A History of Drinking: The 7 Oldest Taverns in the World

People have been drinking since prehistoric days. That officially makes it one of humanity’s oldest pastimes.

Documented drinking started as early as 2700 BC, and mostly consisted of wine and mead. Remind me to bring a bottle of wine if I ever find a time machine. I’d love to do a taste comparison.

With such a deep and rich history of drinking, it’s hard not to wonder about those who have imbibed before us. The White Horse Tavern in Rhode Island is thought to be the oldest bar in the United States, established in 1673. They’ve been serving up cocktails and cooking that good mood food for over 350 years.

Pretty impressive, but amazingly, our oldest bar doesn’t even make top 10 oldest bars in the world. You might not be able to take time off work for a European drinking tour but you can kick back, grab a drink, and join us on a virtual tour of the 7 oldest pubs in the world.

1. Sean’s Bar

Established 900 AD, Ireland

Sean’s Bar is impressive not only for being the oldest bar on the list, but also for being the best at preserving their history. Thanks to a rich history of record keepers, Sean’s Bar has a meticulous list of every owner, dating back to its 10th century inception. According to Frommer’s Travel Guide, during some much needed renovations in the 1970s, they discovered the walls were made of wattle and wicker, a technique dating back to the 10th century. Talk about time for an upgrade.

Wattle and wicker wall from Sean's Bar
Wattle and wicker wall from Sean's Bar

They also found coins minted around the same, presumably used for trade in the tavern centuries prior. The coins along with segments of the wall are on display at the Nation Museum.

In 2004, the Guinness Book of World Records officially named Sean’s Bar the oldest bar in Europe.

Interesting Fact: The bar was owned by singer/songwriter Boy George for a period in the 1980s. That already seems like so long ago, but that was 1,000 years after the bar opened in the first place. Imagine what rich history has occurred within those four walls. This one’s definitely going on my bar bucket list.

2. The Bingley Arms

Established 953 AD, North Leeds, England

Another record holder from the Guinness Book of World Records, The Bingley Arms in North Leeds England is on record as the oldest bar in Britain. Although the building itself may be older, the first recorded history of it being used as bar began in 953. Originally called the Priests Inn, it was a popular resting spot for travelling Monks in the early years. It also served as a courthouse during the 11th century, with offenders being dragged out and across the street to the pillory.

The pub was renamed The Bingley Arms in the late 1700s by a narcissistic owner named Lord Bingley. They still serve drinks and and food under that name today. Can’t wait to pop by for a pint the next time I’m in North Leeds.

If a trip to England isn’t in the budget any time soon, you can always order fish and chips, drink a pint of British beer, and watch the original version of The Office. I mean, it’s no 1,000 year old bar, but it’ll do in a pinch.

Interesting Fact: They don’t just serve spirits, they house them. That’s right, we’re talking ghosts. Workers from the Bingley Arms claim to have experienced a variety of unearthly events after hours. If you’re into the paranormal and looking to grab a pint, this is the place for you!

3. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem

Established 1189, Nottingham, England

Although it’s not the oldest, it’s definitely one of the most interesting. Although there’s no definitive documentation, many believe Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem was originally established in 1189.

The ale isn’t the prized possession at this pub, it’s the caves. Yup, I said caves. The tavern is built into the the same rocks that Nottingham Castle is built on. The date back to 1068 AD and were originally used as brewhouses for the Castle. Although there’s a network of caves beneath the building, you can actually drink in some of the above ground caves that the bar has converted into serving spaces. Sounds pretty cool to me!

Interesting Fact: The pub is also home to a legendary antique chair. The chair is supposed to improve the pregnancy chances for anyone with a uterus who sits upon it. Due to demand, the chair became too weak and had to be retired. It’s now a display only item.

4. The Brazen Head

Established 1198, Dublin, Ireland

Locals claim that The Brazen Head in Ireland has been pedaling pints since 1198, although there’s no official documentation. Their peaceful and historical location has become a haven for artists and writers, with a list of those who have enjoyed a pint proudly displayed on their website. Not to drop names, but some highlights include musicians Van Morrison, Garth Brooks, and local writer James Joyce.

Artists, musicians, and writers alike have enjoyed a moment of introspection as they’ve enjoyed a pint with artistic spirits from centuries prior. As James Joyce wrote, “The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude”. Amen to that, brother.

5. Ye Olde Man & Scythe

Established 1251, Bolton, England

It’s not known exactly when Ye Olde Man & Scythe originated, but it’s first documented history began in 1251. Originally known as the Man & Scythe Inn, it got its name from the crest bore by the Pilkington family who began the business. Very little of the original building remains, having been rebuilt in 1636, and remodeled many times since. The front of the building was remodeled in the early 20th century and remains that way today.

Interesting Fact: In 1651, the Earl of Derby was dragged from a bar-stool in the Man & Scythe and executed in front of the building for his part in the Bolton Massacre. The Earl was the owner of the Inn at the time. The alleged bar stool upon which he was perched pre-execution is on display in the bar today.

6. Kyteler's Inn

Established 1324, Kilkenny, Ireland

Kyteler’s Inn is an award-winning pub with a rich history that began in 1324. The Inn was opened by Dame Alice Kyteler, who is quite notorious in Ireland. She was the first person to be accused of witchcraft in Ireland, and was sentenced to be burned at the stake. Jealousies over her wealth, and rumors over the fates of her four husbands led to an unfortunate future for Dame Alice Kyteler.

However, like many bar owners, she was well connected and was able to escape before she could face her sentence. She escaped to England, but one of her servants was not so lucky. She became the first person accused of, and burned at the stake for, heresy in Ireland.

The bar has been revolutionized in the 21st century, and was the recipient of awards like Tourist Bar of the Year for both 2013 and 2014, Music Venue Of The Year, and the Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce business awards. Sounds like a happening place to have a drink!

Dame Alice Kyteler
Dame Alice Kyteler

Interesting Fact: Founder, Dame Alice Kyteler, wasn’t just accused of witchcraft and heresy, the town had a whole laundry list of accusations, including killing her previous husbands (she was married four times), sacrificing to and communing with demons, engaging in a sexual affair with a demon, making love/hate potions to corrupt Christians, and magically usurping the church. Whew, I’d need a drink after hearing those accusations too.

7. Brauhaus Sion

Established, 1318, Cologne, Germany

Brahaus Sion was first established as a brewery. It operated that way for several centuries, until it was destroyed by a bomb during the Second World War. After the war ended and the dust settled, Hans Sion rebuilt the brewery in its original location. Now it’s an impressive establishment offering seating for up to 600 people, with rooms for rent upstairs.

You might not have time for a trip to Germany, but you can enjoy some German beer. Bonus points for pairing it with German cuisine. Cheers!

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