No building is believed to be more typical of colonial Newport than the White Horse Tavern, with its clapboard walls, gambrel roof, and plain pediment doors bordering the sidewalk. Inside, its giant beams, small stairway against the chimney, tiny front hall, and cavernous fireplaces are the very essence of 17th-century American architecture.
The White Horse Tavern is the “oldest operating restaurant in the U.S.” and is acknowledged as the 10th oldest in the world. It’s also a National Historic Landmark, having served guests since 1673.
The White Horse Tavern was originally constructed as a two-story, two-room residence for Francis Brinle in 1652. It was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. and converted to a tavern in 1673. For almost 100 years, this large and comfortable tavern was the meeting place of the Colony’s General Assembly, Criminal Court, and City Council.
In 1702, William Mayes succeeded his father as the innkeeper and was granted a license to sell “all sorts of strong drink.” William was a notorious pirate that operated in the Red Sea and returned to Newport with his bounty. Openly welcomed and protected by the townspeople, the privateer caused much embarrassment to officials of the British Colony. Mary Mayes Nichols, William’s sister, and her husband, Robert, shortly followed as innkeepers, and for the next 200 years, with one brief interruption, the Tavern remained in the Nichols family.
In 1954, the tavern showed years of use and neglect. Through the generosity of the Van Beuren family, the property was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County and was meticulously restored. This helped to save the structure from demolition.
The tavern was recognized as a National Historic Landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. This fine establishment remains a popular drinking and dining spot in Newport today.