Gadsby’s Tavern Museum consists of three buildings, an 18th-century tavern, city tavern and five star hotel. Named after John Gadsby, the tavern was a popular venue for politicians, businessman and socialites. It was the place to be in the City of Alexandria for dining, the arts, community meetings or a good night’s sleep. Patrons included several US presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.
The museum consists of three levels, but only the first floor is conducive to strollers. The thirty minute tour presents the history and importance of Gadsby’s Tavern when Alexandria was a bustling seaport. Built in the Georgian style, the buildings include two dining rooms, two ballrooms, a hotel and a rare, subterranean ice well located outside the buildings.
The main dining room is recreated with fake food and a table set up for playing checkers or backgammon. While the area is roped off to a point, the tour guide will let you touch a reproduction of a lemon squeezer, sugar cone, and sugar nippers. The private dining room is across from here and was reserved for VIP guests like George Washington. Washington was a frequent patron and the dining table is set with his favorite dishes: duck and hominy, along with a card table and flute where musicians would have entertained him and his wife.
The second floor has two ballrooms where dances and a circus were once held. Gadsby was a great entertainer and even brought along his pet pig known as “the wonderful pig of knowledge” for amusement. The handmade nails in the floor and the stairwell leading to the third floor are both original. The second, fancy ballroom was reserved for auspicious occasions. George Washington attended the Birthnight Ball held in his honor for his last two birthdays. Thomas Jefferson held his inaugural banquet here. During the Civil War, the ballroom became living quarters and offices for the Union. See the fireplace grate which is original. The most unique area of the room is where the musicians played.
Part of the second floor was a private hotel room reserved for military generals or those who had a lot of money. The third floor had rooms with beds and bedsteads. Learn about the meaning behind the rhyme “good night, sleep tight.” With the exception of John Gadsby’s portrait, photos are allowed in the museum. The tiny gift shop is filled with chocolate sticks, peanuts, tea, wine and jewelry all from Virginia. There are also quill pens, children’s books and Civil War toys.
The museum is open year round, but check the website as days and times of operation change seasonally. Admission is reasonable at $5 for adults, $3 for children and free for under age 5. If you are a AAA member or dine at Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant you will receive a discount on admission. You can also visit the website to receive $1 off your visit.
There is metered parking on North Royal Street and two hour parking on nearby residential streets. Parking regulations are strictly enforced. The closest parking garage is across the street at 108 N. Fairfax St. During the week, city parking garages fill quickly. I recommend visiting on a weekend when parking is cheaper and plentiful. The museum is 1.5 miles from the King Street Metro station. When you exit the station, hop on the free King Street Trolley and get off at King and Royal Streets.
Our Kids recommends a visit to Gadsby’s Tavern Museum for elementary-aged students in grade 3 and up. Gadsby’s Tavern Museum offers events throughout the year including period dancing, historic candlelight tours, the Swordsmen Rendevous, Family Tour Days and more. Plus for the youngest of visitors, check out Tavern Toddlers. The weekly open play time is for walkers through 36 months. The ongoing event is held in the historic ballroom and cost $7 for a group of 3 people per session (must include one adult). Additional persons are $3 each.
After touring the museum, head next door to Gadsby’s Tavern for a unique dining experience featuring 18th-century cuisine served by staff in colonial attire.