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Historic US Tavern Offers Revolutionary War-Era Cuisine, Decor - 2002-07-03

The Fourth of July is celebrated in the United States as the day the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. General George Washington became the first U.S. president after leading an army against Great Britain in the war for independence. The general was particularly fond of a tavern that is more than just a restaurant in U.S. history.

Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan is not your typical New York bar. It will serve the cocktail of choice in 2002 if you ask.

But in the late 18th Century, Fraunces Tavern was offering spruce beer, made locally from spruce twigs, pickled oysters, and turtle soup, and serving it to General George Washington, among others.

The tavern was strongly associated with the cause of American independence from 1775 to 1783 when George Washington was commander-in-chief of the army. And the building was occupied later by government offices when New York City was the nation's first capital in 1785.

Tour guide Laverne Bruce tells a group of children on a recent visit to the tavern's museum that great men were once in the building. "At the end of the Revolution, when the Americans won the Revolution," she said, "George Washington believed in the Republic. And he did not want to take over the government and become a military dictatorship, so he resigned his commission and he had a farewell dinner for his officers in this room."

The farewell dinner in which General Washington bade a tearful goodbye to his men before returning to his estate in Virginia took place on December 4th, 1783.

Jennifer Eaton is the Education Director at the Fraunces Tavern Museum located above the restaurant. She says General Washington visited the tavern for professional and personal reasons. Ms. Eaton said, "He [General Washington] was known to come to the Tavern on different occasions because he loved Samuel Fraunces' cooking. Samuel Fraunces actually worked for George Washington as a steward in his home following the war."

In 1762, Samuel Fraunces bought the building on Pearl Street, which had been used as a family residence since 1716. He turned it into a tavern and made the site one of the most historically significant locations in New York, hosting important political meetings and leasing out space to councils and commercial organizations. In fact, the New York Chamber of Commerce was founded at the tavern in 1768.

Fires in the 1800s destroyed much of the building, and it wasn't until the early 1900s that the site was revamped to look like the original Fraunces Tavern.

Today the tavern's museum preserves early American history and culture by authenticating and replicating as much of the original building as possible. Even the youngest visitors get a historical perspective.

Laverne Bruce: "I'm going to go back over 200 years now. Were there any tall buildings here at the time?"
Kids: "No."
Laverne Bruce: "Was there electricity?"
Kids: "No."
Laverne Bruce: "Were there fax machines? Computers? Telephones?"
Kids: "No."

In the 21st Century, the tavern stands short amid Manhattan's skyscrapers and big business structures in the heart of the financial district, but the building looms large in the fact that over 200 years ago, American history was being made behind its doors.

Jennifer Eaton said the tavern takes pride in its historical significance everyday, but particularly on days like Presidents' Day and the Fourth of July. Other museums in New York City and the nation are closed on those days, but the Fraunces Tavern Museum remains open.

Ms. Eaton said they will celebrate with music, arts and crafts, and special tours. "We're so closely linked to the American Revolution and to patriotism," she said, "and just the founding of this country. It's so significant, so we remain open to kind of celebrate and remember what those days are all about."

To some it may be about a fruity cocktail and to others it was about squirrel pie, but to all, Fraunces Tavern played an important role in being about "...certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

(Graphics courtesy of the Fraunces Tavern Museum and the Sons of the Revolution)