There has been a lot of talk recently about iconic Boston-area restaurants closing, including some very old spots saying farewell, and the trend seems to show no signs of stopping. The list is a long one, with such dining and drinking places as the No Name, Doyle’s, Jacob Wirth, L’Espalier, Durgin-Park, and (soon) Top of the Hub calling it a day. But what about really old restaurants, as in spots that date back to Colonial times?
Most of the well-known ones in the Greater Boston area and elsewhere in New England are still up and running and don’t seem to be going anywhere soon, perhaps because they tend to have historic designation and can’t be replaced by, say, a mixed-use development or an office tower (even though we all know that there aren’t nearly enough of either in the area).
But as the saying goes, never say never, which is why it isn’t such a bad idea to revisit some of these landmark places, which is just what was done here, checking out two very different Colonial-era dining places after a bit of a spell away from both.
A handful of Colonial-style restaurants and bars that actually date back to the Colonial era can be found within 90 minutes of Boston, including such spots as the Colonial Inn in Concord, the Barker Tavern in Scituate, the Old Mill in Westminster, the Publick House in Sturbridge, the Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield, and, within Boston itself, places such as the Green Dragon Tavern and Union Oyster House. Two others fit into this category as well, and those spots—the Wayside Inn in Sudbury and the Warren Tavern in Charlestown—are the focus here, and as mentioned earlier, the two places don’t have a whole lot in common other than the fact that they have been around since the 1700s.
For those who haven’t been to the Wayside Inn, it is one of those cozy, creaky, romantic old spots in the middle of nowhere that has “New England” written all over it, with all the country charm that you might expect from such a place, and the property probably looks much like it did around or even before the American Revolution (minus the fancy cars out front and the people walking into trees and doorways while looking at their phones). The place shares much in common with the Colonial Inn, Publick House, and Salem Cross Inn, and is much closer to Boston then the latter two spots while being only about 10 miles south of Concord’s equally quaint inn and restaurant.
Unlike the Colonial Inn, however, which sits on a small piece of land in the center of town, the Wayside Inn is actually part of its own historic district, and the grounds seem to go on forever—and if you’re a hiker, not only can you meander along the Grist Mill Pond on the premises, but you can also connect to the massive Callahan State Park and beyond, with endless conservation lands basically starting at the doorstep of the property.
If you’d rather enjoy a meal and soak up the ambiance of the inn itself rather than getting hopelessly lost in the woods, you’ll find several sections here for dining and drinking, including a rustic pub that’s tremendously appealing and could easily be your first and last stop here, while the main dining area is also comfy and attractive and includes a fireplace in the back. The menu at the Wayside Inn focuses on classic American fare such as oysters, shrimp cocktail, onion soup, clam chowder, prime rib, broiled Boston scrod, baked scallops with Ritz cracker crumbs, roast duckling, and butternut squash ravioli. The drinks menu includes some interesting ones for history buffs, such as a “Coow Woow” (rum and ginger brandy); a Meeting House Punch made with rum, brown sugar, and lemon; a hot mulled cider; and a Stone Wall with gin and applejack. By the way, if you end up having too many Meeting House Punches, you can actually stay at the Wayside Inn, enjoying the peace and quiet of the area from a classic four-poster bed, though the ceilings are pretty low, so it’s probably best if you’re not too tall.
While the Wayside Inn has the feel of a special-occasion place, the Warren Tavern is a completely different animal, instead being a rather small watering hole located in one of the most congested neighborhoods in Boston, though also one of its most beautiful. (The upper end of Pleasant Street, which is where the pub is located, is one of the most photographed roads in the entire city and is often used for calendars.)
There is a common thread between the Wayside Inn and the Warren Tavern, of course, as they are two of the oldest dining and drinking places not only in the Boston area, but in all of America, and the Warren Tavern has some especially good bragging rights in that Paul Revere, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin apparently used to booze it up here.
The Colonial atmosphere still exists at the Warren Tavern, with low ceilings (it seems that people in the 1700s were really short), lots of dark woods, a wonderful old bar, and a tiny private-feeling dining room near the entrance. Some of the food options here can also be found at the Wayside Inn (onion soup, clam chowder, shrimp cocktail, etc.), but this is more of a place to grab a bite and a beer, with sandwiches and simple meals such as French dip, steak tips, and fish and chips being the way to go. As you might expect, you’ll probably spend a lot less cash here than at the Wayside Inn, but it really is more the type of place where you might see the same people at the bar week after week because it’s basically a local hangout, giving it a much different vibe than its more upscale (but still casual) Colonial counterpart 25 miles to the west.
While it seems that nothing is sacred anymore when it comes to restaurant closings, the chances of such places as the Wayside Inn and the Warren Tavern hanging around for a while seem good, especially since both are located in historic structures that should hopefully save them from ever being replaced by, say, the Shoppes at Sudbury Crossing or the Charlestown Towers. But you never really know, which is why it’s good to continue to go to these places along with the Colonial Inn, Publick House, Salem Cross Inn, and so many other longtime spots that would leave quite a void if they ever shut down.
WAYSIDE INN. 72 WAYSIDE INN RD., SUDBURY. WAYSIDE.ORG
WARREN TAVERN. 2 PLEASANT ST., CHARLESTOWN. WARRENTAVERN.COM