City Tavern, Philadelphia

July 4th of ’77, the Independence Day celebration is a relatively subdued affair compared to what we have come to expect in this day of huge fireworks extravaganzas. Just a simple dinner at a local restaurant with a few close friends and colleagues. Of course, simple is an understatement considering the year was 1777 and this was the very first Independence Day ever. Those few close friends and colleagues? They included the likes of George Washington, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. The local restaurant was City Tavern, in Philadelphia.

City Tavern was once the unofficial meeting place of both the First and Second Continental Congresses. It was the first place John Adams visited upon arrival during his first visit to Philadelphia to attend a meeting of the First Continental Congress. Adams referred to it as “the most genteel tavern in America.” For the next three decades, City Tavern served a prominent role as host to the most eminent citizens of the day.

Independence Day

In fact its history, dating back to 1773, predates American independence. The current structure is not the original, which was partially destroyed by fire in 1834 and was completely razed in 1854. In 1948 it was rebuilt as a historically accurate reproduction and later served as one of the centerpieces of our nation’s 200th Independence Day celebration in 1976.

Today it is a unique, upscale restaurant where patrons select from a menu offering 18th Century fare that would be familiar to any of those first Independence Day celebrants. Among them: Romaine and Roquefort Salad, West Indies Pepper Pot Soup, Roast Duckling and Medallions of Venison. Their sweet potato and pecan biscuits are reputed to have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite. Dessert choices include a cake based on a recipe personally developed by Martha Washington.

City Tavern waitstaff dress in period-appropriate clothing. Photo credit: Lisa Andres

The tavern highlights its history with period-authentic furnishings and table settings. Drinks are served in pewter goblets. Restaurant staff dress in period-appropriate clothing while newly arriving guests are directed to a well-appointed parlor to sit in comfort as their table is prepared. It is an oasis reflecting another time, when the pace was slower than the hectic lives we all curse today.

Of course there are some nods to the advances of modern technology; some dictated by convenience and others by safety. For example, the candlesticks have all been replaced by electric lights resembling candles and there are now indoor restroom facilities with running water, though these are kept well out of the way down in the old cellar. In general, City Tavern both looks and feels authentic in every important detail.

For the convenience of modern-day patrons, the proprietors maintain a user-friendly presence online at There, a wealth of information is available including lunch and dinner menus, directions, contact information and historical background information on the tavern itself.

Located at 138 South 2nd Street, City Tavern is technically within the bounds of historic Old City Philadelphia, however it is a few blocks off the beaten path, just far enough to not be mobbed by too many casual passers-by who are not there to dine.

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