Over the course of its 303-year history, the big brick building at 54 Pearl St. in New York City has had many uses. It's been a home, a pub, a hotel, a dance hall, a mercantile, a patriots' meeting place, and the temporary headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of War, and the Board of Treasury. And that was all before the colonists won the Revolutionary War and the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
Built in 1719 and founded as Fraunces Tavern in 1762, today, the Fraunces Tavern Museum is a New York City Landmark and a stop along the New York Freedom Trail. The city block it sits on is designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. Its ground floor still houses a restaurant, the Fraunces Tavern, while the rest of the building functions as a museum, with exhibition rooms on the second and third floors depicting its rich history. The tavern is best known as the site of General George Washington’s farewell speech to his officers in 1783.
And while the museum doesn't rank at the top of the list of New York's most iconic places, it does pull back the envelope to that crucial time when the United States was on the cusp of self-rule and international engagement.
Exhibition Rooms A Backdrop To American History
Fraunces Tavern's Revolution-era ties are centered on the years 1785 to 1788, after the fighting ended and before the ratification of the constitution. During those years, the Congress of the Confederation rented rooms at the tavern for the three government departments, foreign affairs, war, and treasury, and one of the exhibition rooms, titled Governing the Nation From Fraunces Tavern, was set up as the Department of Foreign Affairs would have appeared back then.
According to the museum, an exhaustive search located objects that likely would have been found in the original office, including American and British decorative arts and 18th-century maps such as “A New and Accurate Map of East and West Florida Drawn from the best Authorities,” which highlighted Spanish-controlled West Florida, and a rare copy of the French-language newspaper Courier de L’Europe, published in 1786, with reporting on America’s earliest diplomatic activities with Prussia and Spain.
Another exhibition room, A Stoic Countenance: Portraits of George Washington, displays artists' portraits of the general and soon-to-be-president, completed in the late 18th century. The Long Room, where Washington said goodbye to his officers, is a re-creation of an 18th-century public dining room.
An upcoming exhibition in late 2022 is called Cloaked Crusader: George Washington in Comics and Pop Culture. According to the museum, the display will depict Washington’s persona as showcased in comics and pop culture and in traditional reenactments of famous events. Comic books and original artwork will highlight Washington's continued relevance to the nation's collective past, present, and future.
Dine On Burgers, Steaks, And Soup At Fraunces Tavern
The building has survived several fires over the years, and in 1900, when it was threatened with demolition, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Society for the Preservation of Scenic and Historic Places tried unsuccessfully to buy it. To save the historic site, New York City took the landmark by eminent domain and, in 1903, designated it as a park. A year later, it was sold to the Sons of the Revolution℠ in the State of New York. The group restored it to its 18th-century appearance and opened the site as the Fraunces Tavern Museum and Fraunces Tavern. It leases the restaurant section, which has three eateries and a piano bar.
Visitors can choose from the Independence Bar, the Hideout Bar, the Dining Room, and the Piano Bar Upstairs. The venues share a common menu, and while none of them are the most expensive restaurants in the city, a filet mignon steak will cost $52. But the menu is mostly pub fare, such as burgers ($22), chicken pot pie ($23), chowder with bread ($13), plus various steaks, salads, and pasta dishes. The tavern restaurants are open from noon to midnight daily.
A museum store sells holiday ornaments, pewter figures of revolutionary soldiers, including Paul Revere on his horse, jewelry, books about the tavern and the museum, and other goodies.
The museum also sponsors a monthly lecture series by Zoom, focused on historical topics.
Getting There And Museum Admission Costs
The Fraunces Tavern Museum is located at 54 Pearl St., New York. Open hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.Tickets can be purchased upon arrival at the museum's front desk, located on the second floor.
Admission rates: adults $7; seniors $4; students $4; children $4 (children under 5 and active military/military veteran no charge).
- Subway: R/W to Whitehall St/South Ferry, 4/5 to Bowling Green, 1 to South Ferry, J/Z to Broad Street
- Bus: M15, M20, M55 to Staten Island Ferry Terminal/South Ferry