A couple years ago, I was looking through a travel guide for Milan and found a listing for Boeucc (pronounced “birch” apparently) claiming it was the oldest restaurant in the city, open since 1696. We went. My husband had the distinction of being the only gentleman in the dining room not wearing a jacket. He was mortified. As we left, another young man wearing a sweater came in and locked eyes with him. Apparently, some sign of solidarity over flouting the unwritten code. (The guide said jacket suggested not required.)
Since then, I’ve tried to keep an eye out for the oldest restaurant in a city when we visit. Of course, oldest is a matter of interpretation. Botin in Madrid (which is completely overrun by tourists) claims to be certified oldest by the Guinness Book of World Records. But it opened in 1725 which would have been 29 years after Boeucc … oldest continuously operating? Details. Details.
Turns out I accidentally dined (more like lunched) at another contender for oldest restaurant in the world in Paris years before. According to my then-boyfriend now-husband, Tour D’Argent was very old and a “must dine.” The quenelles certainly were to die for – perhaps Henri III of France had them as well?
In London, we went to The Rules and enjoyed traditional English fare in a traditional English setting. My favorite part of The Rules? Getting lost on the way from the Tube and stopping a street vendor to ask for directions. I asked for Seven Dials Road, and he immediately responded, “Are you looking for The Rules? The oldest restaurant in London.” Well, then.
Of course, I missed out of a few in my travels. Turns out my obsession is periodic, not sustained. In Lisbon, Tavares claims to be the oldest and closer to home, not sure how Charleston’s McCrady’s escaped my notice. What about New York? Never thought to look. Or Prague, another old city … What about really ancient places like India, China or Peru? Or even Rome, where everything is old. Do they even make note of such distinctions?
At home, though, I’ve been to both Old Ebbitt Grill (technically a saloon) and Martin’s (Tavern), both listed as the oldest restaurant, depending on definition, naturally. The oldest restaurant in the Americas, though, claims to be in Boston.
This past weekend, we visited Union Oyster House near Fanieul Hall. Yummy clam and oyster appetizers, sweet lobster meat served with my pasta. Terrific meal. More importantly, another oldest restaurant off my list!