features, food, travel

King’s Arms Tavern

The pewter salt cellar feels cool and slightly gritty to the touch; it sounds a soft clap when replaced on the wooden table. The reproduction Chippendale and Queen Anne furniture, and the maps and other prints on the painted wooden walls of the King’s Arms Tavern‘s tightly packed eleven rooms, represent styles favored by the well-off planters and other ladies and gentlemen in the very stratified society of colonial Virginia.

The King’s Arms opened in 1772, although during the War for Independence its name was changed to Mrs. Vobe’s, after its owner, and later to Eagle Tavern. Today it operates under its original name, and offers a comforting continuity in Colonial Williamsburg, where other eating establishments change format frustratingly frequently.

Taverns like the King’s Arms, as well as coffeehouses, figured prominently in the birth of the American republic. Mrs. Vobe’s provided food, drink, and lodging to American soldiers. George Washington sometimes dined there when visiting Virginia’s capital.

They also provided venues for men catch up on the news and debate events of the day. In the 21st century, sporadically pleasant servers in period costume bring baskets of bread lined with reproductions of the Virginia Gazette.

The Tavern offers 18th-century menu choices including peanut soupe, fried chicken, and game pye, which features venison, rabbit, and duck. They have a daily pasta dish, and call it macaroni. The meaty fare smells hearty, and it is–soft, salty comfort food whose flavor comes from its main ingredients rather than blends of spices and herbs.

Sadly, like most everything at Colonial Williamsburg, it is overpriced. Baron von Steuben once ran up a bill of 300 Spanish dollars for food, drink, and lodging there, and it’s not hard to imagine how. A couple today could easily spend above $100 in today’s American currency on a single soupe-to-syllabub dinner with drinks, and, frankly, the food isn’t worth it. But like Mrs. Vobe’s clientele, today’s visitors are paying for the atmosphere and the location near the Capitol. And travellers who truly want to include a tavern experience in their Williamsburg visit may well find it worth planning for a meal at the King’s Arms Tavern.

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