St Augustine, Florida is the oldest city in North America (almost 450 years old) and it's full of fascinating places of historical interest, but there's one place, Taberna del Gallo (Tavern of the Rooster) where you can hang out and have a glass of the best Sangria in town in the candle-lit ambiance of 1734. The current tavern on St. George Street, was constructed in the early 1970s but it's on the site and in the style of a tavern that existed there in the eighteenth century. History is often filled with stories that conflict and it's sometimes hard to know which is the real one, but the story we have about this little tavern is that it was owned by a widow named Ursula Avero. Senora Avero had several sisters, one of whom lived next door in a house that's also part of the Historic Spanish Quarter and the others were just down the street. The tavern would have been Senora Avero's home, her place of business and her livelihood. She would most likely have bequeathed the house and land to a daughter or a niece, unlike the British and Northern Europeans in the rest of the American colonies, where women did not own or inherit property.
Taverns provided the city with revenue from the taxes applied to each bottle and barrel dispensed. Here in St. Augustine, wine would have been most often served as the Spanish did not care for beer, sometimes brandy or rum as well. In the winter there would be no fireplace as a more northern tavern would have had, but patrons might gather around a small brassier filled with charcoal to get warm. In the summer, the wide open windows on the east and west would do their best to let the breezes of the river flow through to cool you off. The tavern would have been lit with small oil lamps, sometimes burning fuel that didn't smell all that great. (Fear not, today's candles and lamps are very agreeable.) There would have been no bar lined with stools as we know it today, but rather a tiny stand-up bar, perhaps small tables and low stools. The glasses, cutlery and dishes as well as the furnishings would likely have been mismatched, collected as needed for the owner’s use.
Taverns in the eighteenth century functioned as clubs, cavalry soldiers at one, grenadiers at another, apprentices, leather workers, blacksmiths - all would have had their favorite places to hang out. Some would have been places where it was acceptable for decent women to go accompanied by a male relative and others where she would never go. This is the place folk gathered to relax, perhaps to barter for a home cooked meal, to gamble and drink and to share all the local gossip and the latest news. Amid friends and like-minded folk, the tavern was a great place to spend your free time, just as it is today.
So, come on down and while you're drinking a local brew on tap, a glass of wine or a great sangria, you can chat with any of the tavern keepers who love to share their knowledge about the tavern itself, other buildings in the colonial living history museum, the life and times of the Spanish people who founded this city, and the pirates, soldiers, citizens and seamen who once strode down these streets. I could easily spend an entire afternoon listening to their stories and historical oddities. In fact, I volunteer there and spend several hours every week doing just that, and I always come home with some new bit of history to add to my store of knowledge about St Augustine.
Or you can play a 700 year old game called Shut the Box. Played by mariners, fishermen, and probably soldiers as well, one didn't need to know the language or dialect of the others around the table to spend a convivial evening gambling and drinking your way though any of quite a few variations of this basic game. So come on down, pull up a stool and we'll show you how to play, and even how to turn it into a gambling game for 2, or more players.