The Oldest Bars in 20 of America’s Biggest Cities

The Oldest Bars in 20 of America’s Biggest Cities

Bars have long been fixtures of American culture, dating back to the colonial era. The early European settlers, unless they belonged to strict religious groups, tended to drink heavily. They would frequently indulge in ale, cider, applejack whiskey, and other potent potables. Establishments serving alcohol were thus vital locations in colonial communities.

Considering this history, it is unsurprising that many of America’s oldest bars are situated in the Northeast or South, the first areas colonized by these heavy-drinking Europeans. Additionally, a number of the most seasoned bars are based in small towns or rural locales. These often originated as places for stagecoach travelers or overnight guests to enjoy a hearty meal paired with a mug of ale or a shot of whiskey to warm their bellies. The longevity of these establishments speaks to America’s long-standing appreciation for a stiff drink in a social setting.

There are some very old bars in some of the largest U.S. cities, too, however. Drawing on numerous regional historical websites and on the sites maintained by older establishments themselves, 24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of 20 of the oldest big-city bars in America. (For a similar list, see this roster of the oldest bar in every state.)

Population figures given below are estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2022. A handful of the more populous cities in the country were excluded from the list because our research was unable to find establishments of sufficient age within them.

While all of the bars on this list are over 100 years old, with a select few surpassing 200 years of operation, accurately determining the age of such establishments is complicated. These bars have typically undergone numerous transformations, including long closures, changes in ownership and purpose, relocations, and evolution across generations of proprietors. Moreover, these venues were impacted by Prohibition from 1920-1933, forcing them to shut down, pivot to non-alcohol-related functions, or covertly serve as speakeasies.

One could contend that Fraunces Tavern in New York City, purportedly established in 1762, may have little connection to the original Fraunces Tavern aside from its geographical location in Lower Manhattan. Nevertheless, each of the establishments on this list maintains a thread of continuity, providing them with assertions of long-standing histories. Visiting any of these bars is likely to evoke a sense of their past lives. (To get an idea of what drinking places used to be like, see these vintage images of American taverns, bars, and saloons.)

Here are the oldest big-city bars in America.

Fort Worth, TX

Source: Courtesy of Lil' Red's Longhorn Saloon via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Lil’ Red’s Longhorn Saloon via Yelp
  • Population: 961,160
  • Oldest bar: Lil’ Red’s Longhorn Saloon
  • Year founded: 1919

In the early 20th century, as the cattle industry began to thrive in Fort Worth, the Stockyards area saw the opening of countless saloons and other businesses – among them this institution named for the iconic Texas Longhorns on which the industry was built. It has closed several times since its early days, and sat empty for more than a decade after the local beef business declined with the advent of refrigerated trucking and the proliferation of feedlots nationwide. Through the end of the last century and the beginnings of this one, it had a number of owners – until Craig “Lil’ Red” Copeland took it over in 2012, renaming it Lil’ Red’s Longhorn Saloon. Today, under his ownership, it is a major music venue, with Texas Monthly describing it as “Honky-Tonk nirvana.”

Los Angeles, CA

Source: Courtesy of larry b. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of larry b. via Yelp
  • Population: 3,822,224
  • Oldest bar: Townhouse
  • Year founded: 1915

Cesar Menotti, a recent immigrant from Italy, opened Menotti’s Buffet (later Menotti’s Bar) behind one of the colonnades in L.A.’s Venice neighborhood. With the advent of Prohibition five years later, he turned it into a grocery store – and opened a speakeasy in the basement, dubbed the Del Monte, stocking it with liquor brought down surreptitiously by boat from Canada. After Repeal, the place went through several changes of ownership and in the 1950s the then-proprietor renamed it Grady’s Townhouse. Today, the Townhouse and the Del Monte downstairs thrive, with classic cocktails and plenty of live music.

Dallas, TX

Source: Courtesy of Mitchy M. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Mitchy M. via Yelp
  • Population: 1,299,553
  • Oldest bar: Sons of Hermann Hall
  • Year founded: 1911

Both the oldest bar and the oldest freestanding wooden structure in Big D, this local institution – a joint venture between four Dallas lodges of the Sons of Hermann, a fraternal organization for German immigrants founded in New York City in 1840 – today functions as a popular neighborhood bar for one and all, complete with happy hour and rotating beer and spirits specials – and the space that once housed a bowling alley is now a major music venue, which in the past has hosted such performers as Wilco, Son Volt, Arlo Guthrie, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, Gillian Welch, and James McMurtry.

Columbus, OH

Source: Courtesy of Cky T. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Cky T. via Yelp
  • Population: 907,971
  • Oldest bar: Ringside Cafe
  • Year founded: 1897

Originally opened as the Board of Trade Saloon – the now-vanished Columbus Board of Trade Building was nearby (and the Ohio state capitol still is) – the Ringside was destroyed by fire in 1909 but promptly rebuilt on the same site. This time, it was launched as the Chamber of Commerce Café and Rathskeller, becoming the Jolly Gargoyle teahouse during Prohibition. Renamed the Ringside in 1933 by a wrestling promoter who purchased it, it subsequently closed for a few months in 1992 and again during the pandemic, but is going strong today.

Nashville, TN

Source: Courtesy of Carla R. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Carla R. via Yelp
  • Population: 683,622
  • Oldest bar: Springwater Supper Club & Lounge
  • Year founded: 1896

This celebrated West Nashville dive bar has only been called the Springwater since 1978, but the building it’s housed in has been serving alcohol since 1896, when it opened under a now-forgotten name to serve workers setting up the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition, held nearby. As with many pre-1920 watering holes, it transitioned into a speakeasy during Prohibition (Al Capone is said to have been a patron), and was later dubbed the Pirate’s Den. Today, Springwater calls itself “the oldest continuously open and operational bar in the great state of Tennessee.”

Seattle, WA

Source: Courtesy of Lorraine C. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Lorraine C. via Yelp
  • Population: 749,267
  • Oldest bar: Jules Maes Saloon
  • Year founded: 1888

Opened under another name across the street from the historic now-closed Rainier brewery sometime in the mid-1880s, this Georgetown institution was taken over by Belgian-born bartender Jules Gustaf Maes in 1888, moved a few doors down to a building known as the Brick Store, and rechristened with the new proprietor’s name. It subsequently had numerous owners and was closed periodically, but kept reviving as a beer hall and bar. In 2020, due to COVID restrictions and a reported 27% rent increase, it was announced that the place would shut down permanently – but the following year, a new owner took it over and opened it up yet again.

San Antonio, TX

Source: Courtesy of Menger Bar via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Menger Bar via Yelp
  • Population: 1,472,904
  • Oldest bar: Menger Bar
  • Year founded: 1887

German immigrant William Menger set up a brewery on the hallowed grounds of The Alamo in 1855, and four years later built a hotel on the site. In 1881, after his death, Menger’s widow sold it to J. H. Kampmann, the contractor who had worked on the place. By 1885, he had installed a bar and billiard hall on the property. His son in turn decided to upgrade the facilities and sent an architect to England to study the club bar for the House of Lords and then reproduce it down to the last detail at the hotel, introducing it to the city in 1887. Teddy Roosevelt was an early customer, though he presumably did not enjoy the Moscow Mules or Southwest egg rolls for which the place is known today.

San Diego, CA

Source: Courtesy of Maria A. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Maria A. via Yelp
  • Population: 1,381,182
  • Oldest bar: The Tivoli Bar & Grill
  • Year founded: 1885

This venerable venue in what is now called the city’s Gaslamp Quarter was originally a boarding house and a feed store, before it was converted into a saloon originally called the Tuscan House in 1885 by Italian immigrants Angelo and Giovanni Della Maggiora. It was renamed the Tivoli sometime after 1915. The original bar and back bar were built in Boston and transported to San Diego by ship around Cape Horn; they’re still in use.

Chicago, IL

Source: Courtesy of Marge's Still via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Marge’s Still via Yelp
  • Population: 2,665,064
  • Oldest bar: Marge’s Still
  • Year founded: 1885

Marge’s was originally opened as Victor Caruso’s Soft Drinks, which was a saloon with a barbershop attached. It became a speakeasy during Prohibition – complete with bathtub gin fermented upstairs, and was renamed Marge’s in 1955 (1957, according to some sources), when one Marge Landeck took it over – becoming, it is said, the first woman to be granted a liquor license in the city of Chicago. It closed for several years in the early 21st century, and was shuttered again during the pandemic, but was saved from possible demolition and remains an Old Town favorite. Known today for its impressive beer list and its pub food menu, it retains a Prohibition-era vibe.

Louisville, KY

Source: Courtesy of Patrick G. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Patrick G. via Yelp
  • Population: 624,444
  • Oldest bar: The Mellwood Tavern
  • Year founded: 1885

What is now the Mellwood Tavern was opened as the Rendezvous Inn and has had several other names since then, including Gibson’s Restaurant, the Rush Inn, and Mellwood Inn. There was once a dancehall in the basement and probably a brothel upstairs. When the current owners bought it in 2016, they harked back to an earlier era by rechristening it the Mellwood Tavern. (A private event space has been dubbed the Rendezvous Room.) The Mellwood is now known for its live music and its fried chicken.

Portland, OR

Source: Courtesy of Huber's Cafe via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Huber’s Cafe via Yelp
  • Population: 635,067
  • Oldest bar: Huber’s
  • Year founded: 1879

Bartender Frank Huber didn’t found the place that now bears his name. That was a man named W. L. Lightner, who launched it as the Bureau Saloon. In 1884, though, Lightner hired Huber to serve drinks, and he subsequently became a partner and then the sole owner. He brought on a Chinese immigrant named Louie Wei Fung, also called Jim or Hugh Louie, as cook, and renamed the saloon for himself in 1895. In 1910, with Louie by now a partner, the place moved to the just-opened Railway Exchange Building (now the Oregon Pioneer Building). During Prohibition, Huber’s emphasized food – the roast turkey was particularly famous – and reportedly served cocktails in coffee cups. The turkey is still a calling card here – and Louie’s great-grandchildren now own the place.

Detroit, MI

Source: Courtesy of Jack M. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Jack M. via Yelp
  • Population: 620,410
  • Oldest bar: 2-Way Inn
  • Year founded: 1876

Opened in 1873 by Civil War veteran Colonel Philetus Norris as an office and the local lockup and turned into a saloon three years later, this premises has also housed a dancehall, a general store, and a stagecoach station – but its most interesting identity was as a dentist’s office during Prohibition, a role it took on because dentists were able to prescribe alcohol for medicinal purposes. Today, it is a popular neighborhood dive bar – reputed to be haunted by Norris’s ghost.

Denver, CO

Source: Courtesy of Matt C. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Matt C. via Yelp
  • Population: 713,252
  • Oldest bar: My Brother’s Bar
  • Year founded: 1873

Like many old bars, this one has a complicated history with many changes of name and ownership. It was originally Highland House, then belonged to the Schlitz Brewing Company, then turned into Whitie’s Restaurant, the Platte Bar, and Paul’s Place. In 1970, two brothers from Detroit, Jim and Angelo Karagas, bought the then-rundown bar cheaply, running it at first without a name. As they’ve told the story many times, when a workman or vendor would come by looking for payment, whichever brother was behind the bar would say “Don’t ask me – it’s my brother’s bar.” Eventually it dawned on them that that would be the perfect name. In 2017, a former waitress there, Paula Newman, bought the place with her husband, and their son Danny now runs it – but the name remains.

Austin, TX

Source: Courtesy of Schloz Garten via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Schloz Garten via Yelp
  • Population: 1,472,904
  • Oldest bar: Schloz Garten
  • Year founded: 1866

German immigrant August Schloz moved to Austin after serving in the Civil War, and opened a bar and Biergarten (beer garden) on the site of an old boarding house. It drew a clientele from the city’s German population and evolved into a popular gathering place for the community at large. In 1908, the Austin Saengerrunde, a German singing club, bought the property and built a bowling alley next to the Biergarten. The bowling alley is still in use – and Schloz’s is not only the oldest bar but the oldest operating business of any kind in the state of Texas.

Philadelphia, PA

Source: Courtesy of Greg B. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Greg B. via Yelp
  • Population: 1,567,258
  • Oldest bar: McGillin’s Olde Ale House
  • Year founded: 1860

An Irishman named William “Pa” McGillin opened this historic bar as the Bell in Hand Tavern. Everybody called it McGillin’s, though, and eventually the name stuck, gaining its complete current moniker in 1910. Brothers Joe Shepaniak and Henry Spaniak (who indeed spell their last names differently) took it over from the McGillin family in 1958, and their descendants are in charge to this day. One interesting feature of the bar: Its interior hosts a collection of signs from other Philadelphia businesses that have gone bust.

San Francisco, CA

Source: Courtesy of Bri R. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Bri R. via Yelp
  • Population: 808,437
  • Oldest bar: The Old Ship Saloon
  • Year founded: 1851

This Gold Rush-era classic really did start life as an old ship. A three-masted wooden schooner called the Arkansas ran aground in San Francisco Bay and was towed to the Pacific Street Wharf. Deemed no longer seaworthy, it was turned into a storehouse until a local businessman named Joe Anthony opened a saloon in the hull, calling it The Old Ship Alehouse. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Anthony posted a sign outside reading “Gude bad and indiferent spirits sold here at 25 cents each.” The ship was eventually dismantled and buried on the site, and a saloon was built on top of it (portions of it are still underneath the place). After a stint as the Monte Carlo Café in the mid-20th century, it was acquired by a new owner and rechristened the Old Ship.

Indianapolis, IN

Source: sarahvain / Flickr

Source: sarahvain / Flickr
  • Population: 880,621
  • Oldest bar: The Slippery Noodle Inn
  • Year founded: 1850

Known originally as Tremont House, the inn was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Under various owners, it was subsequently renamed Concordia House, Germania House, Beck’s Saloon, and Moore’s Beer Tavern, and reportedly functioned as a brothel until as late as 1953. Harold and Lorean Yeagy bought it in 1963, and gave it its current name – apparently as a kind of family joke. Their son, Hal, is the proprietor today. Said to be the oldest commercial building of any kind in the city, it has become a full-service restaurant and a serious blues club.

Boston, MA

Source: Courtesy of Brittani W. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Brittani W. via Yelp
  • Population: 649,768
  • Oldest bar: Warren Tavern
  • Year founded: 1780

Eliphelet Newell, who’d served as a militiaman in the Revolutionary Army, opened this tavern in Charlestown – built using beams from the Charlestown Navy Yard – and decided to name it after his friend Dr. Joseph Warren. One of the Founding Fathers, Warren had been killed by the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and was considered a hero of the Revolution, One of his close friends, Paul Revere, was a regular here, and George Washington is known to have stopped by. In 1813, the Tavern closed and was converted to a private club and a bakery, among other businesses. In the early 1900s, it closed again and fell into disrepair. Two couples, the Cunhas and the Grennans, bought it in 1972 and gave it new live

Baltimore, MD

Source: Courtesy of Andy F. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of Andy F. via Yelp
  • Population: 569,931
  • Oldest bar: The Horse You Came In On Saloon
  • Year founded: 1775

Said to be the oldest operating bar in North America (it kept going even during Prohibition), this bar in the Fell’s Point port district has had several identities over the decades, but was called Al and Ann’s by 1972 when Howard Gerber, who had won big at the racetrack, bought it and gave it its present-day name. (Locals just call it “the Horse.”) The current owners, Eric Mathias and Ioannis and Spiros Korologos, bought it at auction in 2006. They’ve maintained the equine theme (the barstools are shaped like saddles), and they’ve dubbed one seat “Poe’s Last Stop,” on the grounds that the saloon was reportedly the last place Edgar Allen Poe was seen in public before his mysterious death in 1849.

New York, NY

Source: Courtesy of William C. via Yelp

Source: Courtesy of William C. via Yelp
  • Population: 8,335,897
  • Oldest bar: Fraunces Tavern
  • Year founded: 1762

What may or may not be New York City’s oldest bar, depending on how you define “oldest,” began life as a private house built in 1719 by Stephern Delancey, a prominent French-born figure in colonial America. His family later sold it to Samuel Fraunces, who converted it into a tavern called the Queen’s Head, later renamed Boltons Tavern or just the Coffee House. George Washington famously bade farewell to the officers who had served under him in the Revolutionary War at the tavern. It later burned down and was rebuilt on several occasions, and at one point was converted into a hotel. Since 1904, it has been owned by the New York State chapter of the Sons of the Revolution. In 1907, the society carried out what has been called an “extremely speculative” and “highly conjectural” reconstruction, based on what they believed the original building looked like. Today it is a full-scale restaurant and bar with a period museum upstairs.

To top