The prime location for a tavern was adjacent to a courthouse or a ferry. Tavern and inn keepers had easy access to prominent citizens as they made many acquaintances, or maintained a creditor’s hold over their patrons. In larger cities, tavern owners competed with each other for customers, advertising the merits of their establishments in the local paper.
Taverns were not known for good food, people ate because they were hungry. Patrons sat together and were served together. They could take as much as they wanted from “communal bowls,” but this food disappeared fast.
The meals varied greatly by the location, the season, and the food available. Some communities set standards for food service or distinguished between a “good meal” and a “common meal.” Prices were usually fixed by local law.
Most meats were heavily salted for preservation. They may consist of beef or veal; pigeon, duck or turkey; mutton; salmon, eels, oysters, or lobster. Generally shell fish was preferred over fish. Pork (ham or bacon) was the most popular meat served to travelers, but in the south it was chicken. Even bear meat and smoked or pickled tongue were not uncommon.
Vegetables were not very popular at the time. Where were their mothers? But potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, beets, onions, cabbage, squash, and cucumbers were usually available.
The most popular distilled liquor of the time was Rum. Most of it was imported from the West Indies. Punch, the second most popular, was a combination of exotic fruit ingredients. Lime punch was the favorite version. Punch was served warm and by the bowl. Both punch and wine were consumed by the more affluent customers. Wines were imported from Spain and Germany, when available.
The “toddy” was rum mixed with sugar, water, wine, beer, and nutmeg. This was also served by the bowl.
Most average colonials drank cheaper, fermented beverages made locally. Hard cider was sold by the jug, and was designated as “summer” or “winter” cider. Cider was a favorite in both New England and in the deep South. Beer was also locally brewed. Homemade liquors such as peach or apple brandy became popular after the Revolutionary War stopped the importation of many other alcohols.