Boston's Oldest Restaurant Keeps Making History
When you have a restaurant with origins that stretch back to 1780, you can claim bragging rights. Add to that some of the best clam chowder in Boston and you have more to boast about. And when you're one of the most popular spots in historic Charlestown with locals and tourists, well, you have a winning combination. Welcome to Warren Tavern.
The tavern, which originally opened in 1780 five years after the British destroyed Charlestown in the Battle of Bunker Hill, was named for Dr. John Warren, who famously instructed Paul Revere to ride with a warning the British were coming.
Revere and George Washington reportedly were patrons at this Revolutionary War-era tavern, as were so many politicians and others who would often gather to discuss business of the day.
It's not so different from today, but instead of discussing war, patrons might be talking about a play date for their kids or a deal they just made at work. General manager John Harnett said Warren Tavern is often packed with young families and up-and-coming professionals who live in the surrounding area. Sure the history is a draw — the Bunker Hill Monument and the USS Constitution both sit within walking distance — but so is the well-priced food where nearly everything on the menu rings in under $20.
"A family of four can come in and feel like they're not breaking the bank to have a good meal," Harnett said. "You can watch a ball game, have a burger and a beer and not feel like you're getting charged ridiculous amounts for what you're getting."
And what you get is quality. Sure, the Warren Tavern's menu boasts a wide variety of burgers, salads and appetizers like onion soup, wings and Fenway egg rolls (sweet Italian sausage with peppers, onions and provolone), but being in Boston, it's all about the seafood. They offer a number of local dishes like crab cakes; fish and chips; lobster rolls and, of course, New England clam chowder.
"We have award-winning chowder and daily haddock specials," Harnett said. "Our fish is delivered fresh daily. It's important to maintain a high level quality of seafood."
Harnett said the owners, Tom Devlin and the Superior Dining Group, which owns five other Boston-area restaurants and bars, treat the staff well. That last point shines through in that many staffers have been there for years, some more than 20, allowing them to get to know customers, many of whom have become longtime regulars.
"There's not a high turnover in staff so the customers have a rapport with the employees," he added. "We see kids grow up. That goes a long way, especially these days." Warren Tavern stays in touch with its client base through social media, posts daily specials and other promotions to Facebook and will also distribute coupons to local hotels to help drive in more business. They'll offer $1 oysters from 3 to 6 p.m., give away raffle tickets to the sold-out Newport Folk Festival with the purchase of a Lagunitas IPA or entice people in with a spicy Bloody Mary to help nurse a post-Saturday night hangover.
But the key to keeping that business? Harnett said it's all about the front door.
"You have to meet them at the door, ask how they're doing, say goodbye," he said. "You have to be on hand for whatever they need and that starts at the door. You want them to come back."
After 235 years, it looks like that will happen.