Chy and I stopped at Josiah Chowning’s Tavern for lunch. The Colonial-inspired pub brings you back in time with its “authentic alehouse atmosphere” and choice of dishes and local craft beer inspired by the cookery of the past (Colonial Williamsburg, 2022).
This charming tavern is open to the public without a museum admissions ticket, so feel free to bring your friends, family, or date for a soothing experience.
Chowning’s Tavern welcomes you with its hard wooden floors, décor and, cream painted walls. Downstairs rests a fireplace with an old map of the East Coast above it, several mirrors, reproduction paintings, and advertisements. Except for the occasional photo, the restaurant kindly asks that all electronics be put away to keep the historic ambiance. This rule actually made the experience more enjoyable because the rooms were filled with lively, organic conversation, and the gentle tunes of the tavern musician. It was honestly one of the most relaxing dining experiences I’ve had in a long time.
A Short History of Chowning’s Tavern
Chowning’s Tavern itself opened in October in 1766. The reconstruction of Chowning’s Tavern began in 1939 while Colonial Williamsburg was still in development. Rather than just be an exhibit building, it’s purpose was to recreate 18th-Century life (Erickson, 2016). Surviving English and Virginian taverns were used as templates to reconstruct Chowning’s Tavern, but to be quite fair, there are few surviving documents to give us a full account of the establishment (Erickson, 2016). Nevertheless, the reconstruction of the tavern was still carefully planned using as many written accounts and illustrations as possible to give the impression of life from the distant past.
Chowning hoped to attract “artisans, shoppers, farmers…, idle bystanders…, and an occasional traveler” with a notice in the Virginia Gazette (Colonial Williamsburg 2022). Unfortunately, Chowning’s Tavern only lasted two years—a stark contrast to the reproduction site’s current booming business.
Chowning’s Tavern serves a variety of Colonial inspired dishes, many of which adapted from 18th-Century cookbooks (The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, The Williamsburg Art of Cookery by Helen Duprey Bullock, the Martha Washington Cookbook, and The London Art of Cookery by John Farley). Others, such as the Virginia Pork BBQ, Peanut Butter Pie, and Ice Cream Selection, are Tavern originals.
Appetizers include the Crock of Cheese and Garden Lettuces & Seasonal Vegetables. Chy and I got the Crock of Cheese, a mixture of cheese and peppers with a side of pickled vegetables and toasted bread. It was served in a beautiful peacock dish.
For lunch, Chy chose the Roast of Chicken from Hannah Glasse’s book. I chose Brunswick Stew, a traditional stew made with chicken, sausage, beer, corn, lima beans, and tomatoes. This was a wholesome, hearty, and delicious stew I’m tempted to try to replicate at home!
You just have to try the King’s Arms Ginger Ale. This stuff is absolutely delicious: fresh, gingery, sparkling, and refreshing. I get this all the time at my local billiards bar, so I was so excited to be able to buy it at the tavern. Cases of this ginger ale can be purchased at a discount at Merchant’s Square.
For dessert, Chy and I shared the American Heritage Chocolate Cobbler, a perfect balance of custard, pie crumbles, brownie-like chocolate, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This was our favorite dish from what we tried! I can’t wait to go back just for this!
Chowning’s Tavern offers the “olden days” vibe with traditional furnishings, plates, fare, and excellent service. It excites you with its historic setting and the novelty of a world where eating and socializing was much simpler, yet more rewarding. The dishes themselves are not fantastical offerings of fusion cuisine, but have the charm of simplicity inspired by local availability.
Colonial Williamsburg, 2022. Colonial Williamsburg. Retrieved from https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.org
Erickson, M. S., 2016. In Colonial Williamsburg, Chowning’s Tavern Led the Way. Daily Press. Retrieved from https://www.dailypress.com/history/dp-nws-chownings-tavern-20160803-story.html