There was no Billboard Top 40 in AD 900. Nor were there jukeboxes. Heck, there are no documented records of a melody until 1400. Before that date, there must surly have been music in some form other than those early hauntingly beautiful Gregorian chants. Can you wrap your head around convening for a pious pint after a long day’s travel? Wasn’t there a need for a place where something more rousing than chants could be sung? Well, there’s no mistaking the wattle and wicker found within its walls during a 1970s renovation. The horizontal weaving of wicker into vertical wattles, or wooden stakes, was all the architectural rage in AD 900. Surely there was some song streaming down the east bank of the River Shannon as revelers gathered at Sean’s Bar. To this day, the world’s first pub remains a draw to the quaint central Ireland town of Athlone. As for the tunes, one archaeological archive later, the crott or cruit, a quadrangular harp of a modest 30-inches, has been found in stone carvings of that calendric era. Add in a Gaelic baritone or two and let the tunes roar in what likely sounds similar to what’s heard, at least as of Monday when the pubs reopened in Ireland.
In its beginnings, which predate the Norman invasion of the Isle, that long ago, Sean was snugly tucked into the bottom floor of an inn opened by a local businessman to capitalize on tradesman stopping at the ford of the River Shannon to peddle their wares. In the Athlone of today, population 15,951, business revolves around tourists. With luck, Sean’s will survive the coronavirus better than McCrady’s, South Carolina’s oldest watering hole. Established in 1778, the building is a registered landmark where a “grand dinner party” was thrown for President George Washington in 1791.
With the sad demise of McCrady’s and countless other American institutions of both good times and fine dining alike, QI has decided to look past the coronavirus forcing the reclosure of America. This week, we will approach our modified road map of mile markers by highlighting some of the oldest bars and taverns in the United States. The hope is we can all have the chance to visit them one day soon.
We will start in the Northeastern corridor, the area of the country that was hit second, and thus far, the hardest by COVID-19. In Newport, Rhode Island, you will find the White Horse Tavern. Having served guests since 1673, it claims the title of “the oldest operating restaurant in the United States.” Though originally constructed as a two-floor residence in 1652, its subsequent acquisition featured a license to sell, “all sorts of strong drink.” While the tradition has long since been embellished by high cuisine, the history lives on.