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Union Oyster House | © Mark Peters / Flickr
Union Oyster House | © Mark Peters / Flickr

A Brief History of Union Oyster House, America's Oldest Operating Restaurant

Picture of Ashley Kane
Freelance Writer
Updated: 9 February 2017

The doors to Union Oyster House opened in 1826, over 190 years ago. While there are many historic eateries in America, Union Oyster is the oldest operating restaurant in the nation. The building is a National Historic Landmark located on Union Street in Boston.

The origin of ye olde Union Oyster House

Historians believe that the Union Oyster House building was built in 1704. Prior to being a restaurant, the building was Hopestill Capen’s dress goods store. After that, in 1771, Isiah Thomas published his newspaper The Massachusetts Spy the oldest newspaper in the United States – in the building. And in 1826, the structure became the Atwood & Bacon Oyster House.  

The owners of the Atwood & Bacon House created the signature semi-circular oyster bar that is still present today. That bar is where longtime customer Daniel Webster would sit to drink his usual brandy and water and eat a half a dozen oysters on a daily basis. By 1916, the Atwood & Bacon Oyster House was commonly known as the Union Oyster House.

Other famous patrons of the restaurant include the Kennedy family. Indeed, the restaurant dedicated JFK’s favorite booth – located in the upstairs dining room – as “The Kennedy Booth” in his honor.

Fun fact: The toothpick was popularized in America thanks to the Union Oyster House.

The Union Oyster House today

The Union Oyster House serves traditional New England food – oysters, lobsters, clams, baked beans, steak, and chicken – just as it did years ago. Stop by for raw oysters at the famous semi-circular bar or sit at “The Kennedy Booth” and revel in the restaurant’s rich history.