Imagine owning a restaurant that’s older than our Independence Day celebration. Impossible for most of us to grasp, but restaurants that have stood the test of time are lessons in excellence and entertainment. This collection of Top 100 Independents pays tribute to some of the industry’s oldest and most esteemed operations, including more than half of which have operated for 100 years or more. History always comes with its share of skeletons in the pantry, ghosts returning to haunt, and colorful stories—so to some extent there are restaurants among the group that are thriving on their own reputations.
The younger “oldies,” those that are 35 to 50 years old, are equally interesting because they’ve managed to succeed across decades without the benefit of historical precedence. Many of these independents have transitioned across multiple generations as well as through shifts in ownership and catastrophic events. Following the profile on Commander’s Palace, our Top 100 is presented from oldest to youngest, including some of the highest-grossing restaurants in the industry and others with modest, but sustained, performance.
1600s and 1700s
Independents With Colonial Heritage
White Horse Tavern
Newport, Rhode Island
Year Opened: 1673
Owner: Jeff Farrar
Cuisine: Modern American
Sales: $1.5 to $2.5 million
Average check: $20 to $40 lunch, $50 to $100 dinner
Essential items: Beef Wellington and Lobster Mac and Cheese
Red Fox Inn and Tavern
Year opened: 1728
Owner: The Reuter Family
Average check: $31 to $60
Essential item: Virginia Peanut Soup
Known as the nation’s “horse and hunt capital,” Middleburg, Virginia, has attracted visitors from all over the country for centuries. Even before the town was established in 1787, it was the site of The Red Fox Inn and Tavern, which opened in 1728 under the name Chinn’s Ordinary. Set in a stone building in the heart of Middleburg, The Red Fox has been owned and operated by three generations of the Reuter family. Throughout its history, notable politicians and celebrities have dined here, including John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Tom Cruise.
During the Civil War, The Red Fox was used by the Confederacy, and the pine bar was even used as an operating table for wounded soldiers who were cared for in the tavern rooms.
On a lighter side, the restaurant also displays 19th and 20th century paintings and sculptures thanks to Red Fox Fine Art, an initiative established by owner Turner Reuter in 1979.
A menu staple throughout its history has been the Virginia Peanut Soup, and other dishes include the popular signature crab cakes served with goat cheese grits, spinach, and cauliflower gratin with a lemon caper cream sauce. The beverage list highlights local wines, beer, and cider.
Year opened: 1742
Owner: Ark Restaurants
Cuisine: Classic New England
Average check: $41 E
In addition to its main dining room, the restaurant now invites guests into its Hideout, a beer garden.
Union Oyster House
Year opened: 1742
Owners: Joseph A. Milano Jr. and Mary Ann Milano Picardi
Average check: $43 E
Year opened: 1747 / 1984
Owners: Wes and Marilyn Burge
Cuisine: Colonial-influenced Southern cuisine
Essential item: Afternoon tea
Reynolds Tavern has undergone numerous iterations, including uses as a bank and library. However, in 1984 it resumed its stature as a tavern. In 2000 it changed hands again and has since maintained operations reflective of its 1700s heritage, including a walk-in fireplace and tearooms on the first floor.
Year opened: 1750 / 1915
Owner: Catania Hospitality Group
Cuisine: American, New England
Average check: $25 E
Originally opened in 1750 as the Fessenden Tavern, it was named the Dan’l Webster in 1915 because Boston lawyer Daniel Webster had a table reserved at the tavern from 1815 to 1851.
The Pirates’ House
Year opened: 1753
Owner: Turner Food & Spirits
Cuisine: American Comfort Foods and Seafood
The Herb House, which adjoins the main building, is said to be the oldest building in the state of Georgia. Built by the founder and governor of the colony of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, the small structure is rumored to be haunted.
New York City
Year opened: 1762
Owners: The Porterhouse Brewing Company, Eddie Travers, and Dervila Bowler-Travers
Average check: $52 E
The Tallmadge Room, an oak-paneled dining hall with Old World furnishings, is a highlight of the tavern, which claims to be the oldest bar/restaurant in New York City and the oldest remaining structure in Manhattan.
Year opened: 1770
Owner: The Historic Gadsby’s Tavern LLC
Cuisine: American steakhouse
Average check: $42 E
Year opened: 1776
Owner: Joan Paul
Sales: $4.6 million E
Average check: $45 to $55
The Sunday Hunt breakfast, a long-standing buffet-style tradition that began at The Griswold in 1814 when the British commandeered the Inn during a raid on Essex, still continues today. Many employees have been at Griswold for more than 15 years, and some as long as 40 years.
The Hancock Inn/Fox Tavern
Hancock, New Hampshire
Year opened: 1789
Owners: Jarvis and Marcia Coffin
Cuisine: Contemporary American
Average check: $100
Year opened: 1796
Owners: Steven and Lauren Bryant
Cuisine: Classic American
Average check: $16 to $35