What is the first thought that comes to mind when hearing Philadelphia? For me, it was two thoughts – Constitution and the American Revolution. I guess they kind of go together hand in hand. When I started to research the most iconic, historic places to visit in Philly, aside from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, I was super delighted to find City Tavern Restaurant. This is where the true revolutionaries and game-changers for the US met and dined and devised plans to make America what it is today. And amazingly enough, Chef Walter Staib has preserved the original building and cuisine as though you are still in the Revolutionary years.
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City Tavern Philly
A visit to Philadelphia isn’t complete without spending at least one day in the Historic District, also known as the Old City. To this day, the city and the people have managed to preserve this part of town as though Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many more people we have come to know as the forefathers of America will be walking down the street or sitting next to you on a park bench.
One thing I love during travels, especially to historical sites, is finding restaurants that have extremely important relevance to that time era. For instance, when we visited Boston we enjoyed the Oldest Restaurant in the US – Union Oyster House. When we were in Savannah we visited the Pirate’s House the oldest restaurant in Georgia, but also one of the richest pirate havens of its time.
To say the least, I got giddy finding out about City Tavern.
History of City Tavern Philly
- It was originally built in 1773 and it was one of the most elegant buildings in the city.
- Back then, visitors included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton, to name a few.
- City Tavern was a familiar sight to the leading figures of the American Revolution.
- The clubrooms hosted various benevolent and social organizations, including the St. George’s Society.
- It was also the unofficial meeting place for the first continental congress in the late summer of 1774.
- Between the late 1700’s and early 1800’s City Tavern was a place frequently visited by George Washington.
- After the war, the Tavern settled into a more sedate existence until the opening of the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
- A fire partially destroyed it in 1834, the original structure had to be demolished.
- In 1948 the congress designated the historic area of downtown Philadelphia as Independence National Historical Park and commissioned a historically accurate reconstruction of City Tavern.
- The replica of City tavern was finished in 1976.
- Restauranteur Walter Staib took over in 1994 and has managed to offer a 18th century experience by preserving the culinary experience exactly as it was back in the revolutionary days.
Dining at City Tavern
Chef Walter Staib (more about him below) maintains the restaurant 97% to its original ways since opening. Of course, indoor plumbing and electricity weren’t available then, but the food is super fresh, they avoid refrigeration if possible, and the meals are exact as to what was served back in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. This includes the alcoholic drinks, since it is a known fact that the water was bad and the colonist enjoyed their alcoholic beverages way more than anything else.
Drinking it Up
Champagne Shrub or Spiced Rum Shrub – Shrub is made from fruit juice vinegar sweetened with sugar and spiked with plenty of alcohol. A super popular drink back in the original days and the recipe is still exactly the same. I loved the Champagne Shrub – dangerously sweet.
City Tavern Cooler – this is more of a rum, brandy, and whisky mixture with apple cider. This was probably one of the most consumed drinks back in the day.
Ales – the original recipes from that time. I highly recommend the Colonial Ale Sampler. This is four ales each name after the main visitors of the place: George Washington Tavern Porter (the recipe for this ale is from the rare manuscripts room), Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale (he actually made his own beer two times per year and this was the recipe he used), Benjamin Franklin’s original recipe for Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce, and Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Ale.
Madiera – this is an after-dinner drink and known to be George Washington’s fav, and also the main reason he had brown teeth. Super powerful drink. I was only able to put a taste in my mouth. Not for the faint-hearted.
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The Food at City Tavern
Most of the bread and pastries are baked daily on the premises. Since they try to use as little refrigeration as possible, they have fresh seafood delivered two times per day.
Practically every dish was a favorite of one of America’s founding fathers, with the original recipe.
Here’s a quick glance at some of the amazing dishes you’re in for:
Basil Shrimp – wrapped in apple-wood smoked bacon with fresh basil and horseradish bbq sauce
Mushroom Toast – sautéed Pennsylvania mushrooms, Sally Lunn crouton and Béarnaise sauce – I probably could’ve eaten ten of these
Corn Chowder – New England style (super creamy and rich), corn, potatoes, and cream
Country Salad – this is pretty much a typical salad with greens, but it’s the raspberry shrub dressing that is beyond words of how tasty it is
Normally I like to go with what the waitstaff recommends as the signature dishes or something super unique to the restaurant.
Pork Chop “Apple-Wood Smoked” – we ordered this because of the technique used to cook it. In the 18th century preserving meats by curing them in salt and then smoking them was necessary to survive, especially during the long, cold winters. This is the perfect example of it.
Chicken a la Franklin – this dish was inspired by Benjamin Franklin. After spending ten years in France, he took on some of their finest dining ways. The dish is a chicken breast marinated in Ben Franklin’s ale, Sally Lunn breadcrumbs, asparagus, Béarnaise sauce, mashed potatoes, and veggies.
Don’t forget to taste what these guys ate after each meal. The waitress usually brings out the dessert tray for you to choose.
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Facts about City Tavern Restaurant
- The Tavern was originally built with tons of rooms. This was because back then the more walls you had the more paintings and clutter you can have. And, interestingly enough, that was a sign of affluence.
- The Coffee Room – today known as the main dining room, was where the men gathered to drink coffee. No matter how rich you were back in the 18th century, you can only get 4 oz of coffee since it was so scarce. It’s also the place where it’s reported that Ben Franklin started the first stock market.
- Bar and Grill – We know the term bar and grill for a place where there is a bar and to grill the food. However, the original use of this was entirely different. The grill was an actual grill that was over the bar. If the scene in the restaurant got out of hand or dangerous as in sword fights or overly drunk people behaving lewdly, the bartender would drop the grill down to protect himself and the money in the till.
- 1st 4 of July Celebration was held here
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Chef Walter Staib Information
Chef Walter Staib started cooking at the age of four. He was born to run restaurants and create amazing culinary delights. With all those years of work, he’s accumulated some amazing accolades.
- 2012 Distinguished German-American of the Year
- 2012 Emmy Award, Best Host
- 2012 Telly Award, Host of Promotion
- 2012 Best TV, On Location nominee, James Beard Foundation
- 2011 Guest Chef, James Beard Foundation
- 2011 “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” Food Network
- 2011 Iron Chef Competition, Food Network
- 2011 Contemporary Pioneer Award, Colonial Society of Pennsylvania
- 2011 Silver Medal Award, American Culinary Federation
- 2011 Chef of the Year Nominee, American Culinary Federation
- 2011 Top Philadelphia Chef Winner, Condé Nast Cadillac Culinary Challenge
- 2011 Guest Instructor, Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park
- 2010 Emmy Award, Best Host, International Foodservice Manufacturers Association
- 2010 Silver Plate Award Nominee, IFMA
- 2010 A Taste of History was honored with three Emmy® nominations from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
- Best Host – Walter Staib
- Best Director – James Davey
- Best Historical/Cultural Program – “A Taste of History- Monticello”- Multi Media Productions
- 2007 Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
- 2006 Seven Stars & Stripes Award for Excellence in Hospitality
- 2005 Grand Prize, Plate Magazine Duck Recipe Contest
- 2005 Grand Prize, The Farmer & The Chef Event
- 2005 Restaurant Neighbor Award, National Restaurant Association
- 2004 Chef Walter Staib and City Tavern are inducted into World Gourmet Club
- 2004 Founder’s Trophy, World Gourmet Club
- 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001 Five Star Diamond Award for both Chef and Restaurant, American Academy of Hospitality Sciences
- 2003 Neighborhood Favorite Award, Elite Dining
- 2003 Independent Restaurant Award of Excellence, Council of Independent Restaurants of America (CIRA)
- 2003 Distinguished Visiting Author Award, Johnson & Whales University
- 2003 German-American Friendship Award, Federal Republic of Germany
- 2002 Lifetime Membership, German Society of Pennsylvania
- 2002 Guy Przybycien Award, March of Dimes’ Star Chefs
- 2001 Chef’s Choice Award, Master’s Touch
- 2000 Restaurant Wine and Spirits Cooking Award, Santé
- 2000 Menu Visionary Award for Children’s Dining, From Mind To Menu
- 2000 Best Kids Menu in America Award, Restaurant Hospitality
- 1999 Philadelphia Delaware Valley Restaurant Association’s Restaurateur of the Year
- 1999 Restaurateur of Distinction Award and induction into the prestigious Ivy Society, Restaurants & Institutions
- 1999 FCSI Grand Award for Excellence in Management Advisory Services
- 1999 Tabletop Grand Award, FE&S Magazine
- 1999 Cheers Best Beverage Program in America, Independent Category
- 1997 Tabletop Grand Award, FE&S Magazine
- 1987 Foodservice Operator of the Year, Hotel & Lodging, IFMA Silver Plate
- Silver Spoon Award, Food Arts
- First Inductee into the Caribbean Culinary Hall of Fame
Information for Visiting City Tavern
Address: 138 South 2nd Street at Walnut St, Philadelphia,
Lunch is served from 11:30am daily
Dinner is served from 4pm Monday through Saturday, from 3pm Sundays