The most interesting part of any travelling experience, to most people at least, is to soak up the history and savour the local food and beverages of the area. And what better way than sitting in an old pub to enjoy a pint and listen to the stories that make the place iconic and a part of history.
While travel these days is not possible due to Covid restrictions, here are some of the oldest bars and pubs around the world and in Asia you can add to your bucket list and visit when things do get better.
St. Peter Stiftskulinarium, Salzburg, Austria
Established: 803 CE
St. Peter Stiftskulinarium was first mentioned in 803 in a text by English scholar Alcuin of York and thereby, is documented as the oldest inn in all of central Europe. Nobility was known to visit this inn in the 1700s and gained popularity as one of the best restaurants in the area. To this day, this place is known for its Austrian culinary treasures and secures one of the top spots for hosting large and intimate celebrations.
It is famous for its Mozart dinner which is served with a concert performed by the graduates of Salzburg’s Mozarteum University. Arias and duets from three of Mozart’s famous operas — Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro — are performed before and between courses. You can also look forward to a charming interpretation of the first movement of the popular serenade A Little Night Music.
Address: Sankt-Peter-Bezirk 1/4, 5020 Salzburg, Austria
Sean’s Bar, Athlone, Ireland
Established: 900 CE
Can you imagine a bar that has been open for business for the last 1100 years? The Guinness Book of World records listed Sean’s Bar as ‘The Oldest Public House in Ireland’. Thanks to the pub’s well-kept records, the name of every owner can be found since the days of its inception. During 1970s renovations, people discovered that the pub’s walls were made of wattle and wicker, a technique dating back to the 10th century.
The bar started as an inn by Luain Mac Luighdeach, a man who often used to guide travellers to cross the River Shannon. Today, the visitors and locals come here for a tipple of Irish whiskey and live music. Some of the artefacts found in the place, along with their certificate (granted in 2004) from Guinness legitimising the story, are proudly found hanging on walls.
Address: Co. Westmeath, 13 Main St, N37 DW76 Athlone, Ireland
The Bingley Arms, Bardsey, UK
Established: Between AD 905 and AD 953
Claiming to be the oldest pub in England, The Bingley Arm is swamped with a rich history of over 1000 years. In its early years, The Bingley Arms was called the ‘Priests Inn’ and was frequented by weary monks who desired a quick hot meal, a pint of beer and a good night’s sleep. It also served as a courthouse during the 11th century and was later renamed in the 1700s after its owner, Lord Bingley. These days, the pub continues to serve pints of beer, traditional Yorkshire blonde ale, a variety of gins and bread baked in its original Dutch oven among other food and beverages.
Address: Church Ln, Bardsey, LS17 9DR Leeds, United Kingdom
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham, UK
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem derives its name from the ‘Third Crusade’ in the 12th century. The trip in the name here is not a synonym for a journey but implies an older meaning that indicates a ‘break in the middle of a journey.’ Legend has it, that the Crusaders travelling to Jerusalem would often stop here for a pint as they were leaving. Though certain areas of the bar are said to be haunted, the ghost stories fail to detract from the bar’s popularity.
Structurally built into the same sandstone rock of Nottingham Castle, this alehouse is constructed into a series of caves and serves its booze in an eerie, cavern-like room that certainly looks its age. Tourists from all over the world visit this joint for a pint of beer and an out of this era experience.
Address: Brewhouse Yard, 1, NG1 6AD Nottingham, United Kingdom
The Brazen Head, Dublin, Ireland
The Brazen Head often competes with other Irish pubs for the standing of its historical heritage. Located in Dublin, this pub traces its origin back to an 1198 coach house. And since then, this pub has been serving drinks and delicious food to locals and several literary geniuses such as James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Brendan Behan, Van Morrison, Garth Brooks and many more.
It was here that the United Irishmen planned their insurrection and Robert Emmet used the pub to plan the Rising of 1803. His rebellion, however, failed and he was executed by hanging in nearby Thomas Street. Ironically, his hangman was also the patron of this pub.
Photographs on the walls inside hang as proof of Brazen Head’s place in many important events in Irish history. In fact, there is a wonderful sense of history throughout that has to be experienced in person. This brass-filled and lantern-lit pub today plays traditional live Irish music every night.
Address: 20 Lower Bridge St, Usher’s Quay, D08 WC64 Dublin, Ireland
Ye Olde Man & Scythe, Bolton, UK
Ye Olde Man & Scythe is yet another famous ancient bar in England. With its first documentation mentioned as early as the 13th century, this Bolton pub has gradually built a reputation for its cold pints. There is a lot of history as well, including a story about the seventh Earl of Derby famously having the last meal before getting beheaded for his part in the Bolton Massacre of 1644. To this day, a chair he is said to have sat on remains inside the building.
Since the 1600s, the pub has been renovated time and time again with its vaulted cellar as the only remnant portion of the original structure. Composed of a series of small and cosy rooms, this bar is ideal for an intimate social gathering. Though it is famous for its authentic English tapped beer, the cider has been one of its rejoiced favourites since forever.
Address: 6-8 Churchgate, BL1 1HL Bolton, United Kingdom
Al Brindisi, Ferrara, Italy
Dating back to 1435, Al Brindisi is the oldest Enoteca (wine bar) in the world according to Guinness World Records. The wine bar was originally called ‘Hosteria del Chiuchiolino,’ referring to the Italian word ‘chiù’ meaning a ‘drunk’ in the local dialect, while its current iteration ‘Al Brindisi’ is a nod to the word ‘brindare’ which in Italian means ‘to cheers.’
The fact that historical legends like Italian astronomer Galileo and Nicolaus Copernicus (the Polish mathematician and astronomer) are said to have visited this tavern adds an exquisite value to this place. Fun fact: Copernicus briefly studied at the ‘University of Ferrara’ in 1503 and lived on the first floor of the bar. The place still serves its traditional pasta and supplementary thick wine to customers who come here to experience the Italian culture. Their must-try specialities are vino fermo (still wine), vino frizzante (fizzy wine) and the famous bubbly Lambrusco, a rosé that’s recommended to pair with Italian hams and other dishes. Since this established den dates back to the Renaissance, people can take a journey back in time while savouring their drink.
Address: Via Adelardi, 11, 44100 Ferrara FE, Italy
White Horse Tavern, Rhode Island, US
This National Historic Landmark (recognised in 1972) claims to be the “Oldest operating restaurant in the US,” serving customers since 1673. It is said to be the favourite drinking joint of the founding fathers and Britishers. The tavern also served as a boarding house and British military quarters during the Revolutionary War.
Today, they are famous for their “contemporary culinary experience” serving local cuisine and wine pairings from around the globe. If you wish to dine here, you will adhere to their dress code of smart casuals, which includes slacks, denim trousers, blazers, button-down shirts, sweaters, dresses. Athletic wear or shoes, hats, sleeveless shirts or distressed denim are a strict no.
Address: 26 Marlborough St, Newport, 02840 Rhode Island, United States
And, now, here’s a look at some bars that have stood the test of time in Asia.
Chhota Bristol, Kolkata, India
Nothing prepares one for the manic activity which takes place at the bustling Chhota Bristol (or Shaw Bar) of Kolkata, India. Known as one of the oldest and cheapest bars in Asia, this men-only joint is full of character and has no official menu. Upon reaching, you’ve to refer to an elaborate LED board that displays alcohol rates like shares at the stock exchange. You cannot occupy a table exclusively and it’s mandatory to pay before ordering.
This place only employs confirmed teetotallers as waiters so that they can balance up to 20 glasses at a time. The bar doesn’t serve any food, just alcohol. Customers can buy aloo chat, fish fingers and chilli chicken from the street vendors camped outside to complement their drinks.
Address: 1A, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Esplanade, Dharmatala, Taltala, Kolkata, 700013 West Bengal, India
Long Bar, Singapore
Long Bar at Raffles Hotel is one of the oldest bars in almost all of Southeast Asia. Selling up to 2000 glasses a day, its iconic gin-based cocktail Singapore Sling is still a hit. Raffles bartender Ngiam Tong Boon created this pink drink in 1915 because public drinking by women was frowned upon.
In the 1900s, the pub was just a place with rows of tables overlooking the beach road visited by businessmen who travelled to Singapore from Malay. In 1919, the bar was moved to the 12-square-metre ballroom within Raffles hotel and was transformed into a two-storey bar during the 1991 restoration. Unfortunately, as the second round of hotel renovations began, the bar shifted to the Bar and Billiard room, which is a standalone building within the Raffles compound, built in 1896.
Address: Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road, 189673, Singapore
The Jazz Bar, Shanghai, China
Jazz arrived in Shanghai through its dance halls and private clubs. The Jazz Bar at Fairmont Peace Hotel held a reputation for its live old-school tunes and English-style décor. Its rising fame among locals and tourists during the 1920s-30s quickly became pivotal to Shanghai’s ‘Jazz Age’ movement. American presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan are among the big names who have enjoyed a tipple at this venue in its heydays.
The rustic bar has now been renovated and made smaller, but the original dark wood double door, wood panelling and stone features have been preserved. It is best known for its ‘Old Jazz Band’ (a routine band of six veteran musicians) and specialities like martinis and Manhattans.
Address: Fairmont Peace Hotel, 20 Nanjing E Rd, Nan Jing Dong Lu, Huangpu, 200002 Shanghai, China
The Service 1921 Restaurant and Bar, Chiang Mai, Thailand
This bar and lounge is a part of the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort & Spa, a premium resort located right on the Ping River in downtown Chiang Mai. This luxurious property comprises private terraces, wood floors, rain showers, freestanding bathtubs, a riverside swimming pool, a spacious gym and a spa with private treatment rooms.
This area of the resort was designed after restoring a British Consulate building, originally constructed in 1884 when EB Gould was appointed as the UK Deputy Consul in Chiang Mai. It is famous for hosting elite dinner parties and events. Mae Ping River (a customised drink made from an intricate mix of rum and wine) is a must-try, along with the variety of cuisines and wine pairings. End your day with a single-malt whiskey and Cuban cigars.
Address: The Anantara Chiang Mai Resort & Spa, 123 Charoen Prathet Road, T.Changklan, A.Muang, Chang Khlan, 50100 Chiang Mai, Thailand