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Taverns and Beer in Philadelphia's History


When William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682 there were already taverns in what was soon to become his new "green country town" - Philadelphia. Lacking buildings some taverns were dug into the caves that lined the Delaware River. History records that Penn's boat anchored right next to The Blue Anchor, a transplanted Irish pub that had been reassembled on the dock. It's easy to conclude that Philadelphia's earliest settlers were hearty drinkers, but there was a reason for this madness. Water, for the most part, was undrinkable. Some will say that little has changed in Philadelphia in the last 300+ years.

City Tavern

By the time of the War for Independence it is said that Philadelphia had a tavern for every 25 men and along with Boston, more taverns than anywhere in the English speaking world. Old City Tavern which was originally built in 1773 and reconstructed in 1976 sits in Independence National Park and is filled with history. It was the "unofficial" meeting place for the First Continental Congress in 1774, a place of celebration for delegates to Congress on the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and hosted a dinner in honor of General Washington at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in September of 1787.

Role of Taverns in Colonial America

University of Washington professor W.J. Rorabaugh wrote in The Alcoholic Republic that "Patriots viewed public houses as the nurseries of freedom," and that taverns were "certainly seed beds of the Revolution, the places where British tyranny was condemned, militiamen organized, and independence plotted." We can't underestimate the importance of taverns in Colonial Philadelphia. It was the center for most social activity. political discussion and the place where colonials were able to speak with travelers who brought news of the world.

Benjamin Franklin on Drinking and Beer

The drinks of preference in these taverns of the 18th century was the same as at today's local tavern, beer and ale. Benjamin Franklin wrote: "there can’t be good living where there is not good drinking" and "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." In Franklin's time, Philadelphia was the largest English speaking city in America and second only to London in the world. When beer is drunk, beer has to be brewed.

Philadelphia as a Brewing City

One hundred years ago, Philadelphia was known as the greatest brewing city in the Western Hemisphere. Today, Philadelphia-area microbreweries are reclaiming the region’s reputation by brewing some of the world’s best beer. Visitors can tour the facilities and sample the beer at most of these spots, and increasingly, local pubs are specializing in serving locally made brews.

Breweryton is Born

In the mid-19th through the early 20th century, more than 90 breweries operated in Philadelphia proper, and another 100 more operated in the city’s environs. One northwestern region of Philly, located on the banks of the Schuylkill River, near Girard Avenue Bridge, became known as Brewerytown. As Brewerytown grew, area producers of German-style beers and American lagers expanded into the nearby Kensington and Fishtown neighborhoods, and beyond.

Prohibition and Its Effect on Philadelphia

The brewery boom came to an end in 1920, when Prohibition brought on the decline - and near demise - of virtually all of Philadelphia’s beer producers, the majority of which remained shuttered beyond the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Rebirth of Philadelphia Beer Making

But 60 years later, the Philadelphia region began reestablishing itself as a force in beer making. Throughout the city - from Kensington to Manayunk - and beyond - from Lafayette Hill to Phoenixville - independently owned breweries and brew pubs were handcrafting flavorful ales, lagers, stouts and meads that had all but disappeared from America’s beerscape.

Today, the Philadelphia area is home to several microbreweries that bring home gold and silver medals from international beer festivals and competitions every year. Throughout the region, bars are serving local drafts alongside ale-friendly haute cuisine.


Twice a year, the Neighborhood Tourism Network hosts tours of Philadelphia’s historic and reemerging brewing neighborhoods of Fishtown and Kensington.

Philadelphia's new hit Once Upon a Nation presents their Tippler's Tour. On Thursday nights in the spring and summer you can wind your way through the streets of Old City enjoying drinks and a little sip of history at Colonial and modern day watering holes.

Join your Colonial guide as they share with you stories of tavern life in Colonial Philadelphia and introduce you to some traditional drinks from the period. Participating taverns include The Society Hill Hotel, Sassafras Cafe, Old Original Bookbinders, and The City Tavern.

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