March 17, 2005
CW's Shields Tavern brews new flavor as 18th-century coffeehouse
What’s perking in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area this season? Certainly not the same old grind. The restored 18th-century capital of Virginia has added a new flavor to the mix at its successful James Shields Tavern by transforming the establishment into an 18th-century coffeehouse.
Coffee you say? How un-British. Ah, but remember, tea was out of fashion in the pre-Revolutionary colonies and coffee was quite the rage in Europe and Great Britain. The first English “Coffee House” opened in Oxford in 1650. Fifty years later, there were 2,000 coffeehouses in London alone. Williamsburg’s historical records reveal that when tavernkeeper Daniel Fisher took over Shields Tavern in 1751, he recorded in his journal that the locals called the building “the English Coffee House.” By 1767, the exotic, dark brew also was being sipped at Richard Charlton’s Coffee House located next to the Capitol in the area of Williamsburg called the Exchange, “where all money business (was) transacted” and the governor and his council were frequent patrons. Today the site is an archaeological dig across Duke of Gloucester Street from Shields Tavern.
“The rebirth of an 18th-century coffeehouse in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg will be an exciting and much requested enhancement to our guest experience,” said John Hallowell, president of Colonial Williamsburg Company Hospitality Group.
When Shields Tavern re-opens for the 2005 season later this month, it will operate in the spirit of an 18th-century coffeehouse, providing a venue for interaction between guests and interpreters.
The tavern will offer coffeehouse fare in the tradition prepared by James Shields in the 1740s.
Over a cold beverage, hot chocolate or coffee and good eats such as Savory Egg Custard, Smithfield Honey Ham Biscuits, Platter of Sausages and Cheeses, Garden Greens with Breast of Hen, Soup of the Day, Fresh Fruit Plate, and an assortment of cakes, pies, breads and cookies, guests are invited to discuss 18th-century “events of the day” and other topics with members of the Colonial Williamsburg staff.
In the evening, a portion of the historic establishment will operate as a tavern with a bar (the name “bar” is derived from the bars that encase and lock the area where spirits are kept) and evening fare such as Welsh Rarebit, Yorkshire Beef Pasties and Country Shoat Pate. Guests are invited to relax here before or after dining in one of Colonial Williamsburg’s three other taverns, King’s Arms Tavern, Christiana Campbell’s Tavern and Chowning’s Tavern, which serve full 18th-century meals. Costumed servers will continue the tradition of interpreting the 18th-century coffeehouse experience amidst period tavern furnishings and decorations.
Shields Tavern will be open daily for coffee, beverages and light fare from 8:30 a.m. and throughout the day. The tavern bar will provide an inviting atmosphere from 3 p.m. until closing. Shields’ cellar tavern room is available for banquets and a covered garden area behind the tavern offers an ideal outdoor space for group functions with 18th-century entertainment, weather permitting.
Carol C. Godwin