Guests at Chowning’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg travel back in time. An ale house and restaurant at a living-history museum, the establishment recreates 18th-century ambience with a menu to match.
According to records from the Virginia Gazette, the original Chowning’s Tavern opened its doors in the late 1700s. Little is known about its founder, Josiah Chowning, but in his ads he wrote, “I hereby acquaint the public that I have opened a tavern,” a place “where all who please to favour me with their custom may depend upon the best of entertainment for themselves, servants, and horses, and good pasturage.”
Until it was torn down sometime before the Civil War, the bar was a popular gathering site for Virginians. In 1941, Colonial Williamsburg restored the building, conducting research to stay faithful to the tavern’s original architecture, furniture, and food.
A menu unveiled by the culinary staff in April 2022 includes dishes from Martha Washington’s cookbook. These include Stewed Duck (roasted duck leg submerged in a thyme, marjoram, rosemary, and peppercorn stew) as well as an Onion Pye with layers of potatoes, onions, and apples. Also on the menu: Snow eggs, a notable and historic dessert of whipped egg whites on custard sauce, and a creation of James Hemings, an enslaved African American who worked in Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and is a father of American cuisine.
To further honor the history of Black chefs in America, the culinary team added Hoppin’ John Risotto, a nod to the Gullah and Low Country dish that developed from ingredients and practices brought by enslaved Africans. The dish is made of black-eyed peas simmered with spicy sausages and ham hocks in pork fat and rice.
Know Before You Go
If you order a local craft beer, you can keep a traditional salted mug. Learn more by visiting the tavern's website.
Colonial Williamsburg has other eateries, including the King's Arms Tavern, which has an equally historic menu.