9 Historic Taverns and Restaurants to Visit in Delaware

Delaware is home to many historic taverns, inns, restaurants and more. Many of the eateries we love today have been serving diners for centuries.

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry is having its moment in Delaware. The First State is home to many James Beard Award nominees, and newcomers like Bardea Steak, The Quoin and Lewes Oyster House are making waves in the fine dining scene. As much as we love having all the trendy new options, there’s a special place in our hearts for Delaware’s historic taverns and eateries.

Though they may have changed in ownership and name, many of these locations welcomed drinkers and diners as early as the 18th century. Other First State classics opened in the 1900s and have remained staples of their communities ever since. From an inn that served as transitional housing for Irish immigrants to a Sears Craftsman kit home to a tavern cursed by Edgar Allan Poe himself, here are some restaurants in the First State with histories as rich and delicious as the food they serve today.

Deer Park Tavern
Photo by Sydney Livingston

Deer Park Tavern

Deer Park Tavern has been a landmark in Newark since 1851. The building was originally the St. Patrick’s Inn, which dates all the way back to 1747. While many locals know this tavern as just another college bar, it has enticing history. It’s said that many American soldiers, including General George Washington, spent the night at the St. Patrick’s Inn during the American Revolution. Perhaps its quirkiest piece of history, though, is the alleged tale of Edgar Allan Poe’s brief visit. According to the story passed down by locals, he was attempting to step out of a carriage and fell in the mud. Obviously on edge from the journey, Poe is said to have put a curse on the building—or perhaps the whole state of Delaware by some interpretations.

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“A curse upon this place,” Poe exclaimed. “All who enter shall have to return!”

According to the story, patrons found it so amusing they carried him into the tavern for a drink.

In honor of Poe’s short story, a raven is the mascot.

The Deer Park was a beloved dive for generations of University of Delaware students. Bob and Sandy Ashby returned the building to its Victorian glory and introduced a menu that includes the Tavern Sandwich: ham, fig jam, brie, sliced apples, mixed greens and roasted garlic mayonnaise on ciabatta.
The Deer Park was a beloved dive for generations of University of Delaware students. Bob and Sandy Ashby returned the building to its Victorian glory and introduced a menu that includes the Tavern Sandwich: ham, fig jam, brie, sliced apples, mixed greens and roasted garlic mayonnaise on ciabatta.

The brick Deer Park has been an inn, a women’s seminary, a brothel, a polling place, a ballroom, a barbershop, a liquor store and even a Chinese restaurant. The Ashbys used a vintage postcard to restore the building to its Victorian era, complete with a two-story porch and corner cupola.

Burgers and sandwiches dominate the menu, but chowders, chili and entrées like grilled salmon demonstrate that the Deer Park is all grown up. Children are welcome—there’s even a kids’ menu.

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108 West Main Street, Newark

 

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Jessop’s Tavern

As educators, Richard and Martha “Tika” Day were surprised that New Castle restaurants didn’t play up the historic town’s heritage. The Swedes, Dutch and English fought over the riverside settlement, and William Penn landed here in 1682 to inspect his new lands.

So, in 1996, the New Castle residents opened Jessop’s Tavern in a circa 1674, building once owned by Abraham Jessop, the coopersmith who inspired the name. Jessop’s wasn’t the first restaurant in the space; it had housed the Log Cabin, the Captain’s Log Restaurant, and, in 1974, The Green Frog Tavern.

Jessop’s Tavern in the heart of historic New Castle specializes in Colonial–inspired fare, including half a roasted duck with a cherry kummel glaze. Jessop’s also boasts one of the area’s largest Belgian beer collections.
Jessop’s Tavern in the heart of historic New Castle specializes in Colonial–inspired fare, including half a roasted duck with a cherry kummel glaze. Jessop’s also boasts one of the area’s largest Belgian beer collections. Photo by Andre’ Wright Jr.

People warmed to Jessop’s Colonial vibe, including plank floors, a beamed ceiling, nautical paintings and a fireplace. The tavern nixed the servers’ Colonial garb when it affected employee recruitment, says Justin Day, the founders’ son, who runs the restaurant. Now the costumes are for special occasions.

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The menu reflects the town’s roots with pot pies, fish and chips, chowders and mussels steamed in Belgian ale—Jessop’s 21st-century claim to fame. The restaurant sports over 300 Belgian beers by the bottle and 200 on draft. Specializing in Belgian brands makes Jessop’s unique in Delaware, says Day, who was knighted by the Belgian Brewers association.

And since parts of Belgium were once Dutch, it’s in keeping with the theme.

114 Delaware Street, New Castle

Kelly’s Logan House

Welcome to the oldest Irish bar in Delaware!

You must be 21 to patronize Kelly’s Logan House, which has a full menu including the John D burger, named after John D. “Whiskers” Kelly, who gave the business part of its name. The Logan comes from John A. Logan, a Civil War general.

The three-story structure was built in 1864 at the end of the Wilmington City Horse Railway, a trolley line. Kelly, an Irish immigrant, bought the brick hotel in 1889, and when he refused to sell to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, B&O had to realign the track. Happily, the hotel benefited from the station across the street. According to legend, Al Capone paused here for a drink en route to New York, and Wild Bill Hickok supposedly stayed overnight.

At Kelly’s Logan House in Trolley Square, several dishes honor the family, including Mike’s Philly Rolls (cheesesteak egg rolls) for fourth-generation owner Mike Kelly, and the John D burger, named for John D. “Whiskers” Kelly, who bought the business in 1889.
At Kelly’s Logan House in Trolley Square, several dishes honor the family, including Mike’s Philly Rolls (cheesesteak egg rolls) for fourth-generation owner Mike Kelly, and the John D burger, named for John D. “Whiskers” Kelly, who bought the business in 1889. Photo by Andre’ Wright Jr.

Rumor also has it that the cool basement, built over a spring, became a mortuary when an epidemic hit the city. General manager Joe Mujica hasn’t seen a ghost, but he did watch security footage of a balloon gently bobbing from the second floor, around the stair rail, down the stairs, through the bar and into the kitchen. Perhaps a mischievous spirit didn’t want the fun to end.

Kelly’s Logan House is a National Historic Site that has evolved plenty since 1864, but has stayed true to its Irish roots. Today, it’s a St. Patrick’s Day hotspot and a favorite pub for the descendants of those same immigrants to connect with their roots.

1701 Delaware Avenue, Wilmington

Columbus Inn

This building has had the name “Columbus Inn” since 1849. Before that, it was a popular Wilmington bakery which opened in 1798. Through the years as an inn and tavern, Columbus Inn welcomed esteemed visitors like Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley. Eventually becoming a local dive bar, Columbus Inn evolved over the years to the more elegant eatery Delawareans know and love today. The silhouette of the historic building is charming and always surrounded by homey landscaping with a breezy patio for outdoor dining. Today, diners indulge in a delicious Sunday brunch and enjoy upscale entrees, light bites and craft cocktails throughout the week.

2216 Pennsylvania Avenue, Wilmington

 

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Buckley’s Tavern

Built in 1817 as a private residence, Buckley’s premier location on Kennett Pike led to its role as a stagecoach and tollgate stop. In the 1930s, the site appealed to a range of ages by hosting both a taproom and an ice cream store. The attraction hasn’t changed. Buckley’s attracts multiple generations and income levels on any given day, and they all brush elbows at the U-shaped bar.

The enduring name comes from Dennis Buckley, who bought the building in 1951. Bob Bolling and Bob Applegate purchased it in 1970 and leased it to a restaurant operator. In 2012, the owners didn’t renew the lease and renovated the building, which has a tavern area and a more formal, paneled dining room.

Tom Hannum spent nearly 20 years as executive chef of the Hotel du Pont. However, the Wilmington native clearly has a soft spot for approachable fare. Chicken pot pie with a flaky puff pastry top is one of Buckley’s best sellers, and customers can’t get enough of the mushroom soup. Hannum added his New England clam chowder and the ultimate salute to yesteryear: an open-faced crab sandwich with cheddar or American cheese.

“We serve really good, comforting food,” he explains. That and the hefty beer list are Buckley’s recipe for success.

5812 Kennett Pike, Centreville

Bing’s Bakery

If you like your history on the sweeter side, check out Delaware’s longest-running bakery. Bing’s has been operating since 1871, when it was called Fader’s Bakery. The name change took place in 1946, after the bakery was purchased by Russell and Selena Bing. In 2005, head baker Tom Guzzi and his wife, Carla, purchased the bakery and continue to operate Bing’s to this day. Bing’s is a great place to stop in for a quick selection of pastries as well as custom wedding cakes, birthday cakes, custom treats and more.

253 East Main Street, Newark

Cantwell’s Tavern

In the charming historic town of Odessa, history enthusiasts can dine at Cantwell’s Tavern. The tavern dates back to 1822, when prominent businessman William Polk built and ran it as The Cantwell’s Bridge Hotel and Tavern. During this period in American history, taverns acted not only as hotels offering overnight stays, but also as prominent community centers. Rooms in this historic tavern likely served as important meeting places, wedding venues and general social centers.

Today, the former hotel is part of the Historic Houses of Odessa, which includes the Corbit–Sharp House, the Wilson–Warner House, the Collins–Sharp House and the Odessa Bank. The complex was the vision of H. Rodney Sharp, an Odessa schoolmaster–turned–philanthropist. Sharp restored the Brick Hotel, hoping to find a restaurateur to lease it. In 2010, the Historic Odessa Foundation added a commercial kitchen to the back. When the first operator pulled out, Ashby Hospitality Group stepped in.

Cantwell’s Tavern is in the Brick Hotel, part of the Historic Houses of Odessa. However, the menu features modern twists, such as hanger steak with smashed red-skinned potatoes with chives and chimichurri sauce.
Cantwell’s Tavern is in the Brick Hotel, part of the Historic Houses of Odessa. However, the menu features modern twists, such as hanger steak with smashed red-skinned potatoes with chives and chimichurri sauce. Photo by Andre’ Wright Jr.

The handsome tavern reflects the public houses of the 18th and 19th centuries, but the menu is hardly old-fashioned. “It’s comfort food with a slight twist,” says chef de cuisine Josh Tucker, who grew up around farms and hunting areas. Pork loin, duck breast and braised meats are Cantwell’s staples. You’ll also find flatbreads, burgers, pizza, wings, salmon, cheesesteaks and crab cakes.

109 Main Street, Odessa

Stanley’s Tavern

Technically, a Delaware tavern has a taproom license prohibiting anyone under 21 from entering the building. Serving food is not a license requirement. Picture Big Chill Surf Cantina in Rehoboth Beach. But some, including Sambo’s Tavern, have full menus.

Stanley’s had a taproom license well into the 1970s, which was a long time. The building at Foulk and Grubb roads was home to Bill Patton’s Bill’s Place in 1935. There was no grill then, so the staff warmed cold sandwiches in a steamer. (Shaved imported ham on rye bread is still on the menu.)

After buying the business in 1947, Stanley Minkiowksi renamed it Stanley’s Tavern. In 1972, Bill Brooks, founder of Brooks Armored Car Service, added it to a portfolio that included the Buggy Tavern on Marsh Road. The horse-racing lover linked “Horse & Buggy” to Stanley’s name. It didn’t take.

Brooks’ sports mania had more staying power. The owner purchased one of the area’s first big-screen projection TVs. “He set it up in the banquet room and charged a cover because it was such a big deal,” recalls Torpey, who first worked at Stanley’s until 1977. By this time, Stanley’s had a restaurant license and a second license to sell liquor for carryout in the adjacent retail store.

In 1982, Brooks sold to a group of dentists, who scheduled rock band concerts that attracted motorcycle gangs. Torpey returned as manager, the gangs moved on, and satellite TV broadcasts attracted college and pro football fans.

As for the food, Stanley’s was among the first to sell chicken wings. The baby back ribs are also legendary. Side note: The old liquor store is a separate section still offering carryout alcohol.

2038 Foulk Road, Wilmington

Blue Moon

While this Rehoboth Beach staple may not be quite as old as some of the other historic taverns that made our list, its history is just too interesting not to include. The building we know and love was constructed in 1907…as a Sears Craftsman house! From 1908 into the 1940s, Sears offered these “kit homes” which ranged in price from about $600 to $6,000 (about $8,400-$84,000 in today’s dollars). These Craftsman kit homes were an accessible way for the middle class to become homeowners even in a shaky economy. (Imagine getting an entire home by mail-order.) The house at 35 Baltimore Avenue was received in that very manner and served as a residential home until 1981, when Blue Moon opened (after some necessary renovations). Today, you can enjoy a bite, a drink and a show at the eclectic Rehoboth Beach establishment.

35 Baltimore Avenue, Rehoboth Beach

Related: 10 Great Beer Gardens and Outdoor Lounges in Delaware

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