January 26, 2023
The National Park Service is looking for a new tenant to take over the former location of City Tavern in Old City, which shuttered in late 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Independence National Historical Park, which is responsible for maintaining park resources associated with the American Revolution, has issued a Request For Proposals in an effort to find a tenant willing to lease and operate City Tavern. Though the new tenant would be required to open a restaurant in part of the building, other portions of the building, located at 138 S. Second Street, can be reserved for other uses related to its historical setting.
The National Park Service is hoping that the tenant will be ready to open the 15,100 square-foot restaurant in its current condition by July 1. The restaurant does not have to retain City Tavern's colonial theme and focus on the American Revolution, but it must "have character, attract diverse visitors and serve the surrounding community as well as visitors to the park," according to the federal agency.
Originally constructed in 1773, City Tavern was an unofficial meeting place frequented by members of the first Continental Congress as well as the nation's founding fathers. It was where Paul Revere brought word of the Boston Tea Party, where George Washington held a banquet honoring the Marquis de Lafayette and where Thomas Jefferson took breaks in between writing the Declaration of Independence. Known as one of the "finest" taverns in the colonies, it was partially destroyed by fire in 1834 and fully demolished in 1854.
The building was reconstructed as a replica in 1975. In 1994, restauranteur and cookbook author Walter Staib, who owns more than 650 restaurants around the world, received congressional approval to open the restaurant and ran it with a colonial theme, serving 18th century-inspired dishes and beers named after George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
In November 2020, Staib announced on Facebook that his restaurant was closing since overseas tourism was responsible for about 40% of its business. Though the city's stay-at-home order had expired by this point in the year, City Tavern was unable to make up the difference in business.
"I couldn't even tell you right off the bat when the pandemic started all the cancellations of the normal tours we get, the fall tours. Everything was just cancelled," Staib told the Philadelphia Business Journal. "They won't bring it back with my food or any food, I don't know, but they'll bring it back. It's too important of a building of 18th-century American history to just let it sit there neglected."
The building has five levels, including three dining floors, three kitchens, numerous offices and storage space. There's also a large outdoor patio that would be included in the new restaurant's plans.
In its official request, the Independence National Historical Park acknowledges that the new lease would require the installation of an elevator and possible new entrance through the back of the building in order to ensure it's accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Restauranteurs looking to lease the property would need approval from NPS to add any additional structures or update the property, in order to ensure there's an appropriate balance between designing the restaurant for more frequent use and ensuring that its cultural value remains intact.
New tenant proposals must be submitted by March 27 and will be chosen by May 1 in order to ensure that the space can be open for business by July. The lease will be made for at least 10 years, and its hours of operation will likely not extend past midnight or begin before 6 a.m., though NPS is able to make that choice.