Boston, MA

Boston's Oldest Restaurant Serving Diners Since 1826 Till Date From The Same Building That once Housed An Exiled Prince


A future king of France lived on the second floor in 1776. In 1771 Printer Isaiah Thomas published his newspaper from the second floor of the building ‘The Massachusetts Spy,’  long known as the oldest newspaper in the United States.
Photo byMark Boss/Unsplash

The Union Oyster House is the oldest restaurant in Boston and arguably the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the U.S. While there are other older restaurants in the U.S., Union Oyster House claims to be the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the U.S. This presumably was because it has been operating out of its original building since 1826. 

The menu is traditional New England fare, including seafood such as oysters, clams, and lobsters, as well as poultry, baked beans, steak, and chops. The restaurant originally opened as the Atwood & Bacon Oyster House on August 3, 1826. 

Union Oyster House’s building is even older than this, dating back to at least 1714, and was used for various other businesses before becoming a restaurant. According to available information, Union Street was laid out in 1636, but there are no municipal records documenting the Oyster House's date of construction. All that is known is that the Oyster House has stood on Union Street as a major local landmark for more than 250 years.

Before it became a seafood house In 1742, the building housed importer Hopestill Capen's fancy dress goods business, known colorfully as "At the Sign of the Cornfields." During this time, the Boston waterfront came up to the back door of the dry goods establishment, making it convenient for ships to deliver their cloth and goods from Europe.

In 1775, Capen's silk and dry goods store became headquarters for Ebenezer Hancock, the first paymaster of the Continental Army. The building was presumably known to Washington as it was the exact place where Federal troops received their ‘war wages’ in the official pay-station. 

During the revolution, the wives of Adams, Hancock, and Quincy, and their neighbors, often sat in their stalls of the Capen House sewing and mending clothes for the colonists. 

The popularity of the building soared in 1771 when printer Isaiah Thomas published his newspaper from the second floor of the building "The Massachusetts Spy," long known as the oldest newspaper in the United States.

A future king of France, Louis Philippe lived on the second floor in 1776. Exiled from his country, he earned his living by teaching French to many of Boston's fashionable young ladies. Later Louis Phillippe returned home to serve as King from 1830 to 1848.

The toothpick was first used in the United States at the Union Oyster House after Enterprising Charles Forster of Maine first imported the picks from South America. To promote his new business he hired Harvard boys to dine at the Union Oyster House and ask for toothpicks. 

Labor economist and president of Haverford College John Royston also worked incognito in the Union Oyster House Coleman as a Salad and sandwich man for a while in the 1970s. He documented the experience in his book The Blue Collar Journal.

The Kennedy Clan also patronized the Union Oyster House. JFK loved to feast in privacy in the upstairs dining. His favorite booth "The Kennedy Booth" has since been dedicated to his memory. Daniel Webster was said to regularly consume at least six plates of oysters at the Union Oyster House.

The doors of this historic restaurant have remained open to diners since 1826. Since then, the Union Oyster House has known only three owners. Carrying on proud traditions in dining and service since 1970 have been Mr. Joseph A. Milano, Jr., and Ms. Mary Ann Milano Picardi.

Interestingly Union Oyster House has maintained its menu all these years. The joint has always had an Oyster bar and served traditional New England cuisine, including steak, meats, and baked beans to date. 

The restaurant serves delicious food according to a review from Tripadvisor

This was our last touristy stop on our adventure in Boston. A rustic old restaurant with the original booths from the 1800's lots of character. We stopped in for the clam chowder! The clam chowder was very good and the accompanying cornbread was perfect. It was a pricey stop but well work the experience.”

The iconic building was listed as a National Historic Landmark on May 27, 2003. The interior of the restaurant has eye-catching historic booths and 1800s objects that help guests connect with the history of the building and restaurant.

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