History is everywhere around us and accessible with just a quick search. I love to find the stories everywhere I travel. I received a link to an interesting article over the weekend that listed the oldest restaurant in each state. Sometimes there is just perfect timing.
I was headed to Philadelphia for a quick business meeting and just so happened that the oldest restaurant in Pennsylvania was just a five minute walk from my hotel. You could not ask for an easier adventure.
McGillins Old Ale House sits on a back alley just a few blocks from Philadelphia’s beautiful City Hall building in Center City. It was established in 1860 by Catherine and William McGillin as the Bell in Hand Tavern. That was the year that Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.
The Irish immigrants raised their 13 children upstairs. Their patrons, mostly laborers, started calling them Ma and Pa and the tavern McGillin’s. The name stuck. Probably was for the best as Philadelphia has not had the best of luck with bells. The Liberty Bell had suffered its final crack just a few years before.
The tavern survived Prohibition by serving food and ice cream though the second floor wasn’t too dry. The story goes that when Prohibition ended, Ma McGillin took the key from her breast pocket and threw open the pub’s front door to some thirsty celebrants.
Approaching its 175th anniversary, the tavern was hopping on a Monday night as patrons came in to watch the 76ers and Joel Embid make their own history. He scored 70 points on the night. I took a seat at the bar and honoring literary history ordered a corn beef on rye. It was supposedly Tennessee William’s favorite.
McGillins has hosted many famous people, including W.C. Fields and Ethel Merman. It also houses more of Philadelphia’s history, collecting signs when a landmark, such as Wannamaker’s Department Store, closes.
You don’t have to go far to run into history in Philadelphia. I highly recommend though you add this tavern to your adventure. It is a fun place to grab a drink and a bite and immerse yourself in decades of history.