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The Oldest Restaurant in Illinois – Where Even the Furniture Was Once for Sale

Lisa Futterman
An exterior view of The Village Tavern in Long Grove, pictured in winter with snow on the ground.
The Village Tavern in Long Grove, Illinois is the oldest restaurant in the state. Credit: Courtesy of The Village Tavern.

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When it was known as the Zimmer Tavern and Wagon Shop, The Village Tavern in present-day Long Grove, Illinois was a place where travelers and locals could stop to get their horses shod, their bridles repaired, and their stomachs filled with hearty meals, mugs of ale, and whiskey straight from the barrel. Today, it’s the oldest restaurant in the state, having continuously operated since 1847 – only fourteen years after nearby Chicago was incorporated as a town, and 29 after Illinois became a state.

Long Grove’s original settlers hailed from Germany and built stores, stables, and the watering hole that is now The Village Tavern at the crossroads of Old McHenry Road and Long Grove Road (now Robert Parker Coffin Road) in the 1840s. People still visit the charming Lake County town northwest of Chicago to stroll cobblestone streets, take in historic buildings, and walk across Buffalo Creek on a covered iron truss bridge built in 1906.

A black and white historical image of The Village Tavern
A historical image of The Village Tavern. Credit: Courtesy of The Village Tavern.

The Village Tavern has two historic focal points – although neither is as old as the establishment itself: a 35-foot mahogany bar that survived the original McCormick Place’s 1967 fire, and an 1890s grandfather clock. Even newer additions to the restaurant’s structure contain history: a dining room addition from the ’60s was built with wood from an 1840s barn across the street. These days, cars park in the lot where the stables once stood, and the northwest suburbs have sprouted up all around, but local traditions like Thuringer sausage sandwiches and root beer floats endure.

The tavern has always existed as a family-owned business. The current owners are the Jarvis family – consisting of Elaine and Will Jarvis, their daughter Nicole Jarvis, and her husband, Scott Wallace – who previously ran neighboring Buffalo Grove’s Rack’em Up tavern and pool hall. They bought the business in 2023 from the Ullrich family, who owned it for 62 years after acquiring it from the Sayles family. The Didier family and the founding Zimmer family owned it before that.

The mahogany bar at The Village Tavern.
The mahogany bar at The Village Tavern. Credit: Courtesy of The Village Tavern.

Over the years, the tavern served fare such as stew, steaks, and a Friday fish fry. In 1964, the prime rib – along with a relish tray; homemade bread; potatoes; salad; coffee, tea, or milk; and ice cream or sherbert – cost $4.50. Modern tastes call for burgers, sandwiches, and broasted chicken. The fish fry now happens daily, but it’s “still hand-breaded with Grandma Didier’s coating recipe created 100 years ago,” according to Nicole Jarvis.

In a nod to the town’s origins, schnitzel and other German specialties are also featured. Old-time menus that decorate the walls also mention a cocktail called a “white spider,” said to be a boozy, Stinger-like concoction of vodka and creme de menthe.

The Village Tavern has always been a center of village life. A pool table enjoys constant use. Posters from bygone days advertise “Old Time Sing-alongs,” weekend ragtime performances by the Village Tavern Jazz Band, Easter Brunches complete with live bunnies, and biweekly auction nights. Roger Pauley has played piano on Friday nights for almost 40 years.

Old menus on display at The Village Tavern
Old menus on display at The Village Tavern. Credit: Courtesy of The Village Tavern.

“We see folks that come in for 40 years, 30 years, 20 years. I've met a lot of people that came here as kids and now they're bringing their kids to see Roger’s singing on Friday night. It's truly heartwarming,” says Scott Wallace. Staff members have logged lots of years, too. “[Our server] Val has been here almost 50 years…and the cooks have been here 25 to 30 [years],” Nicole Jarvis adds.

While its longevity alone makes the tavern an interesting spot, it also once had an unusual addition to the daily specials: the furniture.

“Everything was for sale at the restaurant,” says Wallace. “Everything had a price tag. So if you wanted to buy a table in the bar and you wanted it that day, you’d just say ‘I want to purchase this!’”

“People would have to get up from the table they were eating at,” says Jarvis, and another table would be brought out from the back room. To this day, price tags hang from Tiffany lamps and captain’s chairs, and some are for sale. A reminder appears on all menus: “P.S. Really–we sell everything–here at The Village Tavern – the chairs you are sitting on –the tables–the paintings. We might even part with our fabulous bar clock. If you don’t see a price tag–ASK.”

There was also once a gift shop stocked with necessities and provisions like copper pots, glassware, and ceramics. Previous tavern owners held weekly auctions for both income and entertainment until about twenty-five years ago. These “Auction Action” nights were held Tuesdays and Thursdays, and guests were invited to “have dinner and a pitcher of beer while you watch us sell anything and everything.”