Man Full of Trouble Tavern
The Pewter Platter Inn at Front and Jones Alley used a large pewter platter as its sign. A sign in front of a 3rd Street Tavern showed a servant of Sir Walter Raleigh throwing water on his smoking master as he thought him to be on fire.
Struthers Burt, in his fine work "Philadelphia: Holy Experiment," tells of other terrific taverns and stellar signs. A tavern that doubtless attracted the puzzle-minded with its sign was the X10U8. For those not in the habit of deciphering such stuff that works out to "Extenuate (x ten u eight)."
A certain William McDermott had a sign that read, "I, William McDermott, lives here; I sells good porter, ale and beer; I've made my sign a little wider; To let you know I sell good cider."
As a last example, the Quiet Woman had a picture of a headless woman — surely one who would be completely quiet! The innkeeper relented to the pressure from wives of its patrons and changed the sign — and the name of the bar!
STARS AMONG THE BARS
Watson further speaks to some of the more famous Colonial Philadelphia taverns. The Indian King was a famed tavern run by John Biddle and his wife who were noted for their gracious hospitality. Visitors from throughout the colonies lodged there, and locals such as Ben Franklin and Charles Thompson, the Secretary of the First Continental Congress, frequented the tavern. Masons conducted meetings at the Indian King.
Historic Philadelphia, published by the American Philosophical Society, notes further that during the Revolutionary War the Indian King served as an entrepot for the reporting of sick soldiers in and near Philadelphia after Washington's retreat across New Jersey prior to Trenton. Owen Biddle, who was later to design the Arch Street Quaker Meeting House, was tried by the Board of War for impressing an indentured servant boy into the Ninth Virginia Regiment in an attempt to meet quota requirements.
Barmeister John Biddle lost his Indian King during the Revolutionary War when the British took over the tavern and renamed it The British Tavern, which catered to the British Navy. The evacuation of Philadelphia was ordered by General Clinton from this tavern.
The Crooked Billet Inn, right off the Delaware River, was for a time the tavern of longest "uninterrupted succession" in the city, "being named in earliest times." Benjamin Franklin, fresh off the boat from Boston, made a beeline for the Crooked Billet. The Crooked Billet's sign was composed of several crooked pieces of wood hammered together transversely.
A Mrs. Jones kept a celebrated public house by the name of The Three Crowns which was frequented by Richard Penn (William's grandson) in addition to other governors, generals, and members of the gentry who feasted at the tavern regularly.
Known and visited by persons "from Boston to Georgia," Peggy Mullen's "beef-steak house" was one of Philadelphia's most famous taverns. Watson writes, "Colonel Morris says it was the fashionable house of his youthful days. Governor Hamilton, and other governors, held their clubs in that house — there the Free Masons met, and most of the public parties and societies."
For a while, prior to moving to the Graff House (another stop on our "Virtual" tour), Thomas Jefferson kept a second-story room at the Indian Queen Tavern where he wrote and studied. The notorious Indian-massacring Paxton Boys were reported to have shot up the stable adjoining the Indian Queen Inn in 1755 when they stayed there.
Watson relates a tearjerker of a story that played itself out at Dibley's Tavern. A poor man came there from Maryland with his wife and two daughters who were of great gentility and beauty. The whole family made use of the harness room over the stable for their dwelling. It turns out the guy was a jockey and ostler (stable worker) who duped a widow into marrying him. He lived extravagantly and ruined the family — they fled to Philadelphia so as not to have to face their old friends. One of the daughters attracted the attention of a French businessman now living in New Jersey. The wealthy Frenchman asked the now-optimistic ostler for his daughter's hand. The family looked like it was back on the road to stability. At the wedding, the young bride danced with such verve that she caught a chill and died five days hence. Watson was told this story by a woman who attended both the wedding and the funeral.
Military and "Western men" liked both the Conestoga Inn and the Black Bear Inn for they both had great wagon yards in which to park rigs. Historic Philadelphia relates that in 1774 the propietress of the Conestoga Inn advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette that she was selling a "likely young Negro Wench." During the 1777 British occupation, the same proprietress was found to be a kind-hearted courier delivering messages to Colonials jailed in the Walnut Street Prison. In 1787, some delegates of the Federal Constitutional Convention wheeled into the Conestoga for lodging.
The Half Moon located on Chestnut Street across from the State House became a convenient meeting place for politicians, public servants (and lobbyists, no doubt) whose business took them to the State House.
Of course, the lyrical and siren call of wonderfully named taverns continues to this day.
- "The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia" by John Cotter, Daniel Roberts, and Michael Parrington, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, ©1992
- "Historic Philadelphia," American Philosophical Society, ©1953
- "Walking Tours of Historic Philadelphia" by John Francis Marion, Camino Books, Philadelphia, ©1974
- In 1773, there were over 120 taverns in Philadelpia — 21 taverns on 2nd Street alone.
- General Charles Lee died at the Conestoga Inn.
- At the Indian Queen Tavern, Lafayette recuperated after being wounded in the Battle of Princeton
- In 1801, surprisingly few of those admitted to the Philadelphia Almshouse (for the destitute) were alcoholics (3.6% of the males; 3.9% of the females), given the great number of taverns and the climate of drinking in the city [source: "Early Life in Colonial America" by Billy Smith]
- Cornplanter and Half Town, two Indian chiefs, lodged in the Half Moon.
- Location: 127 Spruce Street (Map)
- Built: 1759.
- Style: Colonial
- Tourism information: Closed to the public