City Tavern, which kept the Revolutionary War spirit alive, has closed, its longtime chef-proprietor, Walter Staib, confirmed.
“In one sentence, this is bittersweet,” Staib, 74, said of the closing, which followed months of slow business four nights a week because of the pandemic. The restaurant had lost its core clientele of international travelers from China, Italy, and Japan.
Colonial-costumed waiters wearing face shields detracted from the charm of City Tavern’s 10 kitsch-and-memorabilia-filled dining rooms spread over three floors.
Since 1994, Staib and his management company had operated City Tavern, whose property at Second and Walnut Streets is part of Independence National Historical Park. The National Park Service, which owns the property, opened City Tavern in 1976 to coincide with the Bicentennial by restoring a circa-1773 tavern as a stately, three-story brick building.
Staib said his contract with the government was nearing its end.
Food in the early years was largely forgettable, giving the restaurant a tourist-trap reputation (along with Old Original Bookbinder’s, then across the street).
But Staib, a German-born history buff, lifelong restaurateur, and inveterate showman, brought respectability to the kitchen with scratch-made dishes such as pepperpot soup, cornmeal-fried oysters, pot pies, and venison. Critic John Mariani of Esquire named City Tavern one of the best new restaurants in America in 1994.
The affable Staib, described by one columnist as “built like a Black Forest barrel with a winter-frost Vandyke,” parlayed the City Tavern gig into cookbooks and two multiple-Emmy-winning PBS series. His most recent series, A Taste of History, is now on hold because sponsors are feeling the financial pinch of the pandemic.
In the meantime, Staib said he would clean out the property and was working on a plan to handle gift certificates. Eventually, he said, he will sell some of the restaurant’s curios.