Even though three-cornered hats and sleeve ruffles aren't as sexy as they used to be, one thing that never falls out of fashion is dining out at one of Boston's many historic eateries. From the favored spots of Paul Revere to the first restaurant to use “scrod,” here are Boston’s 10 eldest eating establishments.
The Amrheins of 2015 may not be exactly like the Amrheins of 1890, but it’s pretty darn close. It still sports both the oldest hand-carved bar in America still in use and the first draft beer pump in Boston on display. After a general upgrade several years ago, it now offers eats that are a bit fancier than the family vittles that made it neighborhood-famous. Regardless, Southie stalwarts and local politicos swear by it for the perpetually hearty meals, like lobster pie.
Doyle’s is not only a life-sized time capsule of Boston history; it’s also a love letter to simpler times when gents like Honey Fitz (and the ensuing Kennedy dynasty) bellied up to the bar. The cafe’s most infamous story involves original owner Billy Doyle shooting and killing a robber, then quipping that those were the only “shots” he ever gave away for free. Also, in 1984, a young Jim Koch convinced the owners to try his new beer, and Doyle’s became the first place to serve Sam Adams Boston Lager.
Parisian Henry Marliave landed in the Hub with his wife, some recipes, and a dream. Not the one where you're running after the school bus naked -- the AMERICAN dream. After honing his culinary skills at the famous Young’s Hotel (now demolished) he opened Marliave. The restaurant has weathered every storm, including numerous publicized raids during Prohibition, to emerge as one of Boston’s finest dining establishments. Current chef Scott Herritt (Grotto) maintains the tradition with modern versions of classic dishes from France, Italy, and New England.
Another immigrant success story, Jacob Wirth started as a wine importer on Eliot St and then opened a beer hall evocative of his German homeland. Dedicated to legit Deutschland food and beers, Jake’s oom-pahs all day long… from one end of the bustling antique mahogany bar to the other. Even though famous people, like Babe Ruth and Al Pacino, have dined here, the real VIPs are the beloved Average Joe regulars. If you’re lucky, the restaurant will even name a chair in your honor.
Downtown (in the Omni Parker House hotel)
This year marks Parker House’s 160th birthday, and it's got plenty of reasons to celebrate, like inventing Boston Cream Pie and Parker House Rolls, or coining the term “scrod" -- all notable contributions to American cuisine. (Okay, maybe not "scrod.") Now the hotel's a member of Historic Hotels of America, and the restaurant's legendary fare and architectural heritage still charm visiting dignitaries, celebrities, and Bostonians alike. Also, its former employees include Ho Chi Minh (baker) and Malcolm X (busboy).
Durgin-Park was originally a no-name warehouse dining room for market men and sailors circa 1740 before customers John Durgin and Eldridge Park bought it in 1827 and gave it their names. They also introduced the signature “Yankee cooking” menu and established the waitstaff's sarcastic swagger. Today it’s one of the few places where you can actually get a crock of Boston Baked Beans, and you WILL be sassed by your server for ordering them... and for that shirt you’re wearing. You’ve been warned.
Ye Olde Union Oyster House, the oldest US “restaurant” (different than a “tavern”) in continuous operation, will always and forever be home to bivalve-fanatics… and anyone else who wanders in from the Freedom Trail. Statesman Daniel Webster held court at the front raw bar, eating plates of oysters and chugging brandy, while JFK preferred a quiet booth (now memorialized) upstairs. Union’s other odd claim to fame: toothpicks were first popularized here.
Jimmy Wilson cashed in on his celebrity status as Boston’s town crier and opened an alehouse for folks who needed some cold beer and a warm meal. And in the early days, those folks were Paul Revere and Daniel Webster (when he wasn’t at Union Oyster House). According to lore, Jimmy’s house ale was high-test and so thick that it required two glasses, one for the beer and one for the froth. Today you can still slug a pint of Bell In Hand ale (sans mega-froth), now brewed by Sam Adams.
Take a step back in time at The Warren Tavern and eat/drink where our Founding Fathers toasted a crazy little idea called “democracy.” George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere all frequented the tavern. The “oldest tavern in Massachusetts” was one of the first structures rebuilt in war-torn Charlestown, because brews and grub would be… umm… helpful for the remaining reconstruction. And also for democracy.
This quiet public house (formerly in the North End) became the mouse that roared as the unofficially official “Headquarters of the Revolution.” The Sons of Liberty met at The Green Dragon to plan the Boston Tea Party, and Paul Revere preceded his famous ride here with a pint. For a whopping 361 years, The Green Dragon has fed weary travelers, patriots, and the hungry masses.
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1. Amrheins80 W Broadway, Boston
2. Doyle's Cafe3484 Washington St, Boston
3. Marliave10 Bosworth St , Boston
4. Jacob Wirth31 Stuart St, Boston
5. Parker's Restaurant60 School St, Boston
6. Durgin-Park340 Faneuil Hall Market Pl, Boston
7. Union Oyster House41 Union St, Boston
8. Bell In Hand Tavern45 Union St, Boston
9. The Warren Tavern2 Pleasant St, Boston
10. Green Dragon Tavern11 Marshall St, Boston
Home to the oldest hand-carved bar in all of America (the building was established in 1890), Amrheins also had the first draft beer pump (trendsetters!). You can still stop by to watch a game with your friends, enjoy the historic surroundings, and order some comfort food (lobster mac and cheese) and a beer.
A Hollywood-blockbuster scene that has been around since 1882 (it feels like a saloon... if you're into that sort of thing), Doyle's plays host to the yearly St. Patrick's Day merriment, serving up standard Irish-American cuisine and lots of beer.
Downtown Boston’s Marliave might be the city’s fourth oldest city, but that only galvanizes its commitment to freshness both in décor and ingredients. The French and Italian restaurant creates all breads, desserts, sauces, pastas, ice cream, and stocks in-house, all of which combine to create the menu’s raw bar dishes, appetizers, eggs, pasta plates, risotto, meat and fish, sandwiches, and sides. The second-floor dining room is jam-packed with black tables, white-cushioned brown chairs, and a panorama of glass windows.
Jacob Wirth is a German-American restaurant where you can enjoy a mixed grill of schnitzels and wursts alongside burgers and a great selection of beers to wash it all down.
Parker's Restaurant inside the historic Omni Parker House Hotel is legendary for a few reasons: it invented Boston cream pie and Parker House rolls, Emeril Lagasse cooked here (bam!), Malcolm X was a busboy here in the 1940s, and JFK proposed to Jackie at Table 40. If the sheer romance of that last tidbit isn't enough to get you through the door, you're either heartless, or the grand architecture and upscale surf and turf plates like butter poached lobster, roasted quail, filet mignon, and baked Boston schrod (a staple since 1906) will do the trick.
Aside, maybe, from the Freedom Trail, it doesn't get much more historic than Durgin-Park in Faneuil Hall. Technically, this restaurant dates back to the pre-revolution days, but it's been operating under its current name and location for around 200 years, so these guys know what they're doing. Fresh local and imported fish makes for the best New England staples (clam chowder, lobster bisque) and bread baked in-house makes for unbeatable burgers and sandwiches. Just beware, Durgin-Park flaunts its history loud and proud, so it's a little touristy.
Ready for this claim to fame? Union Oyster House is the oldest restaurant in America, serving up mussels, chowders, lobster, and (of course) oysters in Government Center since people like Daniel Webster were alive and slurping back shellfish here. Its big, red rooftop sign lights the way like the North Star, a landmark in the neighborhood, leading people to this rustic, buzzy space, where the New England staples (or, as the menu states, "Ye Olde New England Favorites") are a must: steamers, clam chowder, boiled stuffed lobster, baked beans, and Indian pudding.
Bell In Hand Tavern has plenty of tricks up its sleeve -- it's got everything from comforting dishes like clam chowder, to DJ-fueled dance parties, to a record for being the longest continuously run tavern in the US.
A favorite watering hole of the likes of Paul Revere and George Washington, The Warren Tavern in Charlestown was rebuilt after the Battle of Bunker Hill, and still stands so you can go and order a cold beer and some delicious pub fare, like the Warren Burger, with grilled Canadian bacon and cheddar cheese.
The Green Dragon Tavern dates as far back as 1714, and though it's no longer located inside its original building, you won't be disappointed with the atmosphere, the live music, OR the hearty pub food. Try the oysters or some of its Irish Stew.