Five of the World's Oldest Bars, From Ireland to Mexico | Wine Enthusiast
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Five of the World’s Oldest Bars, From Ireland to Mexico

If you enjoy a glass of wine or beer now and again, you’re in good company. Humans have been drinking alcoholic concoctions for thousands of years. As for people gathering together at a local watering hole, well, that practice isn’t new either.

In 2016, an ancient Roman tavern was discovered in France, near Montpellier. Inside the 2,100-year-old structure, archeologists found serving platters and empty glasses used to drink wine.

Today, most neighborhoods have a well-known drinking spot, some of which have operated for hundreds of years. Here’s a look at some of the oldest bars in countries around the world.

Sean’s Bar

Athlone, Ireland

Established: 900 A.D.

Sean's Bar in Ireland
Sean’s Bar / Alamy

According to Have Ye No Homes to go to?: the History of the Irish Pub by Kevin Martin, there’s evidence that Irish pubs have been around for nearly 1,500 years. But these early establishments looked a bit different. They were owned by the wealthy, and the food and drinks were free.

Sean’s Bar, located on the banks of River Shannon in Athlone, Ireland, has served up drinks for nearly as long as people have gathered together to enjoy them. Along with claiming to be the oldest pub in Ireland, Sean’s Bar could be the oldest operating pub on the planet.

As legend has it, a man named Luain Mac Luighdeach started the pub. He acted as a local guide to help travelers cross the Shannon. Over time, a small settlement built up around the popular crossing point, and he eventually constructed the pub.

There’s also the Brazen Head in Dublin, which also claimed the title of “Ireland’s oldest bar,” and according to the company’s website, it dates to 1198 A.D. However, according to the Irish Times, the owners of both pubs took to national radio to debate and ultimately decide who actually had the oldest bar.

The owner of Sean’s Bar says that they found coins that dated to 900 A.D., as well as wattle and daub walls, an ancient building technique that employed wood, mud and clay. The owner of Brazen Head admitted defeat. And while it might not be the oldest bar in Ireland, the Brazen Head is home to the earliest-known graffiti in the country, which reads “John Langan halted here 7th August 1726.”

White Horse Tavern

Newport, Rhode Island

Established: 1673

The White Horse Tavern
The White Horse Tavern / Alamy

English immigrant Francis Brinley built his two-story house in 1652 and, in 1673, it became the White Horse Tavern.

Throughout the years, the Tavern was used as a meeting place. The General Assembly, the Colony’s first legislative assembly, and the city council would hold meetings at the tavern, for example. The White Horse even hosted the first meetings of America’s Freemasons.

Thanks to the Preservation Society of Newport County, the tavern has maintained many original features like its fireplaces and floorboards. It has also had the same exterior for 300 years

“The dining experience is like stepping back in time,” says Jeffrey Farrar, owner of the Tavern. “It is authentic and original. People love to have a drink in the original bar, with a huge fireplace taking up most of one wall.”

In 1972, White Horse was declared a National Historic Landmark. Today, you can stop in for a bowl of Rhode Island clam chowder, housemade charcuterie and local seafood. You can also enjoy a glass of wine or half-bottle from the restaurant’s extensive wine list—just watch out for the resident ghost, said to lurk around the fireplace.

Café Vlissinghe

Brugge, Belgium

Established: 1515

The first records of beer production in Belgium date back to around the first Crusade. Today, nearly 1,500 types of beer are made around the country. And in 2016, the beverage made the list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which honors “tradition or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants.”

People needed a place to gather and drink Belgium’s many brews, and, for more than 500 years, they’ve done so at Café Vlissinghe.

It’s unclear who was the bar’s first owner, but a written record from 1515 lists a man named Jan Breij as its operator. Records also show that the building was built prior to that date, but it doesn’t say whether it was a pub.

Located in the town of Brugge, Café Vlissinghe stayed open during World War I and was a popular drinking spot upon the war’s end. However, Café Vlissinghe closed for a time during World War II because provisions were either rationed or out of stock. After the war, Café Vlissinghe opened its doors once again.

The bar also survived perhaps the original version of a “dine and dash.” According to legend, Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) painted a gold coin on the table and left before anyone noticed.

Café Vlissinghe is tucked away in the Saint Anna quarter, off the main tourist thoroughfare. Try a pint of the café’s namesake beer created in partnership with local brewery Fort Lapin to celebrate its 500th year in business.

The Historic Pig and Whistle Inn

Bathurst, South Africa

Established: 1832

Established as a National Monument in South Africa in 1989, The Historic Pig and Whistle Inn has been slinging drinks since the 1830s. It claims to be the country’s oldest continuously licensed bar and is owned by Gavin and Lucille Came.

According Gavin Came, a blacksmith named Thomas Hartley emigrated from England to South Africa during the 1820s. He constructed the building that houses The Historic Pig and Whistle to make horseshoes and shoe horses. He might have even ran a side business extracting teeth. But after a decade or so, Hartley converted the shop into the inn.

Originally it was called Bathurst Inn, while the restaurant was called Widow Hartley’s Restaurant. During World War II, English pilots were sent to 43 Air School, just a few miles down the road from the pub. The inn reminded them of a drinking spot back home, so they started to call it the Pig and Whistle. The name stuck.

But despite the name changes, the owoners have worked hard to preserve the Inn’s history.

“The pub itself is possibly the most authentic of all the reception rooms, followed by the lounge, which are both housed in the 1832 vintage part of the building,” says Gavin Came. They also take special care to maintain the “historic look and feel,” of the inn’s rooms.

Along with a pint or meal, you can also take part in the inn’s numerous events like its Sunday Lunches. According to Came, they’re normally fully booked and offer local favorites like bobotie, a dish made with spiced minced meat.

Hussong’s Cantina

Baja, Mexico

Established: 1892

Husson'g Cantina
Husson’g Cantina / Alamy

There are about as many people who claim to be the inventor of the margarita as there are variations of this classic drink. Hussong’s Cantina, in Baja, Mexico, is one of the contenders.

According to Baja Insider, Don Carlos Orozco, a Hussong’s bartender, experimented with different mixtures in 1941 to serve Margarita Henkel, daughter of a German ambassador. Allegedly, Henkel sampled the drink and enjoyed it so much that Orozco named the cocktail after her.

Now, we can’t confirm whether this actually happened, but we can say Hussong’s Cantina is one of the oldest continuously operating bar in Baja, and possibly all of Mexico.

Johann Hussong emigrated from Germany to the United States with his two brothers. He settled in Ensenada, Mexico, where he worked as a trader and hunted geese, quail and other birds. As legend has it, Hussong inherited the only bar in town, Miegg’s, when its owner left to try to find his wife in California. Hussong agreed, but the man never returned. Hussong ran the pub until 1892, when he bought the nearby stagecoach station and turned it into Hussong’s Cantina.

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