Open 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday (only the tavern room is open 2:30-5:30 p.m.). Sunday hours are from 3-9 p.m. Reservations for dinner only. American Express, Bank Americard and Diner's Club cards accepted.
Your arrival won't be announced by the same 15 "discharges of cannon" that greeted The General when he visited Gadsby's Tavern, but you can still dine today on the fish, fowl and game George Washington enjoyed and in the same elegant rooms that caused Gadsby's of Alexandria to be called one of America's most magnificent inns 175 years ago.
Whilst ladies were not present at the many public dinners in Washington's honor at Gadsby's (nor were children), my wife, two boys and I were all made equally welcome when we recently sallied forth to eat there. But he warned: Gadsby's is not an any-night-out restaurant. The prices almost require a special occasion.
Our 13-year-old, with a taste for history, ordered "General Washington's Favorite Duck" to follow his seafood chowder. He spurned the children's portion, at half price, because he said he didn't want to eat a baby duck. But while canvasback duck in Madeira wine is reputed to have been a Washington favorite, especially with a side order of hominy, Mount Vernon's historian insists the first President never mentioned ducks in his writings, canvasback or otherwise, although he wrote often and enthusiastically of Madeira. (Wild canvasbacks are now a protected species and no longer appear on menus in any case).
For our 10-year-old the evening peaked well before his main course of "Old Town Veal," a pleasant but somewhat innocuous dish. "I could just sit here and eat the bread," he said contentedly after a large bowl of seafood chowder, several glasses of water and 15 minutes of non-stop consumption of homemade Sally Lunn bread, a sweet, almost cake-like bread named after the apocryphal Ms. Lunn.
His meal was capped by our knickered, pony-tailed waiter, Jeffrey, steppong on his toes and saying, "Excuse me, sir." For Sir, the meal had litte more to offer except some "old-fashioned ice cream" (Gifford's) for desert.
"Jimmy Carter peanut soup" won the adult vote for first course. While we admired its namesake, we found the soup too thick and filling.
"Scalloped oysters Alexandria," prepared to a Williamsburg recipe, as are many of Gadsby's dishes, were as great a success with my wife as they reportedly were in the 1880s when Alexandria was one of America's major seaports, jammed with square-riggers and flotillas of oyster boats.
I, too, tried the Madeira duck, althought it delicious - authentic or not - although another time I would be tempted to try Gadsby's wild-card additions to the menu: quail, pheasant, venison and fresh trout, which it now occasionally offers as specials with its dinner menu.
Gadsby's inexpensive "light-fare" luncheon menu is available at dinner as well, but only in the tavern room entrance to the inn, a slightly less formal dining area with Windsor chairs, Deft china and a draft from the front door. It doesn't have the simple elegance of the inn's two main dining rooms, where country Chippendale chairs, varnished tables, pewter and candles sparkle like Vermeer paintings. But the tavern room is a good place for families with children who gorge happily on bread and first courses.
We shared a bottle of Great Western Delaware wine, a light native American wine as good as most Moselles, and finished with the homemade pecan pie, topped with freshly whipped cream, of another legendary lady, Miss Cory.
Gadsby's is not cheap. But then it never was. Its early 19th Century patrons often complained it rainked with New York taverns in both elegance and expense. Bills there frequently ran to 15 shilings and more, though the present management, Georgetown Holdings, Inc. - which runs the Publick House, Third Edition and Chadwicks in Georgetown and leases Gadsby's from the city of Alexandria - has kindly priced its menu in dollars. For the four of us the bill came to more than 400 shillings, or $58, including tip, for our poline, pantalooned waiter, Jeffrey.
Dinner menu courses range from First-Watch Stew at $5.25 to Roast Beef at $8.95, with the "General's favorite duck" at $8.25. Luncheon fare ranges from $2.50 to $3.75 for sandwiches, salads, cheese and ham dishes and stew.
But it was all a delicious course in history, closer, more authentic and no more expensive than Williamsburg's reconstructed Raleigh Tavern, which it resembles in style, and the King's Arms, which it resembles in menu.
After your lunch or dinner you can stand on the same steps where George Washington stood to review his troops, then join the trops of tourists to nearby Carlyle House where Washington helped plan the disastrous French-Indian campaign or stroll around the city's royally named pre-Revolutionary) steets; Royal, Duke, Prince, King, Queen, etc. And Gadsby's has its own museum, where you can tour the room where Washignton, and many early presidents, minueted and occasionally slept.
All in all it is a very palatable way to take your history.