One of the earliest taverns in Washington Heights was the Blue Bell Tavern. It was built between 1725 and 1730 on what is now the northwest corner of 181st Street and Broadway. Taverns like the Blue Bell had many uses. There were concerts or puppet shows in the gardens during the summer. It was also a center for gossip, socializing, arguing over politics and doing business. It was also used for overnight stays. Taverns were also used by farmers and landowners until their farms or estates were established.
In 1753 Lieutenant-Governor Cadwalader Colden made a reference to the tavern in a letter in which he said that the food was good and the lodgings were comfortable. He mentioned this because he and his family had been caught in a rainstorm and needed shelter.
During the American Revolution the Blue Bell was used, at various times, by the American, British and Hessian soldiers. The tavern was used for court martials as well as a mini-headquarters.
At the end of the war in 1783, the British had evacuated the city. General Washington with his officers stood in front of the Blue Bell as the American troops marched southward to reclaim Manhattan from the British army. It was also used as a headquarters by Washington from November 22nd to the 23rd.
After the war, local citizens returned to the tavern. On June 10, 1784, the proprietor of the Blue Bell tried to revive business at the inn by running an advertisement in the the New York Packet. The ad reads as follows:
The BLUE BELL Tavern
Stephen DolbeerBegs leave to acquaint his friends and the Public in General that he as opened the Blue Bell Tavern, at Fort Washington, where he hopes for the continuance of his former customers, and all those Gentlemen who please to favor him with their Custom shall be waited on in the genteelist manor. Also good stabling and pasture for horses.
Unfortunately the advertisement was a small consolation for Mr. Dolbeer to attract customers from New York City, which was in lower Manhattan. Over the years the Blue Bell passed through various hands and was rebuilt on several occasions.
The building was dismantled in 1915 to make way for the RKO Coliseum movie theater, which opened in 1920. During the construction of the theater, remnants of the Blue Bell could be seen. Examples of this would be the Dutch tiles, which had ornamented the fireplace.
The Blue Bell Lumber and Moulding Company, located at 2360 Amsterdam Avenue, is the only reminder of the illustrious past of the tavern that served the public. The Blue Bell is a retail lumber and hardware store that also features display fixtures and kitchen cabinets. In the back office is a photograph of the last incarnations of the Blue Bell Tavern.