Salem needs a (real) Tavern

There are three bar-restaurants in Salem with the name “Tavern”: the Tavern at the Hawthorne Hotel, the Village Tavern, and the Tavern in the Square. None of these places are really taverns. The Hawthorne Hotel’s Tavern probably comes closest, but it is a tavern-esque room in a 1920s hotel, the Village Tavern and the Tavern in the Square are charmless modern sports bars which are located in neither village or square: they are certainly not taverns (see Matt’s comment below–it’s not in the square, it’s on the square, surely?). We have other places that come close to being taverns in some ways (In a Pig’s Eye, Naumkeag Ordinary) but I want the real thing. What I want is the long-lost Black Horse Tavern, or something very much like it.

The Black Horse Tavern/ Trask Homestead, built c. 1680

The Black Horse Tavern/ Trask Homestead, built c. 1680

I think every town in the greater Boston area had a Black House Tavern in the eighteenth century: Salem’s was located on Boston Street, a main entrance corridor then and now, and operated from about 1680 to 1740 by all accounts. The house survived until the later nineteenth century, I believe–certainly long enough to be photographed—but by that time it was primarily known as the old Trask house, after one of the seventeenth-century “Old Planter” settlers of Salem. I walked over to Boston Street to photograph its location and became quite excited when I found a near lookalike (disguised by 1970s siding and replacement windows)–but alas, its surviving neighbor is indeed the Samuel Bell House, built in 1721.

Black Horse 006

The Black Horse was hardly Salem’s only colonial tavern: these essential institutions are inextricably interwoven with the Witch Trials and every other public event in the past. Those two grande dames of Colonial Revivalism, Alice Morse Earle (1851-1911) and Salem-born Mary Harrod Northend (1850-1926) both loved taverns and revealed the names of Salem’s finest in Stage-coach and Tavern Days (1900), Memories of Old Salem (1917) and We Visit Old Inns (1925): the Ship Tavern, Thomas Beadle’s Tavern, the Kings Arms (which acquired the more politically correct name the Sun Tavern with the Revolution, and where John Adams frequented when he visited Salem), the Bunch of Grapes. In the words of Northend, in imagination you can enter one of these old Ordinaries, seat yourself by the side of the broad fireplace, warmed by the lively wood blaze that crackled in the hearth, and meet distinguished strangers. You can easily discern her fascination with taverns!

My tavern would look like an urban version of the Black Horse, because the post roads that Boston Street used to be ceased to exist in the age of the automobile. The hard and soft furnishings would be relatively easy to assemble, I think, so I’m fixated on the all important sign. If I were going to stick with the name Black Horse, a slightly more colorful version of the sign below (from a 2010 Skinner auction) would do nicely–but I think I might go for something more eccentric. I love the twentieth-century “Raven & Ring” sign, but this seems more appropriate for Baltimore than Salem. Whenever I do come up with a name (and a tavern) I have my signmaker all picked out:  Heidi Howard, Maker & Painter, who produced the White’s Tavern (with black horse) sign below.

Black Horse Tavern Sign Skinner

Tavern Sign Raven and Ring

Tavern Sign White

21 responses to “Salem needs a (real) Tavern

  • thecotegroup

    Great idea- I think your onto something!

  • Lisa

    WHen your place is open, you can count on me to be a “regular”, especially if you open up a spot in North Salem.

  • cecilia

    OH YES! Let me know when yoou are open for business, I will bring down old fashioned celebratory food!.. c

    • daseger

      Sounds great! I had not even considered the fare–which is typical me.

      • cecilia

        Years ago .. here.. there were ladies tasters bars. Where local wines were tasted (never drunk) by the ladies in little lounge bars.. like in the 1800’s I think. way pre-prohibition naturally!.. I need to do more research on those .. I want one. This was told to me by a very old woman and I am not terribly sure I have the story straight.. have you heard of anything like that?

      • daseger

        No….I’m captivated. I’ll start digging.

  • Matt

    To make matters worse, it is Tavern In the Square, not On the Square. It should be your way, but it isn’t. If they can’t be authentic, the least they can do is be idiomatic…..

  • Brian Bixby

    The last time I had a beer in a Tavern In the Square (not in Salem, though), the wide screen TVs playing sports drove me out, and I’ve not been back since. So, yes, a sports bar is not a tavern, or a pub, or a civilized spot for drink and conversation.

  • Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a place that called itself a “tavern” that was truly one. I wouldn’t be surprised if such a place no longer existed in the US. Brian is right – too many loud televisions and other foolishness make conversation all but impossible.

  • Dorothy V. Malcolm

    Donna, I love your posts and learn so much from them. Like you, I adore Salem and what its past means to those who love the old world charm here. The idea of a “real” tavern in town seems perfect. Even an antique building, an uninhabited house perhaps, and zoned for business/liquor license, could be transformed into a real and proper local tavern. After living in England for a decade, I can attest to the warmth and conviviality of a local tavern/pub. We need to get rid of the TVs and loud music and enjoy the ambience of a gathering spot where people meet and TALK to each other.

    All I can add to this is that a Black Horse Tavern, or by other name here in Salem would be a welcome antidote to the “new,” highly-unattractive buildings that are going up around town. Lately, Soviet-bloc type buildings (aka, “modern architecture”) are springing up and some older ones (i.e., Carlton St.) are being razed. And to us history, preservation and architectural zealots, a reuse project, a revived old building restored for use as a tavern would be so affirming to the original architecture, charm, society and sensibilities of Salem.

  • markd60

    I wonder why the horse seems affiliated with the tavern.

  • deemallon

    Why would the raven and ring be more appropriate for Baltimore? Another great post, here!

    • daseger

      I always think about Edgar Allen Poe when I think about Ravens and then I think about Baltimore.

      • deemallon

        I thought that might be the reason. I knew of his connection to Philadelphia and Charlottesville but not Baltimore. Btw have you seen that giant crow that sits on the curb heading out of town on Lowell street? I kind of love it.

  • daseger

    Dee—I think you mean the sign for Nightingale Arts–a cool store at #124.

  • janecantrell

    The “Trask House” belonged to my grandfather, William Trask. You mentioned photographing the spot the house stood on. Would you be able to share that photo with me?

    • daseger

      Hi Jane–it was basically on the lot next to the orangish house that’s in the post–I didn’t take a picture of the exact location at that time because the structure that now occupies the lot was not very inspiring–but I certainly can and will.

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