Virginia’s past is steeped in historical events that helped form and shape the United States. From the settling of Jamestown in 1607, to the Revolutionary War, to the Civil War, it seems like Virginia was always in the thick of whatever was happening at the time. The state has gone through great efforts to preserve, protect, restore, and recognize its historic buildings for the sake of history.
As much as it might be interesting to look at old theaters, libraries, or residences and their respective histories, this is The Daily Meal, and thus our focus falls to taverns. Then again, it’s also important to remember that these weren’t just places to grab a beer or a bite to eat; many historical events and meetings took place in the various establishments, and all of these saw some famous visitors at one time or another.
And finally, if we’re trying to get readers to actually visit historical places themselves, why not give them somewhere to go that serves food and drink?
Here are the four oldest taverns in the State of Virginia.
Hanover Tavern / Facebook
Hanover Tavern, Hanover
The Hanover Tavern was built in five stages, and includes over 12,000 square feet of space on three floors. Although the license to turn the Hanover Courthouse into a tavern was granted in 1733, a fire (likely) destroyed the original structure at some point, as the earliest surviving section was built in 1791. Throughout the tavern’s almost 300-year history, famous visitors have included George Washington (who mentioned it in his diaries), Lord Cornwallis, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the Marquis de Chastellux. It was also used as a temporary post office and community center as well. Several slaves from the tavern also participated in the Great Slave Rebellion of 1800, and saw visits by Union and Confederate soldiers alike during the Civil War.
Although the business has changed hands numerous times (the most famous owners were John and Eleanor Parks Shelton, the in-laws of American patriot Patrick Henry, who lived at the tavern for several years), it is still a fully operational tavern serving a menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrees like stuffed quail, pork tenderloin, and shrimp and grits. They also offer a blue plate special of fried catfish, pulled pork, meatloaf, or roast turkey with two sides and cornbread for #13.
Michie Tavern / Facebook
Michie Tavern, Charlottesville
Corporal William Michie was serving at Valley Forge in 1777 when he learned his father had passed away and bequeathed to him a large parcel of land on and around Buck Mountain. He started construction on an inn shortly afterward, which became a licensed bar and tavern in 1784. However, Michie still operated the business unofficially in the years between 1777 and 1784, and in 1779 the Albemarle Declaration of Independence was signed by Michie and his patrons after convincing them to support America’s cause of pints of ale and spiced rum.
In addition to being a popular and surprisingly well-kept inn, the building’s upstairs assembly room also held dances, church services, performances, and guest doctors and dentists. The tavern was also temporarily used as a makeshift post office and school at one time. When the Civil War started, the Michie family turned the tavern into a private residence, and sold it to another family much later, in 1910.
However, in 1927, a local businesswoman bought the former Michie Tavern, which was quickly falling apart. Seeing the rise of the automobile and the subsequent increase in travel and tourism, the woman turned it into a museum — but not before having it painstakingly numbered, dismantled, and moved 17 miles down the road by horse, wagon, and truck. Her efforts led to the Michie Tavern (which was, in fact, turned back into a tavern) getting recognized as a historical landmark years later. The tavern now serves (while decked out in period garb) a variety of traditional American cuisine consisting of items like Southern fried chicken, pulled pork barbecue, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cornbread and biscuits.
The Red Fox Inn & Tavern / Facebook
The Red Fox Inn & Tavern, Middleburg
The oldest tavern in the entire state (and the oldest established inn in the country), the Red Fox Inn & Tavern is a four-story structure located in Middleburg. It was first opened in 1728 and has a rich history, including having its bar used as a surgeon’s operating table during the Civil War.
The Red Fox Inn & Tavern also has quite a bit of history from the last century. It was frequented by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who would often visit Middleburg to go fox hunting, and President Kennedy once held a rare press conference in the building’s JEB Stuart Room. Elizabeth Taylor also visited the tap room numerous times while she was married to Senator John Warner.
It is currently owned by the Reuter family, who still serve the same Virginia peanut soup that has been around since the early days, along with their famous crab cakes, surf and turf (with filet mignon), Red Fox fried chicken, and crispy half duck.
The Tavern / Facebook / Don Smith
The Tavern, Abingdon
Not only is The Tavern the oldest building in Abingdon, it’s also one of the oldest taverns in the entire State of Virginia. Built in 1779, the building was used as a tavern from the very start, but was also originally an inn that housed distinguished guests like Henry Clay, King Louis Philippe of France, President Andrew Jackson, and Washington, D.C. designer Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Additionally, The Tavern once contained a post office in its earliest days, and the original mail slot still exists in the same location.
Over the next two centuries, The Tavern would also be used as a bank, bakery, general store, cabinet shop, barber shop, private residence, antique shop, and even a hospital for both Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War. Today, the tavern serves American fare with some assorted international dishes. Guests can start with a shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms, or even escargot, followed by a variety of steak cuts, a full rack of lamb, peppercorn-encrusted duck, or jambalaya. Interestingly, the tavern that bleeds American through and through also has a German section of its menu featuring smoked pork loin and two types of schnitzel. The current owner, Max Hermann, is a native German who served for 20 years in the United States Air Force.