Long before the Piper’s Kilt graced Broadway, a small but historic group of taverns hosted a colorful assortment of highwaymen, tramps, soldiers and fishermen working their way up and down the old Post Road.
Like its competitor to the south, the Black Horse Tavern, located near the current intersection of Dyckman and Broadway, Hyatt’s Tavern serviced weary travelers near the Sputen Duyvil.
Built around 1759 near the current intersection of 226th Street and Broadway, Hyatt’s Tavern attempted to service colonial era New Yorkers crossing either the King’s Bridge or the nearby “Free Bridge”. (Christened on New Year’s Day, 1759, the “Free Bridge”, also called the “Farmer’s Bridge”, allowed local farmers to skirt the toll collected by the Crown at the Kingsbridge.)
The new tavern was built and run by Jacobus Dyckman, who had run a successful inn called the Black Horse near McGown’s Pass in the present Central Park. Sitting in the fork of the road, travelers should have been funneled into the Inn, but over the course of fourteen backbreaking years, the Dyckman family failed to turn a profit.
With war brewing in the Colonies, the Dyckmans sold the Inn and adjoining property in Marble Hill to Jacob Hyatt whose family would run the tavern into the early 19th Century.
Modern drinker’s entering Hyatt’s tavern would face a confusing array of choices. Many early American beverages were mixed with rum, often called “Kill Devil,” which was a lucrative byproduct of the Colonial molasses trade. A typical bar menu might have included sling, toddy and grog. Another drink called Mimbo was made from loaf sugar, rum and water while Calibogus, a precursor to the boiler-maker was simply a blend of rum and beer.
In the days of the Revolution, in addition to rum drinks, choices might have included flip, wine, mead, cider and beer. While there is no record of Hyatt family brewing their own beer, most small taverns of the day produced small batch specialty brews from ingredients including birch, sassafras, apples, pumpkins, roots and just about every herb imaginable.
Incredibly, Hyatt’s Tavern not only survived the Revolution, it continued to operate as battles raged nearby.
Located in a strategic and extremely exposed position, both sides struggled for possession of Hyatt’s humble watering hole. Shortly after the British capture of Fort Washington, Hessian mercenaries moved in and used the tavern as a guardhouse. Then, in December of 1777, American forces under General William Heath launched an artillery strike on both the tavern and two nearby bridges. Heath’s sharpshooters reported seeing Hessians fleeing the tavern and ducking for cover at the report of each American shot fired.
While both bridges were either destroyed or rendered useless by war’s end (Until bridge repairs were made, a temporary bridge was constructed of boats tied together near the present line of Seaman Avenue), Hyatt’s tavern continued to thrive. Miraculously the tavern had not only survived the Revolution, but for the moment it was one of few places officers and returning residents could seek shelter and conduct business.
Sometime around Washington’s visit, the original structure was converted into a roadside store as Hyatt’s Tavern relocated across the street.
In 1807, Jacob Hyatt’s son, Caleb, said farewell to a family tradition and leased this relic of the Revolution to James Devoe.
Hyatt’s Tavern would later become the Kingsbridge Hotel, which was famous among anglers and travelers alike for its signature turtle dinners.
The widening of both the Spuyten Duyvil and Broadway near the turn of the 20th Century sounded the death knell for both the hotel and it’s curious culinary concoctions. After falling into disrepair, the hotel was demolished in 1917.
And there you have the basic history of Hyatt’s Tavern. So often I’m left with extra material that was edited out of the final copy for the sake brevity. If you are still interested in reading more, below is one such scrap.
Real estate advertisement, placed by the Dyckman family, which appeared in the New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury of September 6th and 14th of 1772:
“To be sold at public auction, on Wednesday the 23rd of September inst., at twelve o’clock, at the Merchants Coffee House in the city of New York, that very valuable Island called Little Barn Island, belonging to the estate of Mr. St. George Talbot, deceased, situate opposite to New Harlem Church.
“On Wednesday, the 3Oth Sept. next, at the same place, will be sold at public auction, that most excellent farm at King’s Bridge, now in the possession of Mr. Sampson Dyckman, and the meadows thereunto belonging, with the large house, barn, kitchen, and all other improvements; it has a very good garden and orchard, with the best of fruits, such as apples, pears, etc., and is the most frequented and noted house on this island for travelers who pass Prince’s Bridge. It has the advantage of mowing of a large quantity of salt hay, etc., and in the spring it abounds with most excellent bass, shad, and herring; crabs and oysters most part of the year are caught in great abundance ; in short, it is the most convenient spot for a tavern- keeper to make his fortune in a few years of any on this island. The purchaser may take possession the first of October next.
“Conditions of sale for both the above places may be seen at John Livingston’s, in Broad-Street.”