We’re always asked, “what is the oldest bar in America?”
Those that are into bars might remark that it’s one of a handful around the country, like the Bell in Hand in Boston, or Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop in New Orleans. Both are wrong: the building housing Lafitte’s is from 1761, but there’s no proof the bar has always been there, and the Bell in Hand opened in the 1800’s using the name of a bar from 1795.
The oldest bar in America is actually just north of New York City in the small town of Tappan, New York and it’s called the Old ’76 House (sometimes just ’76 House).
It doesn’t look like much: a small, stone building sporting a number of chimneys and sitting caddy-corner to the Reformed Church of Tappan, another old structure important in its own ways. But though modest looking, the place is incredibly rich in history.
The Old ’76 House was built in 1668 by the Dutch Immigrants who founded Tappan. It was established as the town’s Public House as a means to gain a land patent (official recognition as a colony) by the Dutch government (to be recognized as a settlement a town had to have a place to host travelers, receive mail and hold meetings).
In 1780 the ’76 House was used to imprison Major John Andre, the British officer who Benedict Arnold co-conspired with in his plans to turn over West Point to the British Army. Andre was held there during his trial at the Church of Tappan and then subsequently hanged about three blocks away.
In its capacity as jail for Andre, the ’76 House is one of the few places that saw not only George Washington, but also many of his generals as they convened for the trial. There is no doubt, George Washington drank here.
Washington also received the British plans for evacuation of New York City at the ’76 House, and some have argued that—due to the wording of the plans—this was the first place the United States was officially recognized as a sovereign nation by the British. In other words, we were first recognized as a country in a bar.
The structure today is very much the type of tavern it was over 300 years ago. There are no room rentals anymore, but they serve fine and comfort cuisine, have a fully stocked bar and live music every night.
The interior is comfortable and when a fire is raging in one of the many hearths, a random soloist is manning the baby grand piano, and you’re holding a great mixed drink, you can see why the Dutch Crown required their settlements have places like this.
The Old ’76 House in Tappan, New York, the oldest bar in the United States.
Below is our documentary about the Old '76 House, with an interview with the owner