City Tavern – Philadelphia

I recently went on holiday to New York and Philadelphia, spending a lot of time looking at art, visiting historical/tourist sites and drinking in bars. At one point I combined two of these by visiting the City Tavern in the old part of Philadelphia. This is an recreation of an old 18th century tavern frequented by many of the US’s founding fathers. Living in England where actual pubs from that time and earlier are commonplace, I was dubious.

It advertised itself as somewhere with “authentic” food and drink from the time, and looked like a typical tourist trap – the staff were all dressed up in period costume – but we were tired and thirsty and decided to give it a go. We were ushered to a booth of plain wooden benches and tables – maybe authentic, but not too out of the ordinary for older British pubs – and ordered a flight of beer samples.

Ales of the RevTourist-y or not, the beer was actually rather good and the food looked nice as well (although we skipped it and went for a cheese steak instead). Yards Brewery from Philadelphia has created four beers named after some of the key figures in that era of american history.

  • Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Ale – a refreshing pale ale. Unlike the others here I’m not sure what the Hamilton connection actually is, but it’s an enjoyable beer.
  • Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce – based on a recipe by Ben Franklin, this wasn’t bad for the style but I’ve never been a huge fan of beers that taste like tree.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale – the pick of the bunch. It’s a strong one, but has a really nice toasted malt flavour. Inspired by ingredients used by Jefferson in his own beer.
  • General Washington’s Tavern Porter – based on a recipe described by Washington in a letter to some of his officers. It’s a bit treacle-y for my taste, but still a very nice porter.

The pub itself may be a recreation, but the original did have some pedigree. John Adams called it the “most genteel tavern in America”, and it was the site was visited regularly by delegates in the Second Continental Congress.

I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by the City Tavern, and I probably wouldn’t go there a second time, but the beers were actually rather impressive. The historical styles updated to suit more modern tastes was actually quite enjoyable. They also do a variety of similarly inspired cocktails and Madeira, and the food seems to be designed by a television chef, Walter Staib. It may be a tourist trap, but there is a bit of quality behind the costumes.

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