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A tavern is a place of business where people gather to drink alcoholic beverages and be served food, and in some cases, where travelers receive lodging. An inn is a tavern which has a license to put up guests as lodgers. The word derives from the Latin taberna whose original meaning was a shed, workshop, stall, or pub.
In the English language, a tavern was once an establishment which served wine whilst an inn served beer and ale. Over time, the words "tavern" and "inn" became interchangeable and synonymous. In England, inns started to be referred to as public houses or pubs and the term became standard for all drinking houses.
"Wowser" was a negative term for Christian moralists in Australia, especially activists in temperance groups such as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Historian Stuart Macintyre argues, "the achievements of the wowsers were impressive." They passed laws that restricted obscenity and juvenile smoking, raised the age of consent, limited gambling, closed down many pubs, and in 1915–16 established a 6pm closing hour for pubs, which lasted for decades.
Until the late 18th century, the only places for common people to eat out were inns and taverns.
After 1500, taxes on wine and other alcoholic beverages grew increasingly more burdensome, not only because of the continual increase in the level of taxation, but also because of the bewildering variety and multiplicity of the taxes. This chaotic system was enforced by an army of tax collectors. The resultant opposition took many forms. Wine growers and tavern keepers concealed wine and falsified their methods of selling it to take advantage of lower tax rates. The retailers also engaged in clandestine refilling of casks from hidden stocks. Wine merchants stealthily circumvented inspection stations to avoid local import duties. When apprehended, some defrauders reacted with passive resignation, while others resorted to violence. Situated at the heart of the country town or village, the tavern was one of the traditional centers of social and political life before 1789, a meeting place for both the local population and travelers passing through and a refuge for rogues and scoundrels. Taverns symbolized opposition to the regime and to religion.
Taverns sometimes served as restaurants. In 1765 in Paris was founded the first restaurant in the modern sense of the term. However, the first Parisian restaurant worthy of the name was the one founded by Beauvilliers in 1782 in the Rue de Richelieu, called the Grande Taverne de Londres.
Émile Zola's novel L'Assommoir ["The tavern"] (1877) depicted the social conditions typical of alcoholism in Paris among the working classes. The drunk destroyed not only his own body, but also his employment, his family, and other interpersonal relationships. The characters Gervaise Macquart and her husband Coupeau exemplified with great realism the physical and moral degradation of alcoholics. Zola's correspondence with physicians reveal he used authentic medical sources for his realistic depictions in the novel.
A common German name for German taverns or pubs is Kneipe. Drinking practices in 16th-century Augsburg, Germany, suggest that the use of alcohol in early modern Germany followed carefully structured cultural norms. Drinking was not a sign of insecurity and disorder. It helped define and enhance men's social status and was therefore tolerated among men as long as they lived up to both the rules and norms of tavern society and the demands of their role as householder. Tavern doors were closed to respectable women unaccompanied by their husbands, and society condemned drunkenness among women, but when alcohol abuse interfered with the household, women could deploy public power to impose limits on men's drinking behavior.
The word tavern is no longer in popular use in the UK as there is no distinction between a tavern and an inn. Both establishments serve wine and both serve beer/ale. The term 'pub' (an abbreviation of 'public house') is now used to describe these houses. The legacy of taverns and inns is now only found in the pub names, e.g. Fitzroy Tavern, Silver Cross Tavern, Spaniards Inn, etc. The word survives also in songs such as "There is a tavern in the town".
The range and quality of pubs varies wildly throughout the UK as does the range of beers, wines, spirits and foods available. Most quality pubs will still serve cask ales and good food. In recent years there has been a move towards "gastro" pubs where the food is of excellent quality.
Pubs are still popular meeting places but they are declining in popularity. This is attributed to economic conditions, the narrow profit margins permitted to pub landlords by brewing companies, the inexpensive sales of alcohol in supermarkets, and the banning of smoking in public places.
In Italy, in the agricultural region of the southern Veneto, 1848–1875, taverns in the small towns were gathering places where the sharecroppers and tenant farmers learned of socialist and anarchist ideas, and formed groups to fight for independence from Austrian rule. Certain cafés were identified with the political ideas of their regular customers.
Reformers who denounced the terrible effects of heavy consumption of alcohol on public disorder, health, and quality of work, made periodic attempts to control it in Mexico City in the late 18th century and early 19th century. The poor frequented the pulcherías where pulque, made from the maguey plant, was sold. After the legalization of the more potent aguardiende in 1796, the poor could also afford the viñaterías where hard liquor was served, and drunkenness increased. The taverns played an important social and recreational role in the lives of the poor. Influential citizens often owned the pulcherías and opposed reform as did owners of the maguey haciendas. Tax revenues from alcohol were important to the government. These factors, added to lax enforcement of the laws, resulted in the failure of tavern reform.
Americans drank heavily, for rum was cheap. In 1770 per capita consumption was 3.7 gallons of distilled spirits per year, rising to 5.2 gallons in 1830 or approximately 1.8 one-ounce shots a day for every adult white man. That total does not include the beer or hard cider that colonists routinely drank in addition to rum, the most popular distilled beverage available in English America. Benjamin Franklin printed a "Drinker's Dictionary" in his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1737, listing some 228 slang terms used for drunkenness in Philadelphia.
The sheer volume of hard liquor consumption fell off, but beer grew in popularity and men developed customs and traditions based on how to behave at the tavern. By 1900 the 26 million American men over age 18 patronized 215,000 licensed taverns and probably 50,000 unlicensed (illegal) ones, or one per hundred men. Twice the density could be found in working class neighborhoods. They served mostly beer; bottles were available but most drinkers went to the taverns. Probably half the American men avoided saloons, so the average consumption for actual patrons was about a half-gallon of beer per day, six days a week. In 1900, the city of Boston (with about 200,000 adult men) counted 227,000 daily saloon customers.
Taverns in the colonies closely followed the models of the mother country. They were supervised by county officials who recognized the need for taverns and the need to maintain order, to minimize drunkenness (and avoid it if possible on Sundays), as well as to establish the responsibilities of tavern keepers.
Larger taverns provided rooms for travelers, especially in county seats that housed the county court. Upscale taverns had a lounge with a huge fireplace, a bar at one side, plenty of benches and chairs, and several dining tables. The best houses had a separate parlor for ladies, an affable landlord, good cooking, soft, roomy beds, fires in all rooms in cold weather, and warming pans used on the beds at night. In the backwoods, the taverns were wretched hovels, dirty with vermin for company; even so they were more pleasant and safer for the stranger than camping by the roadside. Even on main highways such as the Boston Post Road, travelers routinely reported the taverns had bad food, hard beds, scanty blankets, inadequate heat, and poor service. One Sunday in 1789, General George Washington, was touring Connecticut; discovering that the locals discouraged travel on the Sabbath, he spent the day at Perkins Tavern, "which by the way is not a good one."
Taverns were essential for colonial Americans, especially in the South where towns hardly existed. In the taverns the colonists learned current crop prices, arranged trades, heard newspapers read aloud, and discovered business opportunities and the latest betting odds on the upcoming horse races. For most rural Americans the tavern was the chief link to the greater world, playing a role much like the city marketplace in Europe and Latin America.
Taverns absorbed leisure hours and games were provided—always decks of cards, perhaps a billiards table. Horse races often began and ended at taverns, as did militia-training exercises. Cockfights were popular. At upscale taverns the gentry had private rooms or even organized a club. When politics was in season, or the county court was meeting, political talk filled the taverns.
Taverns served multiple functions on the Southern colonial frontier. Society in Rowan County, North Carolina, was divided along lines of ethnicity, gender, race, and class, but in taverns the boundaries often overlapped, as diverse groups were brought together at nearby tables. Consumerism in the backcountry was limited not by ideology or culture but by distance from markets and poor transportation. The increasing variety of drinks served and the development of clubs indicates that genteel culture spread rapidly from London to the periphery of the English world.
In the colonial era, about two-thirds of the taverns were operated by women—especially widows. Local magistrates—who had to award a license before a tavern could operate—preferred widows who knew the business and might otherwise be impoverished and become a charge to the county. Women and children were not, however, welcome as fellow drinkers. The drinkers were men—and indeed often defined their manliness by how much they could drink at a time.
Many early governments met in local taverns. From 1660 to 1665 the Virginia government met in Jamestown at the local taverns. From 1749 to 1779, the Mosby Tavern was the courthouse, jail, and militia rendezvous for Cumberland County, Virginia and later for Powhatan County, Virginia. Gifford Dalley managed City Tavern in Philadelphia, which served as an unofficial meeting place for the First Continental Congress and in documents he served as the Keeper of the Door for the First, Second and Third United States Congresses. Daily's brother-in-law Samuel Fraunces owned Fraunces Tavern in New York City where Congress met while City Hall was under construction. The last time Congress met at a tavern it was at Fraunces Tavern. The Tun Tavern in Philadelphia is regarded as the place where the U.S. Marines were first recruited. Neither place still exists. A reconstruction of City Tavern in Philadelphia is still in operation.
A depiction of Civil War troops reading their mail at the Eagle Tavern which doubled as the post office in Silver Spring, Maryland can be seen at the Silver Spring Library. The Old Post Office Tavern is in operation today in Leavenworth, Washington. Old Kelley's Tavern in New Hampshire is a multifunctional tavern. Colonel William B. Kelley of New Hampshire operated a tavern and was the Postmaster General for New Hampshire. The mail came and went from his home. The Hanover Tavern in Hanover County, Virginia is another tavern which also operated as the post office. The General Wayne Inn in Lower Merion Pennsylvania also served as a post office from 1830 to 1850 and was also the polling place in 1806.
The oldest tavern is a distinction claimed by numerous establishments. Some establishments clarify their claims with oldest continuously operating tavern, oldest family-owned tavern, oldest drinking establishment, or oldest licensed; there are many ways to distinguish the oldest tavern. The first tavern in Boston, Massachusetts was a Puritan ordinary, opened in 1633, by one account, but the date was actually 4 March 1633/4, which is more correctly written 1634; on this date John Winthrop recorded that Samuel Cole set up the "first house for common entertainment."
The White Horse Tavern, in Newport, Rhode Island, is most likely the Tavern housed in the oldest building. The Blue Anchor, the first drinking establishment at Front and Dock Streets in Philadelphia, began operation in 1681. Jean Lafitte's Black Smith Shoppe in New Orleans, Louisiana some claim to be the oldest bar continuously operating before 1775. Lafitte himself was born in 1776. The Wayside Inn in Sudbury, MA is reputedly the oldest operating inn in America, going back to 1716.
In Germania, (the German-American districts of cities) a beer culture flourished in 19th-century America in taverns, saloons, and especially beer-gardens and beer-halls which operated on Sundays and attracted entire families. Avoiding hard whiskey, the Germans favored beer and wine, and had far less of a problem with alcoholism.
Germans operated nearly all of the nation's breweries, and demand remained high, until prohibition arrived in 1920. German-American newspapers promoted temperance but not abstinence. From the German perspective the issue was less the ill effects of alcohol than its benefits in promoting social life. For American Germans, the beer garden stood alongside the church as one of the two pillars of German social and spiritual life.
Perhaps the most famous American tavern is Fraunces Tavern, corner of Broad and Pearl streets in lower Manhattan. Originally built as a residence in 1719, it was opened as a tavern by Samuel Fraunces in 1762, and became a popular gathering place. Fraunces Tavern was the site of merchants' meetings on the post-1763 taxes, plots by the Sons of Liberty, entertainments for British and Loyalist officers during the Revolution. In its Long Room, on December 4, 1783, General George Washington said farewell to his officers and family.
Kaplan (1995) proposes an escalation of tavern violence in antebellum New York City as a manifestation of a developing working-class male identity. This was due to the rapid growth of taverns, and their roles as centers of working-class social life. Brawling fostered a male identity that was centered on physical courage, independence, and class pride. Irish and German influences contributed to the violence,[clarification needed] as did racial and ethnic prejudice. Sexual assaults against women increased because women were working in factories and more exposed to these dangers in the city. (Male-on-male violence was common inside the tavern; rapes happened outside or around the back.) Women were regarded as depersonalized objects, and gang rapes were viewed as a form of male bonding.
The heavy Puritan heritage of New England meant that local government was strong enough to regulate—and close—rowdy places. But the power of ministers faded, and by the 1790s provincial leaders recognized that they could not eradicate hard drinking in taverns. From that point until after the American Revolution, the tavern was a widely accepted institution in Massachusetts.
Between 1697 and 1756 Elizabeth Harvey, followed by her daughter-in-law Ann Harvey Slayton, operated a successful tavern in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Their careers reveal the public acceptance of female management and authority within the confines of the tavern. Under Harvey, the tavern became a mail stop and began hosting General Assembly and executive committee meetings. After Slayton took over, the tavern held town meetings, supplied necessities to the poor for which the town gave reimbursement, and provided accommodations for the provincial government, courts, and legislative committees.
In ethnic neighborhoods of cities, mill towns and mining camps, the saloonkeeper was an important man. Groups of 25–50 recent arrivals speaking the same language—and probably also from the same province or village back in Europe—drank together and frequented the same saloon. They trusted the saloonkeeper to translate and write letters for them, help with transatlantic letters and remittances, keep their savings for them, and explain American laws and customs.
The "speakeasy" (or "blind pig") was an illegal bar that became extremely common during prohibition (1920–33). The term "speakeasy" became popular in Pennsylvania in the late 1880s as illegal saloons flourished when the cost of legal liquor licenses was raised under the Brooks High License law.  Most taverns closed up, but drinkers found out-of-the-way speakeasies that would serve them. The owners had to buy illegal beer and liquor from criminal syndicates (the most famous was run by Al Capone in Chicago), and had to pay off the police to look the other way. The result was an overall decrease in drinking and an enormous increase organized crime, gang warfare and civic corruption, as well as a decline in tax revenue. Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and legitimate places reopened. See Prohibition in the United States#Crime and Repeal
Roberts (2008) shows that in Upper Canada (Ontario) in the early 19th century, there was an informal ritual at work that tavern keepers and patrons followed. For example, the barroom were reserved for men but adjacent rooms were places where women could meet, families could come, and female sociability flourish. Meanwhile the local men and visitors such as travelers, doctors, tradespeople, and artists could express their views on topics of general interest.
Occasionally heated arguments would break into fights between religious or ethnic groups. Despite efforts by social reformers to regulate taverns in Ontario, Canada, physical violence linked to drinking was common. Indeed, 19th-century masculinity, derived from earlier models of fur traders in the region, was often predicated on feats of strength and stamina and on skill in fighting. Taverns were the most common public gathering place for males of the working class and thus the site of frequent confrontations. Men's honor and men's bodies, socially and historically linked, found public, and often destructive, expression in the tavern setting.
The term "tavern" was regularly used in Ontario, Canada until the mid-1980s, when it disappeared, having been replaced with the word "bar", for almost any restaurant type of facility that sold alcohol.
Scandinavia had very high drinking rates, which led to the formation of a powerful prohibition movement in the 19th century. Magnusson (1986) explains why consumption of spirits was so high in a typical preindustrial village (Eskilstuna)in Sweden, 1820–50. An economic feature of this town of blacksmiths was based on the Verlag, or outwork production system, was its complex network of credit relationships. The tavern played a crucial role in cultural and business life and was also the place where work and leisure were fused. Heavy drinking facilitated the creation of community relationships in which artisans and workers sought security. Buying drinks rather than saving money was a rational strategy when, before adjustment to a cash economy, it was essential to raise one's esteem with fellow craftsmen to whom one could turn for favors in preference to the Verlag capitalist.
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