Friday, July 18, 2008

Ye Olde Patriot Coffeehouse

Colonial Williamsburg, which describes itself as "the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia—the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous outpost of empire in the New World," is in the process of reconstructing Richard Charlton's coffeehouse, an establishment that once existed near the colonial Capitol building. According to this article:

[The coffeehouse] wasn't a big space: two rooms that total 35 square feet, with a fireplace in the middle. Once the place is rebuilt, the public room will hold 12 to 15 visitors who come in for tea, coffee or chocolate.

It was the location that helped Charlton to find his upscale market: His coffeehouse was just a few feet from the Capitol. Royal Governor Francis Fauquier wrote of taking his political advisers there — and of saving a royal tax collector from Charlton's front porch when an anti-Stamp Act mob cornered him there in 1765.

The coffeehouse served Williamsburg residents and visiting politicians from 1755 to 1769. Unlike a tavern, a coffeehouse usually catered only to men, served hot beverages more often than alcohol and was not required to rent rooms. [James] Horn [vice president of research for Colonial Williamsburg] said this reconstruction will be the only true Colonial coffeehouse in the United States.

Hmmm ... a true Colonial coffeehouse, sort of an 18th-century Starbucks. I see endless possibilities for the sort of Kolonial Kitsch that makes me so enjoy Williamsburg. It goes without saying that Charlton's coffeehouse will serve Americanos, but will it also have Liberty Lattes, Freedom Frappuccinos, and Shaken Limey Tea? Modern-day cup sizes of Tall/Grande/Vente might be translated into 18th-century vernacular as Wee/Middling/Buxom. And I can all too easily imagine a Patrick Henry 'living history' re-enactor declaiming: "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me a double espresso or give me death!"

When they get that place finished, I'll be the first customer in line.


Anonymous said...

Cute, but don't you find it conveniently coincidental that CW "discovers" the existence of this coffeehouse at the height of Starbucks popularity? I love CW, too, but I take alot of its supposed authenticity with a grain of salt.

TSB said...


It's a reconstruction of a genuine coffeehouse all right, but you do bring up a good question. Why didn't they feel the need for a coffeehouse before now? On the other hand, the kitchy stuff is the fun part of CW.