George Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio have one unexpected thing in common: they’ve both had a good time at Fraunces Tavern.
NYC’s oldest bar is 261 years old this year, and the landmarked building remains just as big a draw for visitors and celebrities as it does for locals in the Financial District. History alone—Washington made his iconic farewell address to the Continental Army over a big feast here in 1783—has made it a must-visit building, but the efforts of Irish couple Eddie Travers and Dervila Bowler have also made it a go-to haunt for residents nearby.
The couple took over the beloved tavern in 2011 and restored many of its historic elements, including the centuries-old floorboards. As FiDi became more residential over the past decade, neighbors started frequenting Fraunces Tavern more and more. Travers credits them with keeping the restaurant afloat through Hurricane Sandy and the pandemic.
It’s clear that Fraunces Tavern is here to stay. Even now, Travers is updating the restaurant to add new spaces and maintain old ones. “Being a building the age it is, we are constantly working on it,” he says. “We are constantly talking to Landmarks [the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission] to preserve the history and keep Fraunces Tavern going well into the future.”
In our second edition of The Insider, read on for what makes this icon tick—and consider making a reservation stat if you haven’t already been.
What do you think Fraunces Tavern’s restaurant’s X factor is?
Eddie Travers: Its X factor is its value for money. We are not high end, we are not low end. We are right in the middle. What we give is an experience, whether you are sitting in a beautiful whiskey bar with 650 whiskies, or you’re in our piano bar listening to a live performance, or one of the performances in the main bar on the weekend. We think that it is more than just turning on your lights and opening the doors.
What’s the one dish you’ll never remove from the menu?
It would have to be the chicken pot pie. Our executive chef Jesus Guzman has been working on and perfecting this dish over the years. We’ve got to the stage now where he is completely satisfied with the result and it is our best-selling dish for obvious reasons: It is great comfort food.
What’s the underdog of the menu?
Probably Scotch egg, if people don’t really know what it is. We come from Ireland, so it is a dish that would be very popular in Ireland, but [ours] is a custom blend of four different sausages that we put into it, and it encases an egg. They [the kitchen] have it down to a science as in when you get it, it has just gone past the point of being runny and it is a little bit soft, but it’s not going to run on ya. Anybody that we suggest it to, they come back and order it again.
What is the hidden gem among the drinks?
The Presidential Punch. We did a lot of research on what Fraunces Tavern was back in the 1700s, and there were a lot of quotes from our founding fathers about the punches that they drank, so we bring out a series of punches throughout the year. It’s a compliment to a time gone by. It is a rye-based drink.
Who’s your longest regular?
We tend to get a lot of celebrities. Leonardo DiCaprio lives downtown, and we see him a lot when he’s in New York. Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek. Ron Howard comes here for Thanksgiving. Other than that, it is a combination of locals, local business people, and tourists who come back every year. One of our customers, Dirk Houben from Germany, comes to Fraunces Tavern twice a year, and he has been doing that since the beginning [when Travers took over in 2011].
Who’s your longest serving staff member?
Our beverage director, Barry Smyth. He was a bartender in a very famous bar in Ireland, and our business partner used to frequent that bar. Our business partner talked him into coming over to America, and he’s been pretty much with us ever since. He takes care of all our beverages. He’s the one who selects the 650 whiskies and all the local craft beers and wines that we serve here at the tavern. He’s the guy who invented our Presidential Punch.
What’s the best seat in the house?
The best seat in the house would be sitting in a nice leather chair at the open fire in our whisky bar in the middle of winter, when it is cold and miserable outside. Or a seat in the Piano Bar upstairs. The Piano Bar has a leather Chesterfield couch, which adds a great touch for a reservation.
When is the best time to find a reservation?
We’re a huge space. We’ve got 5 bars. It is 9,000 square feet, so we can accommodate anything up to 500 people at a time. Any day is good, but my favorite time, if I would be making a reservation at Fraunces Tavern, would have to be a Saturday night in the Piano Bar.
What’s been the biggest change at the restaurant since the opening?
When we took over the space, we peeled off everything. We exposed all the beams, we exposed the floorboards that are 200-years-old. We constantly upgrade and at the moment we are renovating our whiskey bar and our private dining room. We’ve been doing that since August, and we’ll be finished in about two weeks. All of the furniture we imported from Ireland. Next year we have plans to expand the whiskey bar. We are creating two small private rooms for experiences in the whiskey bar.
What’s your favorite award you’ve won?
We were in the top five kid-friendly restaurants with live music in the country. We have children ourselves, and we’re a place that welcomes children, so that was a nice recognition for us. We also place in the top 50 restaurants and bars in Time Out in New York City, and that’s always nice as well.
Tanay Warerkar is OpenTable’s New York writer and a content marketing manager.