A Group Aims to Rebuild Tun Tavern, Birthplace of the Marines, as a Tavern and Restaurant

Sketch of the Old Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, birthplace of the Continental Marines
Sketch of the Old Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, birthplace of the Continental Marines. (U.S. National Archives)

National Park Service rangers in the historic district field questions all day from visitors. One of the most-asked is: "Where is Tun Tavern?"

In 1775, the Tun was the birthplace of what became the U.S. Marine Corps, hosting sign-ups by the Delaware River at what is now Penn's Landing. That same year, John Adams drafted plans for the Navy in an upstairs room. The Tun also hosted meetings for four colonial-era Philadelphia nonprofit organizations that still exist today: the Freemasons (founded in 1731), the St. Andrews Society (founded in 1747), the Society of St. George (also founded in 1747), and the Friendly Sons & Daughters of St. Patrick (founded in 1771).

But the Tun was razed in 1781, and so visitors are directed to a historical marker on Front Street near Sansom Walk, several blocks away. The Tun's original site is beneath the southbound lanes of I-95 between Chestnut and Walnut Streets.

The Tun Tavern Legacy Foundation, a group of influential Philadelphians who have been a part of the Marine Corps, the Freemasons, and other Tun-connected organizations, wants to re-create the Tun as tavern and restaurant with a museum featuring artifacts and documents on display.

All profits from operations will go to support charitable initiatives, including veterans' causes and scholarships, said Rob Brink, who chairs the foundation. He is deputy grand master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania Free and Accepted Masons, which held its early meetings at the Tun.

The foundation recently purchased two adjacent lots in Old City, on Second Street between Market and Chestnut Streets — several blocks from the original site, and currently occupied by a parking lot — for $4.4 million. The foundation is now trying to raise about $16 million for construction and start-up, said Craig Mills, a board member, Marine veteran, and executive shareholder with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a Center City law firm.

"For one little building that could only hold about 100-some people, an awful lot happened there," Mills said.

Organizers hope to open in time for the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Marines, on Nov. 10, 2025. More likely, the organizers concede, it will be ready for the U.S. Semiquincentennial in 2026.

A revolution in colonial dining

Philadelphia has few dining establishments that honor Philadelphia's entire history. Currently, the longest-operating restaurant is McGillin's, which opened in 1860.

The circa-1759 A Man Full of Trouble Tavern, Philadelphia's only extant pre-Revolutionary drinking spot, is expected to reopen in early summer after an extensive renovation. It had been shuttered to the public for decades. Succession Fermentory, a farmhouse brewery based in Chester County, will open a taproom while tavern owner Dan Wheeler will operate the rest of it as a museum.

The National Park Service is a few months from announcing a new operator for City Tavern, the re-creation of a historic bar in a circa-1976 building at Second and Walnut Streets, a spokesperson said. City Tavern closed in fall 2020 as the city's tourism trade dried up during the pandemic.

The Tun name

The Tun Tavern Legacy Foundation is trademarking "The Tun" and plans to use it as the formal name.

However, 26 years ago, restaurateur Montgomery Dahm, a Marine veteran, opened Tun Tavern, a restaurant and brewpub connected to the Atlantic City Convention Center, and holds the "Tun Tavern" trademark. The National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico, Va., also has a "Tun Tavern," for visitors.

Dahm told The Inquirer that he had spoken with both the foundation and another group (whom he declined to identify) that wants to open a "Tun Tavern," and said he was open to negotiations about its use.

"I'm a patriot and I want [the Tun] to be built, but I also don't want to lose revenue in my current restaurant, which I will substantially if the Marines go there instead of my place," Dahm said, adding that he hosts fundraisers for Marine-related charities. "We'll ultimately see what happens."

The Tun's history

In 1693, English traders Samuel and Joshua Carpenter built the tavern at Water Street and Tun Alley, on the bank of the Delaware. Samuel sold it to Joshua, a brewer. At the time, the city sat high on a bluff. The tavern, warehouses, and wharves on the river were accessed by series of steps up to Front Street.

The tavern, which seated about 100, changed names over the years, mainly according to the owners' names. Several nights a week in the 1740s, under Thomas Mullan, it was called Peg Mullan's Beefsteak Club, after his wife.

Pat Dailey, president of the foundation, surmised that Peg Mullan was a good cook. Private "beefsteak clubs" were all the rage in London. "It's where the wealthy would get together and rent a restaurant and just gorge themselves on beef and wine and whatever," Dailey said. At less than a mile from Independence Hall, it became popular among the Continental Congress.

Dailey, who owns Maido, the Japanese restaurant and grocery store in Ardmore, with his wife, Seiko, said the new Tun will be two restaurants in one. The tavern will have a traditional period look, while the larger Peg Mullan's Beefsteak Club will resemble a maritime warehouse. (One wrinkle is that no one knows exactly what the Tun looked like. Artist Frank Taylor, whose popular 1922 drawing pops up in seemingly every Google search, was born 65 years after the Tun was razed.) Though artifacts will be displayed, Dailey said, there will not be a Marine Corps museum on-site. "We have one of those, in Quantico, and it's magnificent," he said. The other groups will have space within the museum.

Reviving the Tun

Dailey said the project was conceived about 15 years ago outside of Cookie's Tavern in South Philadelphia. Every November 10, the owner, a Marine veteran named James "Daddy Wags" Wagner, threw a birthday party for the Corps that drew hundreds and shut down Oregon Avenue. Though Cookie's is now Tankie's, it still hosts the event.

"I was standing there in the rain, eating birthday cake and drinking beer with hundreds of my closest friends, and I thought: 'This is crazy,'" Dailey said. " Marines are irrationally proud that we are the only service that knows the date and the place we started. If you wanted to join the Continental Navy, you could join in Charleston, Boston, New York, Philadelphia. Same with Washington's army. But if you wanted to join the Continental Marines, the sole recruiting place was Philadelphia."

Dailey took his time, sketching out a business plan while doing research. Nine years ago, he sent a proposal to the city Convention and Visitors Bureau, asking about organizing a 250th anniversary party. The bureau pointed him to Homecoming 250, a celebration of the Marines' and Navy's inceptions, coming in 2025. George Leone, the retired New Jersey judge who heads the committee, and Brink, whose Freemason lodge is heading toward its tricentennial in 2031, signed on to the board. Brink's wife, Allison, joined as secretary.

There have been perhaps five attempts over the last century to revive the Tun, including a wooden mockup that was part of the Sesquicentennial in 1926, Mills said.

"As a Marine," Mills said, "I can say that a lot of these [groups] were Marines who sat around and said, 'Yeah, let's do this.' But they didn't have experience in construction, and finance, and in the restaurant business, and they were not well-funded, so they fizzled out. This is different with the assistance of the Masons and everyone else."


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