Life Before Restaurants: The Colonial Tavern Experience in Modern South Jersey

There was a time when you couldn’t supersize your fries. Or have it your way…or any other way other than what the kitchen was serving that night.

The modern concept of what we think of as a restaurant did not even originate until 1760s in France (although it can be argued that restaurant-type establishments had existed in China and during Roman times), and did not even come to our shores until late 18th Century. So what did we do for eats when we were not able to dine at home? You would be finding yourself at the nearest tavern, with plenty of alcohol to wash down whatever sustenance was served in front of you. Tavern cuisine, if you want to call it that, could vary in quality greatly. Tavern keepers and their helpers were not trained in culinary arts; it was home cooking as best as they could offer.

Given this, taverns were an important part of life in Colonial America. They were stops along the way for weary travelers to get some rest and something in their bellies. They were places for social connection, long long looong before Facebook and Twitter. Legal debates would be held either officially or unofficially (along with some alcoholic lubricant) at taverns. Revolutions were born in taverns.

People are become more and more interested in the history of food and how we have prepared and consumed it over time. Over the next several weeks, there will be some really interesting (and dare I say historical) events that revolve around tavern life. The first one I want to mention is a terribly exciting one: A Tankard at the Tavern at the Indian King Tavern Museum in Haddonfield.   Built in 1750, the Indian King Tavern is where New Jersey declared itself a state (Trenton was under siege at the time). It was officially recognized in 1903 as a state historical site, the first to receive this designation. And now, 139 after the last drink was served there, the tavern will be open once again for one day to serve food and drink to weary travelers, intellectuals and all others. On May 5, Friends of the Indian King Tavern Museum will allow those of us in the 21st Century a little slice of 18th Century living. The good news: the food and drink will be prepared by those who have been trained in their respective fields. Food of the period will be provided by the British Chip Shop (and I hope they don’t show up in redcoats, or there might be trouble), and the ales will be provided by Yards out of Philadelphia (who have a history of making historical brews). There will be seatings at 12PM, 3PM and 6PM, and each seating in limited to 100 people, so don’t wait! Give them a call and find out how to get your tickets, which will be $40 per person.

If you want to get into the Revolutionary spirit, Revolution Tours and Auburn Road Vineyards in Pilesgrove are teaming up for a series of events called “Eat, Drink & Talk a Little Treason”. Auburn Road will turn its Enoteca eatery into a tavern for these Sunday nights, serving food and music of the period. Each event will focus on the steps leading up to the American Revolution and how we view these things today. Special guests will be at each event to add to the discussion. The first one will held this Sunday (April 22), and the theme is “Taxes, Tea, and the Decision to go to War”. Following events will take place of May 13, June 17 and 30, and run from 6PM to 9PM.


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