Gadsby's Tavern Museum

History Museum
Gadsby's Tavern Museum photo
Leah C. Jones for The Washington Post
A trip back in time to the late 18th century, when Alexandria ranked with Philadelphia as a center of political and economic activity.
Nov-March: Wed-Sat 11 am-4 pm
Sun 1-4 pm
April-Oct: Tues-Sat 10 am-5 pm
Sun-Mon 1-5 pm
(Old Town Alexandria)
King Street (Blue and Yellow lines)
$5; $3 ages 5-12
703746-4242
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Editorial Review

Gadsby's Tavern Museum is a trip back in time to the late 18th century, when Alexandria ranked with Philadelphia as a center of political and economic activity. The streets were teeming with the very people -- Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and their compatriots -- who were fighting for independence and building the new national government. All of them were also eating, drinking and sleeping at places like Gadsby's Tavern, a nexus of activity in Old Town before it was "Old."

If you're a history buff, you'll probably get a real kick out of the museum's guided tour featuring costumed interpreters discussing the building's background and its illustrious patrons. The museum also offers candlelight tours of the tavern every Friday night, (tours are led by costumed guides from 7-10 p.m. at a cost of $4 for adults, $2 ages 10-17 and free for children 10 and younger). Gadsby's is more a glimpse at the everyday lives of many people in the late 1700s than it is an artifacts-in-case museum. For instance, if you visit on one of the "Time Travel" days that take place three or four days a month, you'll be put at the center of historic reenactment. You may be asked to dress up in the style of the period and turned into a servant working at the tavern.

However, if you don't delight in knowing that you're standing near the fireplace coal grate that was probably in the ballroom during one of George Washington's popular balls -- fret not. Let your family take the 45-minute tour while you browse the nearby shops. You can have lunch or dinner together later at Gadsby's Tavern restaurant, right next door. Hokey, yes, but it's still fun to be served in a tavern of the early American republic. During dinner (which is sufficiently popular that reservations are suggested; call 703/548-1288), "town criers" bring diners the news of the day -- the day being 200 years ago -- and your food and drink are served by more costumed interpreters, most of whom really get into the spirit.

-- Sara Cormeny

For Kids:

Two adjoining buildings, a 1770s tavern and a 1792 hotel, are the site of this period hostelry. Customers included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette. Kids may squirm on the tour, which takes visitors past the taproom, bedrooms and a ballroom, all filled with that youthful enthusiasm killer: "period furnishings." A better bet is to visit during one of the museum's monthly Time Travel programs, when costumed docents do their thing ("Pray, what manner of conveyance is an automobile?"). Or have lunch at the tavern itself. Waiters wear breeches, and the food's pretty good, though children used to McDonalds fries may be disappointed by the round "tavern fries."

-- John Kelly and Craig Stoltz