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At 54 Pearl Street, at the corner of Pearl and Broad, you will find Fraunces Tavern. It is a pretty yellow and red brick structure that looks like it has been plucked from the 18th century and put down in modern New York. It stands out among some of its more contemporary neighbors, such as the Goldman Sachs building across the street. Fraunces Tavern can boast of an amazing history that dates back to the very early days of New York. Pop in to grab a drink, and you can sit in a tavern that once hosted a secret society, departments of the United States government and, the man himself, George Washington.
Fraunces Tavern is conveniently located near several major New York City Subway lines. The closest stations are the Whitehall St. Station on the N and R lines or Bowling Green Station on the 4 and 5 lines. However, as you can see from the map below, you can reach Fraunces Tavern from many stations and lines. We recommend using this Google map for directions to Fraunces Tavern from anywhere.
Below are several things you can do in the area that make sense when visiting Fraunces Tavern. However, be sure to read our post on things to do in Lower Manhattan for more on the sights of this New York City district or join us on our Lower Manhattan Walking Tour.
Try to plan your visit to the restaurant alongside a trip upstairs to the museum. This is one of New York’s hidden gems- a fantastic small museum that will provide a rich history of not only the tavern, but colonial life in New York and the history of the early days of this nation. You will be able to see the Long Room set up as it would have been for Washington’s Farewell Dinner and much more!
Listen to Tour Guide Renee talk about the importance of Fraunces Tavern.
Fraunces Tavern Restaurant
Today Fraunces Tavern boasts a full selection of craft beers as well as an excellent whisky selection (with a special whisky tasting room). There is also a full food menu of “colonial-style” cuisine, including Chicken Potpie, a favorite of George Washington’s.
A Few Things To Know…
They take both reservations and credit cards. It tends to get busy on weekdays during Happy Hour (4pm to 7pm). There is live music on Saturdays from 1pm to 4pm (jazz), and at 6pm (American Rock). On Sundays there is live Irish music from 3pm to 6pm. There are fun times to be at Fraunces, but it gets a little loud, so plan accordingly if you are looking for a quiet outing (or be asked to be seated away from the bar area.) As far is pricing is concerned, Yelp has Fraunces Tavern rated as a $$ ($11-$30 for an entrée.)
The property was originally owned by Mayor of New York Stephanus Van Cortlandt. Van Cortlandt was the first native-born mayor of the city. He decided to re-locate his home and gave the property to his daughter Anne and her husband Etienne “Stephen” DeLancey. DeLancey built a home at 54 Pearl Street in 1719. The yellow brick house was considered a sizeable mansion at the time of its construction. The DeLancey family lived there until 1762, when Stephen DeLancey’s children sold it to Samuel Fraunces.
As Fraunces Tavern (Colonial Era)
Fraunces converted the home into a tavern called the Queen’s Head Tavern, named for Queen Charlotte of England. Taverns were a cornerstone of 18th century colonial social life, and the tavern thrived. The colony of New York was heading for drastic changes, however. A series of new laws and restrictions were placed on the colonists by the Crown and general unrest spread throughout the colonies. Despite the tavern’s Loyalist-sounding name, it was used as a meeting place for the secret Sons of Liberty society, a group that sought to protect the rights of the American colonists. They plotted the lesser-known New York Tea Party in Fraunces Tavern in 1774. By 1775, tensions between the British and the colonists continued to mount in New York. A group of men tried to steal cannons from the Battery on August 23, 1775 and exchanged fire with the H.M.S. Asia, which was situated in the harbor. The Asia pelted the city with cannonballs until 3am the next morning. One of these 18-pound cannonballs crashed through the roof of Fraunces Tavern. Samuel Fraunces actually left New York in 1775 for New Jersey, getting out of the way of the oncoming conflict. Fraunces’ Loyalist son-in-law took over the running of the tavern during the time that Fraunces spent in New Jersey. Fraunces returned in 1778.
During The American Revolution and Its Aftermath
The tavern remained open during the British occupation of New York during the Revolution. The Royal Governor of New York, Governor Tyron, hosted a diner for 70 distinguished British guests at the tavern in 1780. After the British surrender at York in 1781, the tavern took on a new role. Throughout the war, African-American slaves had left their Patriot masters and gone to fight for the British Crown. They were promised freedom in exchange for their service. General Birch held weekly trials at Fraunces Tavern for these men to come and prove their loyalty and service to the Crown and ensure their freedom and safe passage out of New York. The tavern was also used as the headquarters for the American Commissioners while they negotiated with the British for their evacuation from the city. Evacuation Day cane on November 25, 1783, and Governor George Clinton held a celebration at the tavern.
Nine days later, on December 4, 1783, George Washington invited the officers of the Continental Army to a dinner in the Long Room at Fraunces Tavern. Washington used to dinner to retire from public life (before he was unanimously chosen as the first President of the United States.) Gathered with his officers in Fraunces Tavern he said, “With a heart full of love and gratitude, I take leave of you. I devoutly wish that your latter days may be as happy and prosperous and your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”
Fraunces Tavern had seen a lot, but it’s time wasn’t over. In the early days of the United States, while New York served as its short-lived capitol city, the tavern was home to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Shortly after leasing space to the new government, Fraunces sold the tavern to a Brooklyn butcher named George Powers so that he could retire to New Jersey. Powers later also rented space to the Department of War and Department of Finance, making Fraunces Tavern the home of some of our very first government offices.
Like Washington, Fraunces did not get to retire as intended. During the Revolution he had become acquainted with George Washington. He was asked to serve as the Head Steward of Washington’s Presidential household in New York, retiring briefly once the capitol was moved to Philadelphia, and then returning to the President’s service until 1794.
Into the Modern Era…
Fraunces Tavern continued on through the years. Though it changed owners several times and became primarily a boarding house in the 1800’s, it was always known as Fraunces Tavern and its place in history was not forgotten. A series of fires forced parts of the tavern to be rebuilt several times, until it looked very little like the original structure. Two extra floors were added and the roof was changed. On the centennial of George Washington’s Farewell Dinner in 1883, the Sons of the Revolution in the State if New York was founded in the Long Room of Fraunces Tavern. On the outside, however, the building continued to change and modernize. A cast iron façade was added and the entrance was changed. By 1900, 54 Pearl Street, along with many other older buildings, was facing demolition. The Daughters of the American Revolution fought to save the building, even trying to purchase it. The owners refused. The City of New York joined in the effort. On the basis of eminent domain, the city declared the building a park so that they could save it. Once they had taken over the property, it was sold to the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York, who own it to this day. They have restored the 18th century appearance as best they could (with no known pictures of the original building to work off of.) The modern additions were stripped away and the brick structure underneath painstakingly restored for a re-opening on December 4, 1907. Today, the Fraunces Tavern Museum operates on the second and third floors, while a full restaurant and bar is open on the first floor, taking the building back to its colonial roots.
Written by Katherine Weatherford