Let’s face it. Alcohol has been around a long time. It may have taken scores of centuries to refine the process of fermenting fruit and brewing hops, but our ancestors were slugging the stuff down way before Gallo, Sam Adams, or Smirnoff started bottling it up.
Alcohol was consumed in ceremonies, rituals, celebrations, and for any other legitimate or not reasons. It probably didn’t take long for these folks of long ago to discover it was more fun getting smashed with others than drinking alone, and thus, the concept of what we commonly refer to as a bar was born. Or, something like that.
Theories aside, there are bars, pubs, and taverns on this planet that are right in the same spot they have been for so long their ages will astound you. These are where countless yarns have been spun, fights have broken out, where lovers have cheated, where people have met and formed friendships, where someone at sometime has danced on the bar, and where many a person has either washed away their blues or drank to their good fortune. The “regulars” in these antique drinking establishments have changed countless times since the original ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and many a lost tale has been absorbed within their bricks and mortar. If those walls could only talk…
Here are some of the oldest bars on record where you can still belly up, order a cold one, and imagine all that has transpired right where you’re sitting.
Sean’s Bar – Athlone, Ireland
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Sean’s Bar holds the world record for being the oldest, serving satisfied customers since 900 AD. That’s right. 900 AD. There are records showing all of the previous owners dating back to the 10th century.
Athlone is a small town in Central Ireland with a population of 20,000. These days the bar is still serving up pints to thirsty patrons, and they’ve added live music to their entertainment menu. Artifacts from the bars original days are scattered about the place, and an official document certifying them as the oldest bar in existence hangs proudly over the bar.
The Bingley Arms – North Leeds, England
The Bingley Arms may not hold the title as the oldest bar in the world, but Guinness still has it is the oldest one in Britain. Officially, records indicate they served their first pint in 953 AD, but since records from those times are often a bit shoddy, evidence indicates they may have opened as early as 905 AD.
At one time, two abbeys sat a short distance away on either side of the location and hungry and thirsty monks used to stop in for a bite and a pint when traveling between the two. Back then, for obvious reasons, it was called the Priest Inn.
Today, the bar stands almost as it originally was, and it’s as if walking into a time-warp. Even the original Dutch oven used for baking bread is still operational and still making gobs of dough rise every day.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem – Nottingham, England
In the same town where Robin Hood and his Merry Men used to rob from the rich, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem has stood proud and tall since 1189 AD. How this bar got its name is interesting.
In the 12th century during the Crusades to the Holy Land, the Crusaders would stop by for one last drink before heading out of town to Jerusalem. The building itself was constructed right up against a series of caves, and one of them is used as drinking room. In the 11th century, the caves running beneath the building were used as a brewery since they had to make their own beer.
The word “Trip” in the bars title does not mean the same thing as it does today. Back then it meant taking a break while in the middle of a journey.
Brazen Head – Dublin, Ireland
Some dispute the opening date for this bar, but according to the best-kept records which never lie, the doors swung open for the first time in 1198. Throughout the years it has served as a popular hangout for famous Irish writers such as James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, and Robert Emmet.
Traditional Irish music is played in the bar, just as it has been since day one. Steeped deeply in history, Brazen Head is decorated with artifacts from days gone by.
Ye Olde Man & Scythe – Bolton, England
Though it could be older, Ye Olde Man & Scythe is mentioned in a charter from 1251 so this is the year generally associated with its opening. In 1636 the bar was rebuilt, but it could have been rebuilt other times that were never documented. Even so, the vaulted cellar stands exactly as it did from the beginning.
One thing that can’t be rebuilt is history, and there is plenty of it going on here. The story standing out the most is when the Earl of Derby, in 1770, was beheaded right outside of the bars front doors for his part in what is called the Bolton Massacre. A Royal-led army invaded Bolton, killing over 1600 of the town’s residents.
Of course, America has not been around nearly as long as where these aforementioned bars are located, but just for kicks, let’s have a look at two of the oldest known bars in the U.S.A.
White Horse Tavern – Newport, RI
White Horse Tavern began serving its guests somewhere around 1673. It was a hangout for pirates and was later used as lodging for British soldiers during the American Revolutionary War. In 1895 it became a rooming house, and in 1957 it was turned back into a full-fledged bar.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – New Orleans, LA
The oldest bar in the U.S. which has always been a bar and still is today is Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar located in New Orlean’s French Quarter. It was founded in 1772 by the well-known pirate Jean Lafitte and it is said he planned his raids from this location. It is also said he used the word Blacksmith in the name because using the word Pirate might have caused him some trouble.