Trip Report - Fraunces Tavern

My first experience with Fraunces Tavern was with the website, which looks like a fairly standard WordPress site (it is in fact a WordPress site according to the garbled mess that is their source code). You had to click on the Visit tab to find the hours of operation but the front page tells you that they’re open seven days a week! I briefly browsed around to understand a little of what the tavern was, but didn’t retain too much about it.

The block that the tavern is on is pretty unique – the block is a landmark, so it’s strange to see this piece of colonial era architecture in the midst of Manhattan’s glass and steel. When I arrived, I was little confused by the signs with food menus and the chalkboard street sign with the specials. Kind of anachronistic for the era until I stepped in and realized that the museum is on the the upper floors and the bottom floor is a restaurant. Surprise! That was a detail the website definitely didn’t inform me of; if it did, it was easy to overlook. I went back afterwards to look and the website mentions it casually in the bottom paragraph of the About page. In any case, I made my way up the stairs and to the museum, which covers two floors.

I first explored this museum by myself, but I ran into a tour group in one of the galleries (it was very awkward to be swarmed by what were apparently Danish tourists whilst the tour guide stands behind you and unsuccessfully tries to describe what they were looking at. The phrase “I think” was used liberally, thus proving that tour guides really do make or break a museum experience). There wasn’t any technology in the galleries except for a TV that played a movie. It wasn’t working when I tried to view it, so I can’t say what it was like. There also weren’t very many people in this museum, especially after the tour group left. The visitors that I did see were older people (I’d guess mid to late fifties?). Navigation was relatively simple as you could only walk between two floors and the galleries were mostly unstructured. However, this museum felt cramped and old; where the Tenement had been engaging, this one was just… dull. It wasn’t until one of the docents took me around that I actually felt any connection to what I was looking at. He talked about the history of New York, read from the memoirs of one of Washington’s men, and pointed out special things in the exhibitions as we walked around. It gave the visit a personalized touch, and I found that I learned much more from him talking about the exhibits than from the captions. For example, one of the galleries doesn’t depict the actual scene from Washington’s dinner in New York when the British evacuated the city but all the furniture are from that time period.

I had trouble keeping interest in the objects on display, which were described very lengthy and relatively dry captions. The bright point of my visit was speaking with the docent, but it was not enough to keep me interested in the museum, and seeing the original architecture was also interesting. However, the material doesn’t seem to change at all, so this is the type of museum that I would have very little inclination to see again.