"George Washington slept here." If you’ve wandered through the state, chances are you’ve come across that sign many times, but it’s not just inns and historic sites that share the state’s, and America’s, rich history. Many restaurants also share a side of the past right alongside gourmet o erings.
Located off the beaten path and hidden from the hustle and bustle of downtown Philadelphia is Pennsylvania’s oldest restaurant, McGillin’s Olde Ale House. McGillin’s not only survived Prohibition, but it also lays claim to being one of the first to serve the famous Philly Cheesesteak. The pub was established in 1860, the same year that President Abraham Lincoln was elected, under the original name The Bell-in-Hand, by Irish immigrant William McGillin and his wife. Since the McGillin family and their 13 children lived above the tavern, patrons nicknamed the place after their surname, which became official in 1909. The current owner of McGillin’s, Christopher Mullins, has kept the business going with the same old-fashioned values since his family took over in 1958.
This year, McGillin’s celebrated its 155th anniversary. “We are the oldest bar in Philadelphia; that is our standard line, however, we are the oldest in Pennsylvania, and the fifth oldest in the country,” says owner Chris Mullins. Today, McGillin’s Olde Ale House is part of the Midtown Village in Philadelphia, a 15-minute walk to Independence Hall. “The first time you come to McGillin’s, you most likely will be blown away by our location,” says Mullins. “We are nestled in the middle of a service alley in Center City Philadelphia, with lots of dumpsters.”
McGillin’s Olde Ale House accommodates hundreds of events a year, mainly on the second floor, which holds up to 90 people with 66 seats including 32 barstools between the bar and high top tables. The street level is available only on select Sunday and Monday nights for up to 150 guests.
The Hyeholde’s history is that of a true love story between William and Clara Kryskill. While standing in a cornfield surrounded by the rolling hills, William told Clara that he would build her a castle. In 1931 the building process began, using stone and wood from the old Stonesifer barn to create their future home and restaurant. Now in its 78th year, the Kryskills’ daughter, Barbara McKenna, continues to operate the mystical castle where she grew up. Located 16 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, The Hyeholde is a hidden gem in a rural setting. The Round Room is the contemporary space specifically used to host events, accommodating up to 110 seated guests. There is an adjacent garden, ideal for tents. Since the Hyeholde was once utilized as a home as well as a restaurant, the upstairs has seven rooms that can be used as meeting spaces. The largest room, the main dining room is traditional in décor and structure and is an intimate space for 35 seated guests.
Across the 132-year-old Smithfield Street Bridge from Downtown Pittsburgh and at the foot of the Monongahela Incline sits the Grand Concourse. During the late 1800s, Pittsburgh’s steel industry was booming and the city’s population was rapidly growing. The city was in need of a railroad station. In 1873, the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad had its first charter, catering to the luxury passenger. The station impressed passersby with rich mahogany, shiny brass, ornate marble accents and stained glass windows. Today, the Grand Concourse resides in the restored historic landmark with many of the original details and beauty.
Western Pennsylvanians host their wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners and charity events at the Grand Concourse, not only for the ambiance and city views, but also for their ability to accommodate large parties. The railroad station that was once referred to as the Little Giant during its glory days now seats over 600 people for a steak and seafood dinner or an extravagant Sunday brunch offering food stations, like an omelet bar and homemade donut station. The entire main dining room seats 200, the three private rooms vary in size with capacities of 38, 60 and 80. The River Room along the Monongahela River seats 130 and the patio seats an additional 60. Adjacent to the Grand Concourse is the more casual dining venue featuring a raw bar, Gandy Dancer Saloon, suitable for a party size up to 80 people.
In 1811, Ireland native and farmer William Quail purchased 147 acres in Washington County, roughly 25 miles south of Downtown Pittsburgh. Quail wanted the property to raise a family and The Quail House was built in 1837. Today, the registered landmark has been restored, preserving many of the original structural and decorative elements. The mansion serves as an Italian restaurant, Palazzo 1837, welcoming intimate gatherings year-round. The venue can accommodate 40 guests on the main level, 60 upstairs and 50 on the covered patio. For an intimate meeting space, there are smaller dining rooms for eight to 16 people.
Pennsylvania’s rural landscape is dotted with farm homes, barns, crops and animals. In Leechburg, the 1844 Restaurant began with a land grant in 1756. Almost 100 years went by before there was record of the land being sold to James and Robert Coulter, who built the farmhouse. Throughout the years, the land was sold numerous times and in 1893 it ended up in the lap of fruit farmer Anthony Wayne Smith and his son, a prestigious horse breeder, Herman Hill Smith. Restoration of the 1844 Restaurant began in 1972 and was completed two years later, offering patrons American cuisine in the farmhouse with the original fireplaces, stonework and woodwork. The intimate and rustic venue can accommodate 35-40 people on the main level, with banquet space in the Lantern Room to host wedding and events up to 60 people. On the second story of the farmhouse, there are four small rooms to seat 10-16 people.