Question of the Week
Which Philadelphia drinking establishment was once also known as the Merchants' Coffee House?
Answer: The City Tavern
The City Tavern is one of the oldest and most famous Philadelphia drinking establishments. But it didn’t always go solely by this name. It was once known as the Merchants’ Coffee House.
The City Tavern was constructed by 1773 on South Second Street near the Delaware River and served as a meeting house prior to the Revolutionary War. Many prominent figures of the day, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Paul Revere, visited the tavern. In the summer of 1774, the First Continental Congress held meetings there.
The tavern survived the war, and in 1785, it designated one of its spaces as a coffee room, which became known as the Merchants’ Coffee House and Place of Exchange. Over the next few decades, while the tavern and coffee house co-existed, the site gradually morphed into a merchant’s exchange, or place to do business for traders, importers, exporters, and shipping managers. The exchange moved from the coffee house in early 1830s to a different building and became formally known as the Merchant’s Exchange (the building still stands at Dock, Third, and Walnut streets). The tavern once again became a tavern, but it was demolished in the 1850s to make way for new stores.
The historically accurate, reconstructed City Tavern as most Philadelphians know it today was commissioned in 1948 and completed in time for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. The tavern is now an award-winning restaurant that recreates the cuisine of the 18th century.
For more information on Philadelphia's historical inns and taverns, check out the Benjamin Randolph Boggs papers on the Inns and Taverns of Old Philadelphia (Am .3032). Related images can be found in that collection as well as the Jane Campbell scrapbook collection (#V71), the Society print collection (#V89), and the Society photograph collection (#V85).
Image: City Tavern, shown in 1909
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.