Oldest Bars in Boston

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Many of the oldest bars in Boston date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. They were frequented by various historical figures and served as a backdrop to many historic events in the city.

The following is a list of the oldest bars in Boston:

Green Dragon Tavern: 1712

Address: Union Street

The Green Dragon Tavern was a public house on Union Street that has since been demolished. The original tavern was a large three-story colonial-style building.

It is unclear exactly when the Green Dragon Tavern was established since some historians state it was established in 1654, under the name the Baker’s Arms, while others state it was 1712.

Illustration of the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston circa 1773
Illustration of the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston circa 1773

What is known about the tavern is that in 1712 it was owned and operated by Richard Pullen.

On March 31, 1764, the Green Dragon Tavern was purchased by the Lodge of St. Andrew to be used as a meeting place for the lodge and was briefly renamed Freemasons’ Arms.

The lodge even placed the Freemason symbol of a large square and compass on the front of the building. They soon dropped the name Freemasons’ Arms though and simply referred to it as Masons’ Hall.

As a result of its occupation by the Freemasons, the tavern was frequented by well-known Freemasons and American Revolution-era figures like Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Adams and John Hancock.

In 1818, the lodge moved its headquarters from the tavern to the Exchange Coffee House and the tavern was renamed the Green Dragon Tavern.

In 1824, Dr. John Collins Warren visited the tavern and later reported that it was “inhabited by poor people, the rooms cut up into small apartments…” yet it’s not clear why exactly (Warren 219).

In 1828, the tavern was closed, its contents were sold off and the building was demolished so the town could widen Union street.

In 1993, a new tavern, also called the Green Dragon Tavern, was established on Marshall Street but it is not affiliated with the original tavern.

Warren Tavern: 1780

Address: 2 Pleasant Street, Charlestown, Mass
Website: www.warrentavern.com

The Warren Tavern is a historic tavern established in Charlestown in 1780 by Captain Eliphelet Newell.

The tavern was the first tavern to be built in Charlestown after the British burned the town during Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Newell named the tavern after his friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, who was killed during that battle.

The building it is housed in is a Federal-style building with low ceilings and a large fireplace and the bar was reportedly built with wooden beams salvaged from the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Patrons who reportedly drank at the tavern included Paul Revere and George Washington. The tavern operated until 1813 when it was shuttered. During the following decades, the building was home to a variety of different businesses, such as a bakery, private club and warehouse.

By 1970, the population of Charlestown had plummeted and the building was rundown and scheduled to be demolished. Fortunately it was saved by a conservation commission and reopened as the Warren Tavern by its new owners, Alan and Ann Cunha, and Neil and Ed Grennan, in 1972.

Bell in Hand: 1795

Address: 45-55 Union Street, Boston, Mass
Website: bellinhand.com

The Bell in Hand is a tavern established in Boston in 1795 by town crier Jimmy Wilson. Wilson started the tavern when he retired after 50 years of being the town crier and named the tavern after his old job.

Wilson refused to sell hard liquor so the tavern only served Smith’s Philadelphia Cream Ale until 1919. Patrons who reportedly drank at the tavern include Daniel Webster and Paul Revere.

The tavern was originally located on Court Street, near what is now the Government Center subway station, and relocated in 1844. According to a recent article in Boston Magazine, the tavern moved to its current location sometime in the 1950s.

Doyle’s Cafe: 1882

Doyle’s Cafe was a pub in Jamaica Plain that permanently closed in 2019. The bar was established by the Doyle family in 1882.

In 1969, the Doyle family sold the bar to three brothers Ed, Bill and Gerry Burke.

In 2019, owner Gerry Burke Jr announced that he was permanently closing the bar because he couldn’t afford the cost of rent in the neighborhood anymore.

Oak Long Bar & Kitchen: 1912

Address: 138 St. James Ave, Boston, Mass
Website: www.oaklongbarkitchen.com

The Oak Long Bar is a bar inside the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, which is a historic hotel in Boston that opened in 1912.

The bar was originally a men-only gentlemen’s club called the Copley Cafe. In 1934, it was renamed the Merry-Go-Round Bar before being renamed the Plaza Bar, the Oak Room and eventually the Oak Long Bar in 2012.

The Tam: 1940s

Address: 222 Tremont Street, Boston, Mass
Website: www.thetamboston.com

The Tam is an Irish pub that opened in the theater district sometime in the 1940s. It’s a cash-only, working-class bar that has been described as one of Boston’s best dive bars.

In late 2018, the bar was purchased by the Greater Boston Bar Company LLC and closed temporarily for minor renovations but reopened a month later.

The Cask n Flagon: 1969

Address: 62 Brookline Ave, Boston, Mass
Website: casknflagon.com

The Cask n Flagon is a sports bar near Fenway Park. The bar was originally called Oliver’s, after a famous music venue of the same name, when it first opened but changed its name to the Cask n Flagon a few years later.

The bar is currently owned and operated by the second generation of the original owner’s family.

In 2007, the bar opened a night club area inside the bar and called it Oliver’s.

The site that the bar is located on was originally a Ford dealership, according to the bar’s website, and the dealership’s original tarrazzo flooring still exists in the bar’s night club area.

If you are interested in visiting more historic bars in Boston, check out this list of oldest restaurants in Boston, many of which have bars in them.

Sources:
“About.” Cask n Flagon, casknflagon.com/about/
“Review: Oak Long Bar & Kitchen.” iGersBoston, igersboston.com/review-oak-long-bar-kitchen/
Byrne, Kerry J. “Doyle’s Cafe Serves Up Brews and History.” Jamaica Plain Historical Society, jphs.org/20th-century/doyles-cafe-serves-up-brews-and-history.html
Cain, Jacqueline. “Doyle’s Cafe ‘Can’t Afford’ to Stay Open in Jamaica Plain.” Boston Magazine, 10 Sept. 2019, bostonmagazine.com/restaurants/2019/09/10/doyles-closing-jamaica-plain/
Miller, Norman. Boston Beer: A History of Brewing in the Hub. American Palate, 2014.
Buell, Spencer. “Can Any of Boston’s ‘Oldest Continuously Operating’ Landmarks Keep the Title?” Boston Magazine, 1 March, 2021, bostonmagazine.com/news/2021/03/01/continuously-operating-record/
“Blackstone Presentation.” Boston.gov, boston.gov/sites/default/files/imce-uploads/2019-05/blackstone_presentation.pdf
“Our Story.” Bell In Hand, bellinhand.com/our-story
Warren, Edward. The Life of John Collins Warren, M.D. Vol. I, Ticknor and Fields, 1859
Gavin, Nathan. Historic Taverns of Boston: 370 Years of Tavern History in One Definitive Guide. Iuniverse, Inc, 2006.
Drake, Samuel Adams and Walter Kendell Watkins. Old Boston Taverns and Tavern Clubs. W.A. Butterfield, 1917.
Forbes, Allen. Taverns and Stagecoaches of New England: Anecdotes and Tales Recalling the Days of Stagecoach Travel and the Ancient Hostelries where Strangers Tarried. Vol. II, State Street Trust Company, 1953.
Montes, Geoff. “The Warren Tavern in Charlestown, Massachusetts.” National Trust for Historic Preservation, savingplaces.org/stories/historic-bars-warren-tavern-charlestown-massachusetts
“Green Dragon Tavern, Union Street, Built Pre-Revolution, Razed ca. 1828.” Digital Commonwealth, digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:7s75dj94w
Moore, Charles W. The Green Dragon Tavern or Freemasons’ Arms. Masonic World, masonicworld.com/education/files/feb04/green_dragon_tavern.htm

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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