A night out at the local dive with your friends is usually pretty predictable. You might get hit on by a creepy guy old guy that reminds you of your father; or make a fool of yourself by dancing on (and then falling off) the bar. One of your friends might even have a little too much to drink and lose their dinner out the window of an Uber.
But while your Friday nights may not be world-changing, there have been many important historical events that took place in bars all over the world, from public executions to the birth of liberation movements. Perhaps it’s not surprising that, as a place where drunken crowds gather, bars have been the site of riots and brawls – but they’ve also served as sober meeting places for political and military figures of all types. So next time you hit the town, take a brief selfie break and look around to see if any history is being made.
The Stonewall Riots
In the late 1960s, homosexual sex was illegal in almost every state in the US, even in private homes. New York had one of the largest gay populations, but also had some of the strictest anti-sodomy laws. The state even formed squads of police that would raid gay bars as well as use undercover officers to solicit sex from gay individuals and then arrest them if they consented.
On June 28, 1969, the police were again harassing the patrons of a gay bar in Greenwich called the Stonewall Inn. However, on this night, the patrons got fed up and began resisting the officers. A riot quickly broke out and word spread throughout the city. Other men and women in the city rushed to the Stonewall Inn to aid in the resistance against the officers. Police reinforcements arrived sometime later and dispersed the crowd. But the following night, over 1,000 men and women returned to the Stonewall Inn and protested for hours until a riot squad was called in to break things up.
The incident at the Stonewall Inn led to discussions about the rights for members of the LGBT community in America and led to the formation of the first LGBT advocacy groups in the country. Within a few years of the riots, gay rights groups had been formed in many major cities across the US.
Planning The Boston Tea Party
Located on Union Street in Boston’s North End, the Green Dragon Tavern was nicknamed “The Headquarters of the Revolution” by American statesmen Daniel Webster. Many of the Founding Fathers and other key figures from the American Revolution met here to discuss current events and create plans of action. The Boston Caucus, the Boston Committee of Correspondence, and the Sons of Liberty were among the groups of men that assembled here. In fact, the Green Dragon was the site where one of America’s most famous historical events was planned.
In 1773, the Sons of Liberty met at the Green Dragon to hash out the details of a plan to protest British Parliament’s Tea Act. The plan involved members of the Sons of Liberty dressing up as Mohawk Indians and sneaking onto the tea ships in Boston Harbor, where they would throw the chests of tea overboard. On December 16, 1773, they put their plan into action, dumping 342 chests of tea overboard into the harbor in an event that would later come to be known as the Boston Tea Party.
The Birth Of The United States Marine Corps
In 1775, the Continental Congress drafted a resolution to assemble two battalions of soldiers that would fight on both land and sea. On November 10th, the resolution was approved and Samuel Nicholas, a prominent Philadelphian and tavern owner, was commissioned as the captain of the newly formed Continental Marines.
Among his first recruits was a man by the name of Robert Mullan. Together, the two men went to the tavern and lured in potential recruits with the offering of free beer. However, there is some debate regarding which tavern the men actually went to in order to carry out recruitment. Military lore maintains that the men did their recruiting at Tun Tavern. Tun Tavern was the first brew house built in Philadelphia and was owned by Robert Mullan. However, many historians argue that it most likely took place at a tavern called the Conestoga Wagon, which was owned by Nicholas. Regardless, the men raised two battalions of men that would become the first official United States Marines.
The St. Scholastica’s Day Riot
The English city of Oxford had a history of violence between townspeople and university scholars. Violent incidents occurred between the “town” and the “gown” all throughout the 1200s, with the crown often siding with the academics. This led to an increase in the power held by the university’s chancellor and left the town’s mayor with little authority.
In 1335, some scholars voiced their unease in Oxford, which led to them gaining even more privileges from the king. Additionally, members of the University felt that the prices of food and drink were much too high, which often led to arguments between students and merchants.
One such argument took place on February 10, 1355. Students were drinking at Swyndlestock Tavern and they started complaining about the quality of the wine. A verbal battle between the students and the innkeeper ensued, until one of the students threw some wine at the innkeeper. A fight broke out and the townsmen rang the university church bell as a plea for support. Nearly 2,000 men came in from the country to help the townspeople. The townspeople and their supporters broke into the school and killed scholars in their quarters. Roughly 63 gownsmen and 30 townspeople were killed in the mayhem.
The mayor rode to Woodstock to seek support from the king, but he again sided with the university and gave them the power to regulate the drink prices. The mayor and his accompaniment were forced to go to the university’s church every St. Scholastica’s day and swear an oath that they would observe the university’s privilege in addition to paying a fine of 63 pence.
The UpStairs Lounge Arson Attack
It is known that members of the LGBT community in America have been subjected to appalling treatment throughout the nation’s history. However, in June of 1973, a bar in New Orleans was the site of an especially wretched and heinous demonstration of hatred toward the gay community. On the night of June 24, an unknown individual doused the steps leading up to a popular second-story gay bar called the UpStairs Lounge in the French Quarter of New Orleans with lighter fluid. The individual then rang the doorbell and ignited the fluid as he fled.
When the door was opened, a ball of flames shot into the bar and ignited the interior. Some of the patrons managed to escape out the back door, but some were trapped between the flames and the windows, which were fitted with metal bars. The fire department arrived to find over 20 badly burned bodies in the bar. The fire claimed the lives of 32 people and was the deadliest attack on the gay community until the shooting at Pulse nightclub in June of 2016.
The Execution Of James Stanley
James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby (also known as Baron Strange for a period of time) was a Royalist commander in the English Civil War. He was the eldest son of William, the 6th Earl of Derby.
At the start of the Civil War, Stanley fought under King Charles I in Lancashire. He went to the Isle of Man in 1643 to help quell rising tensions and in 1644, he took part in Prince Rupert of the Rhine’s campaign. Under Prince Rupert’s command, James Stanley and Royalist forces took the town of Bolton, where it was alleged that nearly 1,600 townspeople were killed during and after the battle. The parliamentarians used this as propaganda against the Royalists. In 1650, Stanley was appointed by Charles II to command forces of Cheshire and Lancashire but was defeated at the Battle of Wigan Lane.
He escaped, but only to be captured near Nantwich on his way to find asylum in the north. He was court marshaled and sentenced to death for his cooperation in the Bolton Massacre and for his support of Charles II. He appealed the case in hopes of being granted a pardon, but this was denied by parliament. He was sentenced to be executed in Bolton on October 15, 1651, at the market cross in Churchgate.
It is alleged that Stanley spent his final hours in a pub called Ye Olde Man and Scythe which was owned by the Earl of Derby’s family. It is one of the oldest public houses in Bolton. After having his final meal with the innkeeper, he walked outside, where he was publicly beheaded.
George Washington’s Farewell To His Officers
On December 4th, 1783, George Washington invited the officers of the Continental Army to the long room of the Fraunces Tavern. Fraunces Tavern was originally a house built by a French merchant in 1719 on the plot of land at 54 Pearl Street in New York. The land was later bought by Samuel Fraunces, who turned it into a tavern known originally as the Queen’s Head Tavern. Washington called the meeting to tell his officers that he would be resigning his commission after six long years of leading the men against the British and ultimately ending the war with a win over General Cornwallis at Yorktown. It was said that Washington was brought to tears as he issued his farewell to the men. Washington then left for Annapolis, where he officially resigned on December 23rd.
The Battle Of Montgomery’s Tavern
In Canada, after the War of 1812, a group of politicians known as the Family Compact controlled the government and the distribution of funding and used their power to further their personal interests. This created a great deal of unrest in Upper Canada, especially amongst Protestant groups and Americans who came to Canada before the war of 1812 given that the government favored the Church of England and its supporters.
A reform movement was started by William Lyon Mackenzie, the Mayor of Toronto, and a member of the Upper Canada Legislative Assembly. In December of 1837, Mackenzie summoned his followers at Montgomery’s Tavern just outside of Toronto with the intent of regaining control of the city and establishing a new, modest government.
Montgomery’s Tavern was a two-story wooden tavern built by a man named John Montgomery in the early 1830s. It was also known as the Sickle and Sheath. It was used as a meeting place by Mackenzie and his followers off and on in 1836 and 1837.
The men commenced their march into Toronto, but 20 militiamen waited for them along Yonge street. The first two lines of men fired their guns and when they dropped down to reload the rest of Mackenzie’s militia thought they had been killed and ran away. They regrouped and prepared to fight another battle. This time Mackenzie’s men, half armed with firearms and half armed with truncheons, faced nearly 1000 militiamen. After a brief clash, Mackenzie’s men dropped their weapons and dispersed. The Militiamen and volunteers then ransacked Montgomery’s Tavern and burned it to the ground.
The Upper Canada rebellion was short-lived, but the rebellions in both Upper and Lower Canada led to the appointment of Lord Durham and the creation of the Durham Report, which proposed the idea that Upper and Lower Canada be united. It also led to a more fair and responsible government being put into place in Canada.
The Long Branch Saloon Gun Fight
“Cockeyed” Frank Loving and Levi Richardson were two men that had found their way to Dodge City, Kansas, in the late 19th century. Richardson was a buffalo hunter from Wisconsin and Loving made a living as a gambler. The two men became friends and frequented the Long Branch Saloon, where other notable figures including Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp would come to drink and gamble.
However, the friendship became strained when Richardson developed a liking for Frank’s wife, Mattie. In March of 1879, the two men got into an argument, which led to Richardson punching Loving in the face. Loving was unarmed at the time and decided to back down from the fight. However, Richardson vowed that he would kill Loving one day.
On April 5, 1879, Richardson came to the saloon looking for Loving; he got a drink and sat down by the fire to wait for Loving’s arrival. After some time passed, Richardson was getting ready to leave the saloon when Loving walked through the door. Richardson immediately started a fight with Loving and then drew his pistol. The men ran around the room shooting at one another until one of Loving’s bullets struck Richardson in the chest, killing him.