Sunday, April 19, 2009
Hunter's Head Tavern - Upperville
Open for dinner daily; afternoon tea Tue-Wed-Thu;
Lunch Tues-Sunday; 540-592-9020
Outdoor seating available in good weather.
Sandy Lerner’s Hunter’s Head Tavern is housed in a 250-year-old structure that sits directly on Rt. 50 in Upperville (Fauquier County). It serves a traditional English pub menu that features on-tap beers, wines, and locally raised organic farm products from nearby Ayrshire Farm (also owned by Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems). The ordering system is true British tavern style. Guests place an order at the bar’s open Dutch door and then take a numbered wooden spoon to be placed in the empty wine bottle sitting on the table; servers look for your number and deliver your order directly to your table in one of the atmospheric tavern rooms or outside on the terrace, in good weather.
Photo: Lerner's 800 acre Ayrshire Farm
This tavern became the first restaurant in the nation to receive an animal rights group's certification for a menu with humanely raised and processed fare. The "Certified Humane Raised and Handled" label assures consumers that meat, poultry, egg, and dairy products have been produced according to precise standards for humane farm animal treatment.
The Old Carr House, now the site of the Hunter’s Head tavern, began life about 1750 as a log cabin built by Scotsman Steven McPherson. The history of this house is essentially the history of the village of Upperville, which was founded by, and originally named for, Joseph Carr, a grandson of John Carr, who had emigrated from Ireland in the 1750s. Joseph Carr purchased McPherson’s farm, mill and log cabin, and later opened a general store. By 1798 the town was named after him: Carrtown. At Carr’s death in 1828, he owned some 2,500 acres in the Upperville area. As his businesses flourished, Joseph Carr moved his family from the present tavern structure to a larger brick house across the road, hence the historical name, the Old Carr House.
At the time of its last purchase in 1997, the upper-story addition to the original cabin (the east end of the building) was falling into the first floor because the original, one-story cabin’s ceiling beams in the east room were inadequate to support the second floor, added sometime in the early 1800s. The central portion of the 1790s addition (the area which today includes the bar and west dining rooms) was structurally unviable due to the removal of most of the roof ridge beam at some point in the house’s history. According to one builder who worked on the restoration, “I’ve been in this business for thirty-five years and I have no idea why it’s still standing.” The house had settled so much that most of the windows were inoperable and the doors unable to close; the stone foundations and the fireplace in the west room had to be completely rebuilt.
The structure retains its original log cabin walls, fireplaces, mantels and, on the upper stories, its floors. It is rumored that the heavy gate into the walled garden is from the old Upperville jail. The house is reputed to be home to several ghosts. One, a middle-aged colonial man dressed in brown, seems to be a happy spirit, possibly because the old Carr House is now an ordinary serving food and drink, after almost 100 years as a tenant house, antique shop, and office.
1. Do not refuse the complimentary bread and butter. Superior!
2. It's easy to drive right past this tavern. If you see the Trinity Episcopal church on your right, you've gone too far. Driving west on Rt. 50, look for a bright red London-style phone both on the right. It's at the entrance to the parking lot. Enter the tavern through the back door terrace area.
3. Owner Sandy Lerner's hobby is jousting in period costume, so she's good with a spear. Her efforts to open a restaurant in Upperville were repeatedly blocked, particularly by the monied horsy set. Consequently, fox hunters are not allowed to cross her property, and her disdain for them is reflected in the restaurant's name: Hunter's Head.
Below: Turkey pot pie and organic meat loaf.