Discover Historic Boston Bars

Combine your love of history with tasty Boston brew

Want to see where the Sons of Liberty plotted the American Revolution?  Visit these historic Boston bars and taverns where Bostonians still gather today.

 

Historic Boston bars, pubs, and taverns may be exactly what you want to explore if you long to follow in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers - and enjoy some refreshment at the same time.  You'll even find one that morphs into a popular Boston dance club at night. 

Sam Adams neon sign in BostonYes, Boston's Patriots loved their brew and hatched some of their best revolutionary plots while quenching their thirst in the historic Boston bars and taverns that you can still visit today. 

The taverns like to claim that they fueled the fervor behind the revolt against British rule . . . and there does appear to be some truth to that.  Most of them also claim to be the oldest in some way . . . and these claims also seem to be true, depending on how you define "oldest."

So if you're visiting Boston and want to tell your friends and colleagues back home that you toured historic sites and saw with your own eyes where the Sons of Liberty planned the American Revolution, these historic watering holes should be on your "must visit" list. 

Who knows, you might even sit in the very same spot where Paul Revere or George Washington raised a glass.

And if anyone back home raises an eyebrow, just point out that back in the old days - the 1600s - Puritan men, women, and children living in Boston quaffed beer all day long. 

Based on their experience in England, Puritans believed that drinking water was unsafe (and maybe it was back then) - so beer is what everyone drank back in the 1600s.  No wonder you'll still find so many Boston bars today!  

So, time for a tour through history . . . seen through the lens of historic Boston bars.

 

Green Dragon Tavern

Green Dragon Tavern, one of the most historic Boston BarsThe Green Dragon Tavern dates back to 1654, and is the oldest historic Boston bar from that perspective.

Of course, the original wasn't exactly in the same location where you'll find it today, although it was nearby. . . the tavern moved around a few times back in the early days. 

The original building no longer exists, although you can see a small sketch of it on the wall. 

But no matter.  Paul Revere talks in his memoirs about meetings that he and the other Sons of Liberty - Samuel Adams, John Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren, and others held here. 

When they began to worry that the Redcoats were going to march to Concord to look for munitions, this is where they met to organize an eavesdropping operation so that they could overhear British plans. 

In fact, the Sons of Liberty met here so often that the Green Dragon came to be called the "Headquarters of the American Revolution."  Later, in 1788, the Patriots met in this pub to draw up a resolution to support the Federal Constitution.

So when you stop by this historic Boston bar for a brew, you're truly following the footsteps of American history.

The Green Dragon is now owned by the Somers Family, which started its first Irish pub (Mr. Dooley's Boston Tavern) back in the 1950s and now owns several others.  Under their ownership, the Green Dragon has taken on more of an Irish flavor, and is warm and welcoming.

In case you're wondering if the Green Dragon is now just a tourist spot, capitalizing on its historic past, it's not.  I actually seldom seen any tourists here at all, perhaps since it's on a small side street - almost an alley - despite being almost next to Faneuil Marketplace.

The time of day that you're there also will impact your experience.  Late at night, the entire area around Faneuil Hall / TD Garden / Downtown / Waterfront gets very lively due to all of the bars, restaurants, dance clubs, and other Boston nightlife in the area.  Especially on the weekends, hoards of college and university students, young professionals, Boston visitors, and locals are out enjoying themselves. 

The Green Dragon, which is fairly small, can get noisy once it fills up.  If high decibels and energetic vibes are not your cup of tea, so to speak, you'll enjoy yourself more if you go earlier in the day - or at least before around 10pm.  If you do like things hopping, stop by around 11-ish in the evening.

During the day, sunshine pours in through the large windows, and you'll understand why the Patriots found this popular Boston bar such a great place to hang out, drink, and plot.

In addition to the usual bar food, the Green Dragon has a full kitchen and serves good chowder, salads, and sandwiches.

The Tavern features bands on most nights, except for Monday nights when comedians take the stage.  Shows start at various times, depending on the day of the week and the act.  There's occasionally a small cover charge.

 

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Warren Tavern

Located in nearby Charlestown, the Warren Tavern claims to be the oldest tavern in Massachusetts and the most famous watering hole in the United States.  Among Boston's historic bars and taverns, it is the oldest tavern still in its original building and location. 

Warren Tavern, a historic Boston bar in Charlestown MassachusettsThe Warren Tavern was the first building to be erected in Charlestown after the British burned the whole town during the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775. 

The Tavern was built by Captain Eliphelet Newell, who fought at Bunker Hill and had been a close friend of Sons of Liberty leader and fervent Patriot, Dr. Joseph Warren, who was killed by the British at Bunker Hill.  Captain Newell named his tavern after his friend.

Paul Revere had also been a good friend of Dr. Warren, and he and other Patriots frequently met at the Warren Tavern for a few brews.  Revere often remarked that it was one of his favorite watering holes.  General George Washington also stopped by for "refreshments" while visiting a friend in Charlestown. 

As you can see in my photo above, on the outside, the Warren Tavern is a plain Federal-style building.  Inside, the low beamed ceilings and the large fireplace make you feel as though you're stepping back into history - and in fact, you are.  Warren Tavern is one of the most historic Boston bars, even down to the beams in the ceilings, which the builders salvaged from old boats at nearby Charlestown Navy Yard - making the beams even older than the rest of the Tavern.

Even though the Warren Tavern is close to the Charlestown part of the Freedom Trail and not far from Bunker Hill, you'll usually see mostly locals (or "Townies," as Charlestowners call themselves) and professionals who work nearby, with perhaps just a table or two of Boston visitors soaking up the historic ambiance.

Whenever I eat there, I feel awed by the idea that I might be sitting in the same spot where Paul Revere and George Washington sat 200+ years ago.  Of course, unlike current visitors, they didn't get to enjoy sports on the flat-screen TVs at the bar.

Warren Tavern serves brunch, lunch, and dinner.  Aside from breakfast-type items (available until mid-afternoon), lunch and dinner menus include soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and a few entrees.

I always order either the lobster roll or the fish and chips - so I can't tell you first-hand about anything else.  The shepherd's pie, steak tips, and various sandwiches look great from a distance.

Come to think about it, I'm due back for another lobster roll.

 

Bell in Hand

Historic Boston bars include Bell in Hand

Bell in Hand was built in 1795 and is America's oldest continuously operating tavern (not counting Prohibition, which shut down every legitimate bar in the U.S.).

However . . . 21st century fun definitely takes center stage over history. 

In fact, if you want to get a sense of being one of the most historic Boston bars, go early in the day because once the music starts, you won't be thinking about the Founding Fathers and Founding Mothers.

Jimmy Wilson, Boston's last Town Crier, built Bell in Hand after he retired from town crying - um, shouting out the town's news - and of course, "Bell in Hand" refers to the bell that he used to carry around while on the job.  He reported on all the big events of his time - the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Defeat of the British. 

Bell in Hand has occupied its current very attractive building since 1844.  Its first spot was roughly where Boston City Hall is located today.  You can see one of the original signs with a hand holding a bell in Boston's Old City Hall, near the Benjamin Franklin Statue on the Freedom Trail.

Early Bell in Hand patrons included Daniel Webster and Paul Revere (who lived to a ripe old age and seems to have frequented every Boston bar for miles around during his lifetime). 

But . . . if you're imagining that they were quaffing down pints of ale, not so!  

Jimmy Wilson didn't believe in "hard stuff" (no doubt he'd seen more than his share of alcohol-fueled street brawls such as the one that led to the Boston Massacre during his Town Crier stint), so the Bell in Hand served only Smith's Philadelphia Cream Ale until 1919. 

Hmm . . . does Bell in Hand still technically qualify as a Boston bar during its first century?

Those days are long past.  In addition to being one of the oldest Bostons bars, Bell in Hand features live music plus DJs every night of the week.  Tuesdays spotlight karaoke music.  You can even try some trivia on Mondays.

With 2 floors, 5 bars, and large plasma TVs, Bell in Hand is one of the hottest nightspots in the Faneuil Hall area.  Expect to pay a cover charge on after a certain point on most nights, when this historic bar morphs into a popular Boston dance club that attracts lots of college students and a mostly 21-to-30-something crowd.

Bell in Hand also offers full restaurant service for lunch and dinner.  If you want to experience the historical ambiance rather than the dance vibes, come for the pub food favorites at lunch, afternoon drinks and appetizers, or dinner. 

 

Union Oyster House

In the "who's the oldest" competition, the Union Oyster House's claim to fame is being the oldest restaurant in Boston and the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the U.S. 

Unlike other historic Boston bars known best for their beverages, Union Oyster House is known best for its oyster bar and perfectly cooked fresh seafood.  The cozy Colonial-period dining rooms, whole steamed lobsters, New England short dinner, and seafood pie can't be beat!

More about Union Oyster House

Essentials:  Historic Boston Bars and Taverns

Map of historic Boston bars and pubs


View Map of Historic Boston Bars, Taverns, and Pubs in a larger mapMap of Historic Boston Bars, Taverns, and Pubs in a larger map

 

Boston pub crawl tour itinerary

Beer in pub - copyright 2007 Steve WoodsInterested in going on a Historic Boston Pub Crawl?  For some Boston visitors, this is the ultimate Boston tourism adventure - a memorable evening of absorbing a little history and having a lot of fun. 

Although you'll see commercially offered Boston Pub Crawl Tours, you can easily do this tour on your own, since 3 of the 4 of Boston's historic bars are within a couple of blocks of each other. 

Just follow this Boston Historic Pub Crawl Tour Itinerary:

  1. Start your evening at Union Oyster House around 7pm.  Wash down a half dozen oysters with the brew, crisp white wine, or other beverage of your choice.  Still hungry?  Have a cup of the fabulous fish chowder.
  2. Go next door to Bell in Hand.  It's probably about 8:30 by now.  Order the beverage of your choice and a burger.  Now it's about 10pm.  Check out the DJs and the music.  The bar's getting crowded and much louder.  Stay as long as your ears can stand it.
  3. Walk around the corner to the Green Dragon Tavern.  Appreciate the relative quiet.  Order one more drink and a steak, medium rare.  Listen to the music for awhile longer, and then head back to your hotel.  Appreciate the compact size of Downtown Boston.  Wonder why the Puritans couldn't have laid out straighter streets while they were at it. 

Photo of beer is courtesy of Steve Woods, and copyright 2007 Steve Woods.

 

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