are recommended two to four weeks in advance).

In addition to its culinary delights, guests of the White Horse Tavern come to enjoy its storied history. The historic building is an important example of early American architecture, with meticulously preserved or restored details, such as its clapboard walls, pediment doors, exposed wooden beams, and oversized fireplaces. A feature on the tavern in The Boston Globe explains that the bar's floorboards are 95% original, made from pinewood that came from colonial ships, and once blackened with the whale blubber used by seafarers.

There is a bar and dining room located on the first level, as well as another dining room and pub area on the second floor, at the top of the original winding, wooden staircase.

A true taste of New England's Colonial history

The White Horse Tavern prides itself on preparing the freshest food possible. The restaurant serves fish, clams, and lobsters harvested directly from Narragansett Bay, while its beef, poultry, produce, artisanal cheeses, and even its honey are from local farms. 

The seasonal menu includes a raw bar with caviar service, littleneck clams, oysters, and U-10 shrimp or jumbo lump crab cocktail. Soups and appetizers offer a taste of the Atlantic coast with Rhode Island clam chowder, lobster bisque, crispy pork belly, and one the tavern's specialties, a duck Scotch egg — it comes with sausage, honey-bourbon aioli, Sriracha, and pickled onion. Entrées include beef Wellington with foie gras mousse, filet mignon with truffle frites, confit duck legs, seafood paella, lobster ravioli, plus other exquisite dishes to choose from.

The dessert menu runs the gamut from orange vanilla crème brûlée, bread pudding, and a magical treat involving a triple chocolate brownie and salted caramel chunk gelato, called the Tavern Candy Bar. Diners can finish their desserts paired with a selection of port, madeira, sherry, dessert wines, grappa, digestivos, cognac, and brandy. The bar's wine list also earned the tavern the 2023 Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, along with the Award of Excellence from 2013-2022.