"Outside one of the rooms, which was probably a private dining room, we found just piles and piles and piles of broken wine bottles," says Bradley.
As it turns out, taverns weren't the only places where sociable Colonists could enjoy stiff drinks and politically charged conversations. Contrary to standard American histories, taverns functioned more like highway rest stops, complete with government-controlled prices, lackluster food and a sketchy clientele. Locals typically preferred to do their drinking in coffeehouses, which were all the rage in England when King George III was in charge.
"At the time Charlton opened, there were 1,500 coffeehouses in London alone," Bradley explains. "They attracted the social and economic-status conscious, and the very well-to-do."
Despite the name, coffeehouses served plenty of liquor and perhaps even more tea, a drink so cherished in 18th-century England that Brits were spending as much as 20 percent of their disposable income on it. Although tea's popularity plummeted in the colonies after parliament assessed massive taxes on it, Charlton -- a former wigmaker who set up shop near the Capitol in the 1760s -- likely kept serving it alongside coffee, chocolate, wine, ales and spirits, all of which helped lubricate serious discussions about the fledgling nation's future.
"It's the whole idea of how the American Revolution gets started," Bradley says. "How did we decide to go from subjects of a king to citizens of a republic? This is where people were talking about those things."
To get museum visitors in the fomenting mood, the coffeehouse -- which opened to the public this week -- is offering samples of the non-alcoholic drinks favored by leaders of the Revolution.
"Most sites deal with just sight and sound," Bradley says. "This adds taste and smell to that sensory experience."