City Tavern – A Taste of History
While doing some research ahead of our April 2013 visit to historic Philadelphia, Carol and I discovered City Tavern...a replica of the 18th century inn of the same name that was frequented by many of our founding fathers including Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and Hamilton. Though the original building was demolished in 1854, it was faithfully restored in time for our country’s bicentennial using historical records as a guide. Since then, City Tavern has been operated as a colonial style eatery by restaurateur and chef Walter Staib and based on firsthand knowledge, operated very well.
We knew this historic tavern was a must-see while we were in Philly and we got that done on the day we did a hop on/hop off Big Bus tour of the city. One of our “hop offs” was stop number 19...about two blocks from the corner of 2nd and Walnut. We had a great lunch that afternoon and while we don’t really do restaurant reviews in this venue, I will say the Colonial Turkey Pot Pie was fantastic, served in period china and pewter tableware by servers in period garb.
But what I really want to talk about is the beer at City Tavern. There are only four offered, but they’re pretty special. Brewed by local beer maker, Yards Brewing Company, three of the four are from actual colonial recipes found in historical archives...recipes from some folks whose names you may recognize. More on that later. I hadn’t done a thorough enough look at City Tavern’s website to know about these beers before we arrived so when I was trying to decide which one I would order, our server John suggested I do a flight of the four to which I immediately agreed. While they were all very nice, I did end up having a favorite.
John suggested I try the beers in a specific order...lighter to darker...so that’s what I did. The first four ounce glass I sampled is called Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Ale. This Pilsner brew is described as the “common man’s ale” and is in the style of beer that would be served at City Tavern in the early days of the inn. It’s a nice, light-bodied beer and I would have been very happy to have a full pint but I had three more to try first.
The second beer is called Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale and it’s faithfully brewed to a recipe created by Benjamin Franklin while he was ambassador to France sometime between 1776 and 1785. As I was tasting the sample of this ale, I was thinking that it would be hard to top and I thought for sure that I’d be ordering a pint of this one to have with my lunch. But I mustered up some patience and went on to the third choice.
The beautiful amber glow of Thomas Jefferson’s 1774 Tavern Ale caught my eye when John first presented the flight to me and it didn’t surprise me that this beer, which is from a recipe that our third president personally brewed twice a year, ended up being my favorite. It has all the qualities I love about a craft beer...it has a fuller body than the first two but it’s still light enough to be very drinkable. The flavor was, for my taste, perfect. Sometimes these beers are too “hoppy” for me but this one is right down the middle...definitely flavorful but not bitter or overpowering in any sense. I was confident enough to order a pint before I tasted the last option, which based on the name, I certainly had to try.
General Washington’s Tavern Porter is brewed from an actual recipe on file in the Rare Manuscripts Room of the New York Public Library. Once again, this brew is very drinkable, heavier of course than the ales and as such, for me at least, a lesser choice for a lunchtime drink. This porter is said to have hints of chocolate and coffee and I did get that. Like the Thomas Jefferson ale, it was perfectly balanced with no bitterness and a very nice finish on the palate.
When I find a really pleasurable beer or wine, it’s hard for me to stop at one pint or one glass. But on this occasion Carol and I had miles to go that afternoon, exploring this fascinating and historic city. But while sitting in City Tavern enjoying the great food and wonderful beers, the ghosts of our forefathers were there with us. Members of the First Continental Congress occupied the same space 237 years earlier and this was not lost on us as we soaked in the history. Thanks to Mr. Staib, John and all the folks at City Tavern for helping to create a wonderful Philadelphia memory for us. And if you ever find yourself in Philly, try hard to include City Tavern in your plans. You won’t be disappointed.
For a look at the City Tavern menu and more information, check out their website at City Tavern.
To read Carol's feature on our Philadelphia visit click HERE.