What is Tavern-Style Furniture?
Although the tavern was once a mainstay of American social life, it gave way over time to the cocktail bar, the restaurant, and for a while, the speakeasy.
But there are still some watering holes throughout the country that stick to the traditional tavern style. Some have been in business since the 1780s like Massachusetts’ Warren Tavern, while some are brand new!
If you want to bring the tavern vibe to your town, here’s what you need to know.
A little history
Although the terms are used somewhat loosely these days, a tavern is not the same as a bar. A bar traditionally sells alcohol only, but a tavern sells both alcohol and food.
Of course, we may think that sounds a lot like a restaurant. But the classic tavern was more of a waystation — a place for weary travelers to get some rest. In fact, they often had rooms to let as well. The food was not generally the reason that people went to taverns.
Taverns were often the social hub of rural America in the 1700s and 1800s. It was where neighbors met to share news, conduct business, and unwind after a day on the farm or in the office. So the American “tavern-style” has become connected with the furniture of the time.
Although electricity and central heating are now commonplace, the modern tavern still emulates the taverns of the Colonial days. Lots of dark wood, low lighting, and heavy furniture make for a cozy gathering place!
Since taverns were the local meeting place, tables were generally long and rectangular, with room for groups to congregate and dine together.
American settlers and farmers had little time for delicate wood carving. So the furniture in the local tavern was generally simple, sturdy, and practical. And it was made with the most abundant resource of the time — wood.
For the modern tavern, rough sawn or distressed wood can create the appearance of age, or reclaimed barn wood can be used for an authentic patina. Pine and oak are common wood species for tavern-style furniture, although you could use a wide variety of hardwoods.
Tavern-style tables have a simple rectangular plank top, usually sitting on four individual legs. Legs may be connected by two braces, which are then attached to a “stretcher” that runs the length of the table.
While the more high-end taverns may have had turned table legs, the rural taverns would often be more rustic. Square post legs, like those on this hardwood table, would have been more common out on the frontier.
Tables may also sit on an X-shaped base connected by a stretcher where the “x” crosses. This provides extra stability for those raucous tavern nights!
To add to the cozy feel of the tavern, look no further than the wood booth. Sliding into a booth, customers can settle in for a long evening of cold beer, hearty food, and good stories.
The tavern booth, like the table, is usually made of simple wood planks. The seat may rest on four legs, like our single tavern wood booth. Or, it could have a rectangular box as the base, like our urban distressed wood booth.
Booths can be made of rich hardwoods, polished to a high shine. Or for a rustic tavern, they can be made of distressed or reclaimed wood.
One common feature of just about all tavern-style booths is their high back. This creates an enclosure where guests can have some privacy while they’re enjoying their meal or drink. After all, important events can occur in taverns. The Boston Tea Party was planned at the Green Dragon Tavern in 1773!
The tavern bar
In most taverns, if the proprietor was going to splurge somewhere, it would be on the bar itself. Tavern back bars can be works of art, made of gleaming hardwood and carved with intricate designs. Shelves need to be robust in order to hold heavy liquor bottles. And some are backed by mirrors, to make small spaces feel bigger.
Of course, not all tavern bars are so complex. A sturdy wood shelving unit, loaded up with whisky and spirits is all a tavern really needs.
To sit at that bar, you’d have to pull up a stool. Tavern-style bar stools would traditionally be backless — a simple square seat atop four legs. For a little more comfort, you could get a stool with a cushioned and upholstered seat, like this version from Regal Seating.
The tavern is all about the community. It’s a place for people to gather, whether they live down the road, or are just passing through. So keep it snug and intimate. You never know when someone will need to plan their next rebellion against those redcoats.