While spiked seltzers and microbreweries might be new, gathering for a drink at the pub is far from it.
You say pub and I say bar and he says cantina and she says tavern. Whatever the case, drinking establishments have been around for a long, long time. Records show Sumerians were imbibing in drinking establishments as far back as 2000 B.C. (which, by the way, were always owned by women)!
We’ve found the oldest bars on every continent. So, grab a barstool and let’s dive in as we explore the bars that are the most intriguing, interesting, and plainly-put—dang old.
WHERE: McMurdo Station, Antarctica (Since 1947)
Okay, maybe it’s one of only three bars in Antarctica, so there’s not much competition, but still: the beer-loving British started it all when they founded an expeditionary base in 1947 and included a small, English-like pub to swill their ales, complete with a pool table and dartboards. The Ukrainians bought the place in 1996 and added Russian flairs, like Cyrillic flags and vodka (distilled onsite). Of course, it’s not like you can just drop in. The base is located on the island of Galindez in the Antarctic Peninsula, about 1,000 miles from the nearest city.
The Long Bar
WHERE: Shanghai (Since 1861)
This one cheats a little bit, but it’s a really interesting story. Here we’re not talking about a building, but an actual bar—the wooden piece of furniture where you sit and sip your drink. So back in the early 1900s, the Shanghai Club was a private British gentlemen’s club on the Bund that touted the world’s longest bar—measuring 111 feet-long and carved out of oak. If you were sitting at the east end of the Long Bar, you know you’d made it in the social world. When the club became a KFC in the 1990s, the Long Bar was removed and reintegrated into the lobby bar of the Waldorf-Astoria Shanghai on the Bund where, today, everyone is welcome.
Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi
WHERE: Istanbul (Since the 1920s)
A meyhane is a Turkish tavern that involves drinking lots of raki—a strong alcoholic spirit—and eating meze (100 to 150 different appetizers are created daily). Tarihi Cumhuriyet opened in the earliest years of the republic, hosting Turkish poets, authors, and even Atatürk (his private table is on the top floor).
WHERE: Ensenada (Since 1892)
Sometimes the making of a bar isn’t so straightforward. Johann Hussong immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1888, immediately leaving to chase a gold rush to Ensenada. Now calling himself John, he was staying at Meiggs’ Bar as a friend recuperated from a broken leg. The bartender attacked his wife with an ax and went to jail, and asked John to tend his bar. A year later, John opened a new bar across the street—Hussong’s Cantina, which remains essentially the same today. Meiggs’ Bar has gone out of business, leaving Hussong’s as the oldest in Ensenada, if not all of Mexico. It retains a historical flair, with sawdust on the floor and blaring mariachi music.
WHERE: Kolkata (Since 1872)
This iconic bar in the Esplanade area, popularly called Shaw Bar by regulars, was around long before India was even a republic. Seemingly frozen in time, it’s crowded, loud, inexpensive, and has no menu—you need to study the glow board, with liquor prices displayed on a separate LED screen (both of which obviously aren’t part of the bar’s historic nature). And there are rules: You must share your table with unknown others, waiters must be teetotalers, and there is no service from 6:00-6:15 p.m. when daily puja is performed. That said, some things have changed over the years, including the fact that now there’s air conditioning, and women are allowed. That’s right: for much of its existence, it was a man’s world.
INSIDER TIPEnjoy some of the snacks, which includes fish fry, fish fingers, and chili chicken, served by outside vendors.
WHERE: San Telmo, Argentina, Buenos Aires (Since 1864)
Walk into this historic space in the San Telmo neighborhood and the past takes hold. The antique long bar, with its wooden carvings, raised arch, and stained glass rises above the classic black-and-white tiled floor. El Federal started as a warehouse with a “drinks office,” going on to serve as a grocery store and a brothel. Today, it’s a café too, offering snacks, sandwiches, and homemade pasta.
INSIDER TIPWine is the best deal, though the cocktail menu is immense.
Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel
WHERE: Sydney, Australia (Since 1841)
While several bars claim to be Sydney’s oldest, the Lord Nelson has serious contender rights considering it has remained in the same sandstone building, with the same license, since 1841. It was a residence before then, established in 1838. Inside, the old country comes alive with exposed floorboards, skinny hallways, and a blazing fire in the winter months. A brewery was added in 1986. Be sure to try the Nelson’s Blood, a rich and creamy, choc-mocha porter-style natural ale.
The Historic Pig and Whistle Inn
WHERE: Bathurst, South Africa (Since 1832)
Back in the early 1800s, Thomas Hartley left England for a three-month journey to South Africa, where he settled in Bathurst and built a blacksmith to forge everything from horseshoes to nails for the fledgling settlement. Somewhere along the way it dawned on him that he could make more money selling beer and eats to his patrons who hung around, waiting for their orders to be completed—and history was made. Originally called the Bathurst, the inn’s named changed during World War II when homesick Royal Force airmen renamed it after their favorite pub back home. Today, it reigns as South Africa’s oldest continuously licensed inn.
INSIDER TIPEarly records are sketchy, so there’s at least one more contender for South Africa’s oldest bar. The Perseverance Tavern in Cape Town received its official liquor license in 1836, though it had been unofficially operating for nearly 30 years prior. South Africa’s oldest vine, planted in the 1830s, grew in its garden until the early 20th century.
WHERE: La Habana Vieja, Cuba (Since 1817)
El Floridita in Old Havana may date back to 1817, but that’s not the only reason why it’s historic. In the 1930s, a bartender named Constantino Ribalaigua Vert invented the frozen daiquiri here, changing the face of fruit and rum drinks everywhere. When Ernest Hemingway lived in Havana in the mid-1900s, he stopped by here every day. The story goes, when he tasted this new-fangled cocktail, he said: “That’s good, but I prefer it without sugar and double rum.” And thus, the “Papa Hemingway” was born. Today, El Floridita is decidedly touristy, but they’re still serving up daiquiris with a life-size bronze of Hemingway looking on.
L’Auberge Saint Gabriel
WHERE: Montreal, Quebec (Since 1754)
The thick stone walls, plank floors, and roaring fireplace take you straight back to 1688 when a French soldier built North America’s first auberge, or inn, on this spot. Okay, it wasn’t this exact building, but it sure creates a mood of old as they didn’t get their liquor license until 1754—which still puts L’Auberge as the frontrunner as North America’s oldest inn.
The legend of the girl ghost adds to the ambiance—she died in a 19th-century fire while practicing piano, and ever since, mysterious piano music is sometimes heard. Taking a brief stint as a private home in the 19th century, L’Auberge reopened to the public in 1914—and it’s still thriving as a French restaurant serving, of course, spirited drinks.
White Horse Tavern
WHERE: Newport, Rhode Island (Since 1673)
In America’s earliest days, a white-steed-bedecked sign universally signified a tavern back. So really, the fact that this tavern, which received its license to operate as a tavern as early as 1687, is called White Horse isn’t that special. But what does set it apart is its clientele. Indeed, since the general assembly’s Colony House wasn’t built until the 1730s, politicians met here (back then, it was a two-room, two-story tavern). During the Revolutionary War, the British kicked out its owner to lodge Hessian mercenaries. Today, the White Horse remains a popular tavern that retains its 17th-century flair, complete with a resident ghost.
Bar de L’Entracte
WHERE: Paris, France (Since 1614)
In the beginning, the king’s coach drivers would stop here, behind the Palais-Royale, for a quick break and a drink. Centuries later, actors from the nearby Comédie Française—maybe even Molière himself—enjoyed a tipple at what was then just an ordinary bar. L’Entracte may—or may not—be Paris’ oldest bar, but it has the age-old look to make you think so. With old French songs playing in the background, join in the longstanding tradition of enjoying a post-theater glass of wine and take it all in.
WHERE: Munich, Germany (since 1589)
The name says it all—Hofbräu means “royal brewery,” referring to the fact that this legendary beer hall once was a royal brewery in the Kingdom of Bavaria. The Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V, founded it in 1589 as the brewery to the Royal Residence, and although it’s owned by the state today, his recipes—based on the strict Bavarian Beer Purity Law—still inform the beer that’s brewed. It must be good because when King Gustavus Adolphus from Sweden invaded Bavaria during the Thirty Year War, he threatened to torch Munich unless the city turned over hostages—and 600,000 barrels of Hofbräuhaus beer. Today the beer hall—where the beer used to be brewed—is an exceedingly popular tourist destination, where you can join the ranks of Mozart, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and John F. Kennedy in downing a stein.
INSIDER TIPIf you can’t make it to Munich, never fear: Hofbräuhaus has franchised around the world—including Seoul, Chicago, and Dubai.
WHERE: Bruges, Belgium (Since 1515)
In the Belgian medieval village of Bruges, this super historic pub provides a taste of yesteryear with wood paneling, cozy wood-burning stove, and refectory tables, its walls bedecked with framed portraits and coats of arms. Sitting here sipping your Bruges Zot, you join the ranks of famous artists who have come through here before, including Van Dyck, Flori Van Acker, and Gustaaf Hendrik Pickery. That said, probably the most famous customer was Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, who is rumored to have painted a golden coin on the table for his payment in an early-day “dine and dash.”
INSIDER TIPThe best seats in summer are in the tree-shaded patio, watching locals play a game of Krulbol, an ancient Flemish folk sport.
WHERE: Ferrara, Italy (Since 1435)
Al Brindisi’s official founding date is 1435, though it may have been open as far back as 1100 when workers sought respite here while building the Romanesque cathedral next door. Whatever the case, the Guinness Book of World Records has deemed it the world’s oldest enoteca (wine bar), with a roster of imbibers, including artist Benvenuto Cellini, poet Ludovico Ariosto, and perhaps Copernicus (who, according to tradition, lived above while developing his theory of the heliocentric system—that is, the planet-revolving-around-the-sun theory). Today, you can sample regional wines from the surrounding Emilia-Romagna area.
The White Hart
WHERE: London, England (Since 1216)
The building’s lintel declares this the “oldest licensed premises in London,” which may or may not be true. The building is probably not more than a century old, though a drink-swirling business certainly has existed on this corner since 1216. Then outside the city walls, it oftentimes served highwaymen and rogues. So, clearly, the White Hart has tales to tell. For starters: Honest Jack Sheppard, the notorious English thief; and highwayman Richard (Dick) Turpin were regulars—Turpin stopped by before his hanging in 1739 for horse theft. Today, the pub carries on 800-plus years of tradition—with, no doubt, a much less notorious clientele.
The Brazen Head
WHERE: Dublin, Ireland (Since 1198)
Okay, here’s where establishment dates get really tricky. The Brazen Head claims to be Ireland’s oldest pub, but some declare its establishment date is more like the 17th or 18th century (which is why Sean’s claims it was Ireland’s first). The story goes that the Brazen Head dates back to a 12th-century coach house where drinkers gathered, and which no one knows exactly how much remains—aye, there’s the rub. How can it be the oldest if not much of it remains? Regardless, the place is old, and it can rest on its laurels with the fact that James Joyce and Jonathan Swift were a few of its notable drinkers.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
WHERE: Nottingham, England (Since 1189)
Official records for this inn officially “only” go back to the 17th century, but it’s built upon a network of sandstone caves belonging to a nearby castle that is believed to have been used as a royal brewhouse as far back as the 12th century. So, it’s pretty safe to say that somewhere around this time, customers were imbibing here. And by customers, we mean Crusaders and pilgrims who would have stopped here en route to Jerusalem (hence the “trip” in its name, which actually refers to a stop on a journey), perhaps even Richard the Lionheart himself. And yes, Nottingham is Robin Hood’s stomping grounds, so perhaps, he too.
INSIDER TIPTwo other Nottingham pubs also make the claim to being the oldest: The Bell Inn (1437, or maybe even earlier) and the Ye Olde Salutation Inn (1240).
WHERE: Bardsey, England (Since 953)
It almost sounds like a joke: this pub is so old that it’s mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. It’s so old that traveling monks rested their sandal-laden feet here. Here, too, is where Catholic priests hid out as they ran away from Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid-16th century. But this is no joke—it’s all true. And then, there’s this: while the official founding is 953, there’s evidence the Bingley Arms—originally known as the Priests’ Inn—might have actually opened in 905. Whatever the case, perhaps the most astounding thing is that the majority of the building, located in the idyllic town of Bardsey, remains original. Check out the fireplace with the priest holes.
INSIDER TIPLook for the yew tree in the beer garden that’s even older than the inn itself.
WHERE: Westmeath, Ireland (since 900 AD)
To think that this bar was born in the Dark Ages is mind-boggling. Just consider, at that time Moors still ruled Spain, the horse harness had arrived in Europe from China, and Alfred captured London from the Danes. And at that very moment in time, blokes were sipping ale inside the exact same wattle-and-wicker (hazel sticks interweaved with horsehair and clay) walls that you can visit today, complete with sawdust on the floor and open fireplace. Come here to enjoy live Irish music, beer, and specially-blended Irish whiskey, which monks began distilling around the 6th century.