Mid-Atlantic Brewing News February/March 2007

Proper Ale and Pigeon Pye: Tavern Hospitality in Colonial Philadelphia

By Rich Wagner

When I demonstrate the colonial brewing process many questions arise about what things were like “way back when,” and while I wasn’t actually “there,” my research has provided some clues. One valuable resource has been a series of prints with captions of early Philadelphia taverns published by the Robert Smith brewery in the early 1900s. Years ago David Mink had the complete set on display at the Samuel Adams Brew House and they provide the information for this virtual “bar tour.”

The first tavern to be built was the Blue Anchor on Front Street near Dock Creek. It was under construction when William Penn first came to visit Philadelphia in 1682. The second was the Penny Pot Tavern and Landing located at what is now Vine Street on the River where a pot of ale could be had for a penny. Landings would be akin to today’s “off-ramps” and the taverns were the “rest stops” for ship captains, sailors and passengers.

Fitzpatrick Stevens was a patron who wrote back to his wife in Maryland that the Penny Pot was "a well favored Inn," serving, "minced collops, or eggs with bacon, or a pasty or pigeon pye, with bread and cheese and a quart of Master Smith's proper Ale, and so to the day's business.”

On the east side of Fourth Street below market was the Indian Queen Hotel which hosted notables such as Sir Richard Penn, and Thomas Jefferson. It served as headquarters for Generals Howe and Benedict and was home to Richard Morris as well as presidents Washington and Adams. Taverns served many functions and in the early days including that of a Courtroom, post office and stage coach stop.

The Moon and Seven Stars on the southwest corner of Fourth and Chestnut was famed for the cuisine of “Spanish Joe,” from Cuba. It served shipping and mercantile interests, hosted official activities of the State House and was the meeting place of several clubs. Here in the new world, it was not uncommon to find persons from all stations of life side by side in the tavern expressing their views and exchanging information.

Built in 1693 the State House Tavern was located on Chestnut Street across from Independence Hall. Also known as Clarks Inn its sign depicted Coach and Horses. After the revolution it became known as the Half Moon where officials could dine and continue the official business.

The London Coffee House was located at the southwest corner of Front and Market Streets. Coffee houses were place where merchants could count their money and conduct their business away from the city’s “riff-raff.” In fact it was here that Robert Smith stayed when he first arrived in Philadelphia and advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette his intention to establish a brewery and produce “first class Burton-brewed Ale.”

At Second and Walnut stood The Three Crowns where one “scalawag barrister” described a delectable “flip” that was served. "Into two quarts of old ale (Friend Smith's Brew hath the right Burton smack), pour a half pint of gin, beat four eggs well together with four ounces of sifted sugar. Stir in, little by little, the ale and gin. Then froth by pouring from jug to jug and serve in thin glasses with fresh grated nutmeg on top.” It was common practice to plunge a red hot poker from the fireplace into a tankard of “flip” to give it just the right burnt-bitter flavor.

The City Tavern on Walnut Street above Second was built around 1770 and held the distinction of being the first place to tap a barrel of Robert Smith’s Ale in 1774. Also known as the New Tavern, Smith’s Tavern and the Merchants Coffee House. The present City Tavern was reconstructed on the site of the original for the Bicentennial celebration in 1976. The interior looks authentic and costumed wait staff give patrons an insight into the colonial tavern experience. Walter Staib has done a wonderful job of researching the cuisine of the era and is always coming up with new creations. He’s always brought traditional ales to the table and after making the house beer for several years Yards Brewing Co. rolled out their “Ales of the Revolution:” General Washington Tavern Porter, Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale and Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce.

Side bars

What’ll You Have? Some Early Drinks

Bang: Take a pint of cider, and add to a pint of warm ale; sweeten with molasses or sugar to taste, grate in some nutmeg and ginger, and add a wineglass full of gin or whisky.

Bombo: Equal parts of Rum, sugar, water, nutmeg.

Grog: Three parts water, one part rum.

Mimbo: Rum, loaf sugar and water.

Morning Bitters: Rum, brandy, whiskey, or Madeira wine, flavored with the bitter bark of certain shrubs or trees.

Negus: Hot sweetened wine and water flavored with lemon and spice.

Syllabub: To a quart of beer or ale and an equal amount of cider grate in a little nutmeg and sweeten with sugar and add frothed milk or cream.

Tom and Jerry: Batter of eggs, sugar and baking soda, with milk and rum added. Plunge a red hot poker in and serve.

Whistle-Belly-Vengence: Beer, crusts of brown bread, made from rye and "injun corn" crumbled in and sweetened with molasses.