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The Story of the Bell-in-Hand

There aren’t many historical sites where you can get a great meal and a cold beer. You’re in one of them. The Tavern has been around since 1795. A gathering place for printers and politicians, sailors and students, it quickly became the most famous alehouse in the city. What was it about the Bell that made it so popular?

Maybe it was Jimmy Wilson, the first owner. Everybody in Boston knew Jimmy. Not that they had much choice. You see, Jimmy was Boston’s town crier for fifty years. Good news or bad, Bostonians heard it all from Jimmy. He reported on everything from the Boston Tea Party to the birth of the nation. When he retired, he decided to open a tavern. He was proud of his former occupation and that’s why he called the place the Bell-in-Hand.

Maybe it was the ale. Not one for “hard stuff”, Jimmy refused to sell the whiskey, rum and gin so popular in other taverns of the day. No, only ale would be served at the Bell, but what an ale! So thick, it was served in two mugs, one for the ale and the second for the froth. It’s quite possible that the ale became better known than Jimmy.

Maybe it was the atmosphere. Everyone felt welcome at the Bell-in-Hand. It attracted folks from all walks of life who came for the ale and the lively conversation. Conversation must have easily come to the journalists, lawyers, actors and city leaders who made the Bell-in-Hand their unofficial headquarters. Even Daniel Webster was known to drop in, no doubt for his inspiration for one of his famous speeches! Yes, the Bell has always been the spot for a good time in Boston.

So, was it Jimmy, the ale or the atmosphere? Who knows? Whatever it was, it’s been working for over 200 years. It’s how the Bell-in-Hand became the oldest tavern in America. Today, the tradition continues. Our patrons still come to eat, drink and enjoy each other’s company. Live music and DJ on the weekends adds to the festivities.

We think Jimmy would approve.

  • History

    Testimonial

    “It's got a great atmosphere, and during the summer, the windows open out to give the place a nice breeze.”

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  • Fun Facts



    Fun Facts...

    ...about the Bell-in-Hand Tavern

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45 Union Street, Boston MA 02108 Tel: (617) 227-2098 Hours: Daily 11am-2am