EXPERIENCE 18th-CENTURY CULINARY CHOICES IN
FOUR COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG TAVERNS
Eighteenth-century patriots savored their meals and hoisted pints of ale as they contemplated
revolution at taverns in Virginia’s colonial capital. Today, Colonial Williamsburg serves select
favorites from the period at four unique historic dining taverns with distinctive menus and authentic
colonial atmosphere. Staff in 18th-century dress serve guests and enhance the dining experience
with explanations of colonial dining habits and food preferences, lively exchanges with character
interpreters and music of the era played on period instruments. At King’s Arms, Shields, Christiana
Campbell’s and Chowning’s taverns, guests enjoy dining experiences similar to those of patrons
who frequented these establishments in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Colonial Williamsburg’s taverns are located in the heart of the Historic Area and are open to the public.
King’s Arms Tavern recalls an 18th-century chop house and continues the tradition of
fine tavern dining as guests feast on such colonial delicacies as roast prime rib of beef,
collops of pork, roast young duckling, game pie and traditional King’s Arms favorites of
peanut soup and the grand mushroom. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., and
dinner is served from 5 p.m. until closing. Reservations are recommended for dinner.
Guests may order à la carte or try a complete meal of colonial favorites—Mrs.
Vobe’s Tavern Dinner, named after the tavern’s 18th-century proprietress Jane Vobe. This
fixed-price sampler starts with the tavern’s trademark peanut soup followed by a main
course of boneless breast of chicken with ham accompanied by potatoes, meadow
mushrooms and tarragon sauce. Dinner includes Sally Lunn bread and finishes with a
choice of Southern favorites, rice pudding or Williamsburg pecan pie.
In conjunction with Revolutionary City® programming, King’s Arms Tavern offers
Breakfast with Citizens of the Revolution. Guests enjoy a hot breakfast buffet while
engaging in conversation with revolutionaries who helped shape the future of our country.
The breakfast is offered seasonally Friday through Monday, with seatings at 8:45 and 9
King’s Arms Tavern originally catered to Virginia’s gentry and the politically
influential before, during and after the Revolution. Today, Queen Anne-style tables, paired
with Sarah Richardson (a colonial resident) chairs, are set with yard-square linen napkins,
brass candlesticks and china stamped with the king’s coat of arms. Original and
reproduction colonial prints and paintings adorn the walls and windows are hung with
hand-woven English linens. In the Purdie House annex, a section of the tavern that
originally existed as the neighboring home of 18th-century Virginia Gazette publisher
Alexander Purdie, the furniture and elegant décor represent a level of wealth and style
associated with a prosperous gentry-class Williamsburg home. The home features not only
the fine carpeting, wallpaper and wall hangings of a wealthy merchant, but also artifacts
that tell the story of the Purdie family – including Purdie’s tobacco pipe on the mantel in
the former study and three small tricorn hats on pegs in his sons’ former bedroom.
Waitstaff are glad to share the story of the family, gleaned from ongoing Colonial
Williamsburg historical research.
King’s Arms Tavern is located on the south side of Duke of Gloucester Street
between Botetourt and Blair streets, near the Capitol. Free parking is available for tavern
patrons across Frances Street. Wheelchair accessible restrooms are located in the newly
remodeled Purdie Kitchen behind the tavern.
Shields Tavern® The restored 18th-century capital of Virginia has brewed a unique flavor at its
successful Shields Tavern and transformed the establishment into an 18th-century
coffeehouse. Remember, tea was out of fashion in the pre-Revolutionary colonies, and
coffee was quite the rage in Europe and Great Britain. The first English “coffee house”
opened in Oxford in 1650. Fifty years later, there were 2,000 coffeehouses in London
alone. Williamsburg’s historical records reveal that when tavernkeeper Daniel Fisher took
over Shields Tavern in 1751, he recorded in his journal that the locals called the building
“the English Coffee House.” By 1767, the exotic, dark brew was being sipped at Richard
Charlton’s popular Coffee House located next to the Capitol in the area of Williamsburg
called the Exchange, “where all money business (was) transacted” and the governor and his
council were frequent patrons. Today the Charlton site is an archaeological dig across the
street from Shields Tavern.
James Shields Tavern operates in the spirit of an 18th-century coffeehouse, providing
a venue for interaction between guests, costumed historic character interpreters and
research staff. Served all day, the tavern’s light fare menu offers recipes representative of
the 18th-century food similar to that served by proprietor James Shields in the 1740s for the
lesser gentry and upper middling ranks of locals and travelers.
Over a cold beverage, hot chocolate or coffee and good eats, guests might discuss
18th-century “events of the day” and other topics with the interpreters or simply enjoy a
quiet drink and snack in one of the dining rooms or in the outdoor garden behind the
In the evening, a portion of the warm, rustic and historically accurate tavern will
operate as a lounge, where guests may enjoy a quiet beverage before or after dining in one of
Colonial Williamsburg’s others taverns—or any time. Costumed servers continue in the
tradition of interpreting the 18th-century tavern experience amidst period tavern furnishings
Shields Tavern is open daily from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Mr. Shields is pleased to offer
a seasonal feast on Friday and Saturday evenings with seatings at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Costumed servers continue in the tradition of interpreting the 18th-century tavern experience
amidst period tavern furnishings and decoration while guests savor a three-course colonial
The lower level tavern room is available for banquets for up to 100, and the covered
garden area behind the tavern offers an ideal outdoor space for group functions with 18thcentury
entertainment, weather permitting. Shields Tavern is located on Duke of Gloucester
Street just east of King’s Arms Tavern, near the Capitol.
Christiana Campbell’s Tavern tempts guests with traditional seafood from the rest of
the British colonies of North America. Christiana Campbell’s Tavern serves dinner from
Tuesday through Saturday (reservations are recommended), providing guests with ample
opportunity to savor Mrs. Campbell’s favorite dishes of sherried shrimp, scallops and
lobster, as well as the Waterman’s Supper and lump crab cakes, the tavern’s signature dish.
The entrées are complemented by long-time tavern favorites of Campbell’s cabbage slaw,
spoon bread and sweet potato muffins.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, the tavern hosts tea with Mrs. Campbell. Guests are
welcome to experience 18th-century hospitality while their hostess regales them with
accounts of her contemporaries and the quaint customs of the period.
Christiana Campbell’s Tavern was a favorite of well-known colonial Virginians such
as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Servers of the tavern are on hand to recount
stories of George Washington’s favorable diary entries about Mrs. Campbell’s
establishment and other noteworthy tales about the colonial tavern. Free parking is
available behind the tavern, located today on the east side of Waller Street across from the
Chowning’s (pronounced “chewnings”) Tavern, located near Market Square on Duke
of Gloucester Street, offers guests a popular menu—traditional pit barbecue. References to
“barbecued hog” date back to the late 1700s. The Chowning’s menu features sumptuous
entrées such as beef brisket, pulled pork barbecue, turkey legs and grilled chicken
Chowning’s offers casual quick fare from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily in the tavern
garden. Guests may enjoy their meal at tables set under grape arbors or inside the tavern.
From 5 to 8 p.m., Chowning’s caters to families with the music, magic and colonial
games of gambols while serving light fare. Beginning at 8 p.m., gambols takes on the
rollicking atmosphere of an 18th-century ale house featuring beverages such as stout rum
drinks, a variety of hearty ales and wine by the glass. The same light fare is offered along
with baskets of fresh-roasted Virginia peanuts on every table.
Mary Randolph, reputed to be the best cook in Richmond by the 1790s, published
“The Virginia House-Wife” in 1824. She included recipes for fried chicken, Spanish
gazpacho, Italian polenta and East Indian curry. The tradition of this cookbook continues
at Colonial Williamsburg taverns with special themed dinners held throughout the year.
Guests have the opportunity to engage in unique tavern programming such as the 18thcentury
Chocolate Dinner, Colonial Chef’s Table, dinner with George Washington and
Thomas Jefferson wine dinners.
Colonial Williamsburg’s historic tavern guests experience the hearty and distinctive fare that
sustained the Founding Fathers, served with Southern hospitality in authentic surroundings.