Drinking History: The 15 Oldest Bars in the World (Slideshow)
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
The oldest continuously occupied bar in the United States is Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It’s young compared to the other bars on our list, having been founded in 1772 — but it was purportedly once owned by the pirate Jean Lafitte, who supposedly planned raids there. Lafitte was an illicit slave-runner, and he called the shop a “Blacksmith” shop because Lafitte’s Pirate Shop probably would have drawn the attention of the authorities.
White Horse Tavern
The oldest tavern in America period is the White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island, which was constructed around 1673. It was another pirate hangout, but most notably was used as a boarding house for British soldiers during the American Revolutionary War. The building eventually was sold and turned into a rooming house in 1895, but was bought and turned back into a pub in 1957. This period in between is why Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar technically gets disqualified from definitive “oldest bar” distinction.
The bar on this list you are most likely to have heard of is Munich’s famous Hofbräuhaus. The Hofbräuhaus has opened up branches in a number of American cities, but the original, founded in 1589 by the Duke of Bavaria, is in Munich. It has a rich and occasionally lurid history, having been a favorite spot of Mozart and Lenin. It was also favored by Hitler, and was a popular beer hall among the Nazis. During the Thirty Years’ War, the occupying Swedes agreed not to burn Munich to the ground in exchange for 1,000 buckets of beer.
The oldest bar in Bruges, Belgium’s medieval wonderland, is the Herberg Vlissinghe. The bar has been open since 1515, and was a popular pub for many great nineteenth-century artists, including Edmond Van Hove and Gustaaf Hendrik Pickery. There’s a rumor that the great Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens once bailed on a check here by painting a decoy coin to fool the waiter. The bar’s a little off the normal beaten path for tourists in Bruges, and as such is a great place to grab lunch.
Al Brindisi in Ferrara, Italy, dates back to 1435 — though the bar itself claims to have been open as early as 1100 A.D. Nicolas Copernicus lived above the bar and ate their frequently. The Guinness Book of World Records names it as the oldest osteria — an Italian restaurant serving wine and food — in the world. Its other guests include Titian, the great Venetian painter, Ludovico Ariosto, the great Italian poet, and Pope John Paul II.
The Zum Franziskaner in Stockholm, Sweden, is the oldest pub in the city, and is believed to have been founded by German monks in 1421. It’s got a particularly beautiful view of the water in Stockholm’s Old Town. It could conceivably be called more of a restaurant than a bar, as it’s known for its “isterband” sausage and for its local cuisine, but you just can’t be founded by monks — let alone German ones — and not also be known for your drink selection.
The Brauhaus Sion in Cologne, Germany, has been in operation since 1318 — though as some have pointed out, there’s a solid chance that any building in Cologne was once a brewery. The Sion is believed to have been open that entire time, excepting the period between 1942, when it was destroyed by bombs in World War II, and 1951, when it was rebuilt. It is best known for its beer — the traditional local Kolsch, which is brewed onsite — and, of course, schnitzel.
The Bear Inn
The Bear Inn is the oldest pub in the English university town of Oxford. It is believed to have been around since 1242, though the current structure is likely quite a bit newer. Being in the home of the oldest university of the English speaking world, which happens to have educated an absolutely massive amount of incredibly influential figures, The Bear has been visited by more great men than most countries, including Charles I and William of Orange.
Ye Old Man & Scythe
Ye Olde Man & Scythe is one of those rare pubs where the use of “Ye Olde” isn’t just a marketing pretension; the pub, in Bolton, England, has been around since at least 1251. In 1651, just outside of the ancient pub, the seventh Earl of Derby — nicknamed “Lord Strange” — was executed for treason following the English Civil War. His ghost, along with the ghost of a little girl named Jenny, is said to still haunt the pub to this day.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham, England, was founded in 1189 A.D., and was named as such because it’s where Crusaders (including Richard the Lionheart) would drop in for a pint while heading out of town to fight the Crusades. It’s built up against a cave network, and some of the caves are used for brewing and as drinking rooms. It should also be noted that, if Robin Hood was indeed an actual person that lived in Nottingham, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem would’ve been around at the time, and he may well have grabbed a drink there.
The Bingley Arms
The Bingley Arms is believed to be the oldest pub in Britain; it was founded no later than 953 A.D., though it’s possible it was founded as early as 905 A.D. It’s in Leeds in the north of England, and has been using the same Dutch oven for baking bread for centuries. It’s rumored to have been mentioned in the famous Domesday Book, created by William the Conqueror back in 1086 so he could tax the entire country. It was also supposedly a hideout for persecuted Catholics.
The Brazen Head
The Brazen Head in Dublin is a very old, very famous bar. How old is a matter of debate — some people say it showed up much more recently (like, within the last 500 years), but the bar itself claims to have been founded in 1198 A.D. Naturally, because it’s a pub in Dublin, James Joyce once drank there, as did Jonathan Swift and supposedly Robin Hood.
While Cave Bar is not the oldest bar in the world, it is in one of the oldest locations: the 2,000-year-old Nabataean tomb in Petra, Jordan, has a bar and a restaurant built into it. So while it’s likely not the oldest continuous bar in the world, it gets credit for likely being one of the places that people have been drinking the longest. It’s the only private section of the ancient city of Petra, which you may recognize from the final scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
St. Peter Stiftskeller
Part of the problem with determining which bars are the oldest is that many cultures don’t divide clearly between “bar” and “restaurant.” The St. Peter Stiftskeller is the world’s oldest restaurant, having been mentioned in records as early as 803 A.D. It sits within St. Peter’s Archabbey in Salzburg, Austria, and is now a famous restaurant, though at one point it was likely indistinguishable from a monk’s pub. Not only is it the oldest restaurant, but it’s also the seventh-oldest company in the world, and the oldest company outside of Japan.
Sean’s Bar is Athlone, Ireland, on the River Shannon, is both the oldest bar in Ireland and the oldest bar in Europe, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and it may be the oldest bar in the world, though that’s incredibly tough to verify. It is believed to have been founded in 900 A.D. The bar has a record of every single one of its owners over the past 1,114 years, including Boy George, who owned the bar briefly in 1987.