Happy (Early) Birthday to Union Oyster House, America's Oldest Restaurant

Rachel Tepper Paley
August 1, 2014

Photo credit: Library of Congress

When Union Oyster House first opened in downtown Boston, Massachusetts on August 3, 1826, Ludwig van Beethoven was still alive and composingjelly beans hadn’t yet been invented, and now-extinct passenger pigeons still fluttered in abundant flocks across the skies of North America.

That was a long time ago. But Union Oyster House has stood the test of time, despite a name change (it was originally called Atwood & Bacon Oyster House) and changing hands twice (today it’s owned by brother-sister duo Joseph A. Milano, Jr. and Mary Ann Milano Picardi). 

Today, it remains the oldest restaurant currently operating in the United States. The fare is hearty and decidedly New England—Frommer’s notes that locals who frequent it are “not looking for anything fancy, and you shouldn’t, either"—but sometimes it’s the simplest fare that hits the spot.

If you find yourself in Boston anytime soon, drop in and order a briny plate of freshly shucked oysters or a steaming bowl of creamy clam chowder. Perhaps sidle into the booth once favored by President John F. Kennedy, which is now emblazoned with a plaque and an engraved image of him.

But if you’re out of town, perhaps celebrate Union Oyster House’s birthday with a platter of chilled oysters on the half shell. Pair them with an icy beer while you’re at it. And think about how taste buds in the 19th century weren’t all that different from yours right now.