Several small taverns were the center of dining, social life and politics in Williamsburg as Virginia grew as a colony and then began to challenge the king of England. Many of the establishments are recreated in this popular tourist destination, while one is the original tavern that stood during colonial times. Besides serving up interesting history, several of them also provide lunch and dinner.
Chowning’s Tavern, opened by Josiah Chowning during 1766, appealed to the “ordinary sort.” Today it features Brunswick stew and sandwiches. It also features evening entertainment popular during the 1700s.
The King’s Arms Tavern, opened by Jane Vobe during 1772, became one of the most genteel establishments. It features traditional southern fare (colonial game pie, roast prime rib of beef and hot apple cider) along with after-dinner cordials.
During the 1740s, James Shields became the owner of a tavern started by his father-in-law. Guests today dine at this tavern on southern comfort food arranged in a seasonal menu that uses ingredients from the local marketplace.
The Raleigh Tavern opened about 1717. Serving as a center for social, commercial and political gatherings, it was frequented by Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee. George Washington often noted in his diary that he “Dined at the Raleigh” and the Marquis de Lafayette visited it during his return tour of America during 1824. The tavern was popular for hosting small private gatherings and large public dinners, and it also featured lectures and auctions. The original structure burned during 1859. It was rebuilt as part of the Williamsburg restoration.
Christiana Campbell’s Tavern is the only history-related dining establishment located outside the boundaries of the main streets of the Williamsburg historic area. It is located opposite the capitol building and across the street from the park boundary. It is named for the proprietress who was described by one customer as “a little old woman about four feet high and equally thick.” Washington was a faithful customer. Then and now, Campbell’s specialties include seafood, sweet potato muffins and hot spoon bread.
The Henry Weatherburn Tavern is the only original tavern building in Williamsburg and it still stands on its original site on Duke of Gloucester Street. Food or drink are not available at this tavern, but visitors can tour the entire building and surrounding property. Washington spent so much time in Williamsburg as a Virginia elected official before the Revolutionary War that he often frequented Weatherburn’s Tavern along with all the others in town.
The taverns of Colonial Williamsburg are open year-round but hours change with the seasons. Reservations are recommended for meals, especially during summer, and can be made through the Colonial Williamsburg main office or with each individual tavern.
[Image: Mike Virgintino]