Gadsby’s Tavern

Black and white photo of brick building with flag
Gadsby's Tavern, 1969 (NPS)

Quick Facts

Alexandria, VA
National Historic Landmark
Constructed in 1785 and expanded in 1792, Gadsby’s Tavern was at the center of Alexandria’s social, political and commercial life, and played host to some of America’s most notable figures and events.  

The tavern is composed of two adjoining structures both built by the entrepreneur John Wise in 1785 and 1792, respectively. The original tavern was two and a half stories with seven rooms and was
designed in the typical Georgian-Colonial style. In 1792, Wise built a three story brick addition that became known as the City Tavern and Hotel. The addition was plainer in design, and included a ballroom with an overhead gallery for musicians. In 1794, John Wise leased the City Tavern to John Gadsby, who later renewed and expanded the lease to include the older building, operating it as a coffeehouse. Gadsby ran the taverns from 1796 to 1808.

Following the War for Independence, a convention, called by George Washington, convened in this tavern to settle the question of import duties on Potomac River commerce. The question was of large importance, having broad implications for the political and economic system of the newly independent nation. The meeting at Gadsby’s was one of a series of meetings that led to the constitutional convention held in Philadelphia in 1787. The first celebration of the adoption of the Federal Constitution subsequently took place at the tavern on June 28, 1788.

Under John Gadsby’s direction, the tavern and hotel became a popular destination for wealthy and prominent Americans. He even established his own stage coach line from Washington to Philadelphia, though one had to be a guest of the hotel in order to obtain a ticket. The ballroom served as the location of important social affairs including George Washington’s Birthnight Ball held in both 1798 and 1799 and Thomas Jefferson’s Inaugural Banquet in 1801.

Owner, John Wise died in 1815, and the tavern subsequently passed through a series of owners, being run as a tavern, hotel, and boardinghouse. In 1926, American Legion Post 24 purchased the inn, saving it from demolition. The Legion, along with other local organizations, worked to restore the tavern.

During its period of operation between 1785 and 1815, Gadsby’s earned a reputation nationwide for its elegance and hospitality, attracting America’s political and social elite. Indeed the two taverns housed and fed most of the county’s prominent citizens and international dignitaries during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Such men included: George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, George Clinton, Benjamin Franklin, General Braddock, the Byrds, Fitzhughs, Lees, and Washingtons. Today the Tavern is under the care of the Office of Historic Alexandria and serves as a museum and restaurant.


National Historic Landmark Nomination of Gadsby's Tavern 


National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) are historic places that possess exceptional value in commemorating or illustrating the history of the United States. The National Park Service’s National Historic Landmarks Program oversees the designation of such sites. There are just over 2,500 National Historic Landmarks. All NHLs are also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


Last updated: August 2, 2018