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History on Your Plate

Dayton’s Historic Restaurants Give Flavor of the Past and the Present

Over the last few years, Dayton has exploded with new dining options. In 2020 alone, 50 new restaurants opened in the region. All of these new options give diners in the area plenty of places to explore, from upscale Mexican fare to comfortable burger places. They attract the imagination—and the spending—of many hungry Daytonians. The drive to try out the latest and greatest new venue and to spread the word about the experience is a strong one.

But what about the establishments that have been around for a while? The ones that started in one-room cabins and on the trails of the Buckeye State when we were still new to the country. These places, scattered all over the region, offer their own slice of history, alongside the rest of their menu. They have their own traditions, built over time and enjoyed by the people who dine there—anything from recipes passed down over the years to stunning architectural details unique to when the building was erected.

Let’s take a look at some of the oldest restaurants in the area. They are listed in the order in which they opened, from the oldest operating in the region to some more recent additions to the dining scene. Every one of them has an incredible menu to explore, as well as a story that, in some way, goes back over a century. First we head to Lebanon.

Golden Lamb, 27 S. Broadway St., Lebanon, OH 45036 (1803)—Established by Jonas Seaman in the same year that Ohio became a state, it is the oldest hotel in the state. Because reading was a rare skill, he hung an image of a golden lamb out front, from where the name derives. It established an early reputation as THE place to stop in Ohio, as many presidents and other famous people came to stay and dine there. It still serves excellent farm-to-table food and provides incredible service in its dining rooms and the Black Horse Tavern.

Ye Olde Trail Tavern, 228 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs, OH 45387 (1827)—Here we find the oldest operating tavern in Ohio. The back of the establishment, where the log structure is, is the original Eisha’s Tavern. Over the decades it has been everything from a luxury hotel to a spa to the restaurant and bar that we know and love. Its current menu is an eclectic mix of many different bar foods, including vegan and vegetarian options, often with a German theme.

The Florentine, 21 W. Market St., Germantown, OH 45327 (1814-16)—Built by the founder of Germantown, Philip Gunckel, to welcome travelers, The Florentine began its life as a hotel. Over the years fewer people stayed at the hotel, until it had to close in 1974. It was reopened a few years later and has become a staple of the community. Voted the “Best Hidden Gem” in 2018 Best of Dayton voting, it also claimed third place for the best grilled cheese. If you have not made the drive out there, it might be time to visit!

The Engineers Club of Dayton, 110 E. Monument Ave., Dayton, OH 45402 (1918)—The club was established in 1914, in a nearby barn. When the club started to grow, it needed a building to provide amenities for members, including rooms in which visiting engineers could stay. Over a century old, the current building has been feeding some of the best-known Daytonians over the decades. It is open for lunch Monday through Friday, where you can enjoy daily food specials. You can even sit in the space in which Orville Wright enjoyed taking his lunch!

Carillon Brewing Company, 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton, OH 45409 (2014)—Okay, hear me out. Yes, it is only seven years old. There are many older establishments of high standing in the Dayton region, like The Pine Club (1947), Treasure Island Supper Club (1961), and even Mamma DiSalvo’s Italian Ristorante (1979). But the two things you get here that these other places do not offer? Period accurate food and beer prepared the way they did it in the 19th century. It is the only working brewery in a museum in the country and a way to experience a slice of Dayton from the 1850s.