The Griswold Inn
36 Main St.
Essex, CT 06426
George Washington drank here, claim the proprietors of The Griswold Inn, members of only the sixth family to have run this grand old girl since it first opened in 1776. Mark Twain and Albert Einstein were also patrons of its Tap Room, as was the irascible Katherine Hepburn. A colonial tavern that has served lobstermen and whalers, sea captains and merchants, as well as townsfolk and tourists for nearly two and a half centuries, The Griswold Inn is steeped in history and tradition. It still serves some of the best and obviously most authentic clam chowder, lobster pot pie and other timeless dishes the likes of which old George may have sampled, but customers can also find tapas and more up-to-date dishes. The bar – or more accurately “tavern” – is among the oldest if not the oldest continually operating one in the state, and there is an “historic menu” as well as more modern cuisine in the “wine bar.” The Griswold is still an inn, as it was in Washington’s day, and lodgings are still available for those who book in advance.
23 Green Str.
New London, CT 06320
Eugene O’Neill did not go gentle into that good night – at least not any night that he tied one on at “The Dutch” in New London. The old city’s oldest bar, it still offers a full tavern menu until three in the afternoon. Peter Detmold and Martha Conn have kept the traditions and stories of “The Ducth” alive since the untimely death of the previous proprietor. The stamped tin ceiling and early last century telephone booth attest to its age and authenticity, and the bar is open until midnight (1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays).
255 White St.
Danbury, CT 06810
TK’s in Danbury began as a speakeasy during Prohibition and became the Hat City’s first legitimate bar once the infamous Volstead Act was repealed. It has changed names at least eight times in as many decades, but has stuck with its current one longer than any of the others. In one of those incarnations, it was the first sports bar in Danbury, but it is perhaps even better known for its chicken wings. Within a year after taking on its current name, TK’s began offering 10-cent wings on Tuesdays. The owner credits that decision with saving the bar, and has upheld the tradition since 1991. Tom Kennedy (yes that is what TK stands for) says he still sells over 25,000 wings a week, and hopes to do so for another 22 years or more.
The Elm Cafe
445 Main St.
Branford, CT 06405
When Moose Branci opened its doors in 1952, the original Elm Café already had a story to tell, as it sat above a hidden, underground passage that led to a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Even without that heritage and despite moving from Elm to Main Street, The Elm is still “the oldest bar in Branford” and its claim to that title has been verified by newspaper reporters and town historians alike. Moose is gone, but wife Patty kept their bar going, then passed the torch to the next generation. The Branci family marked the little watering hole’s 60th anniversary last year and is quick to share memories, some good, some less so – such as the days when impatient patrons would dump ashtrays out onto the floor to make room for their cigars and cigarettes.
300 York St.
New Haven, CT 06511
Few bars and fewer bars with live music can boast of as long and as storied a history at Toad’s in New Haven, which has been “hoppin’ every night since 1975.” Patrons come here less for the booze than for the music, but the one-dollar well drinks make up for the pricey cover charge (as much as $25, but less than half that if bought in advance). The talent may not be A-list or well-known, but there is a lot of it and there is something for every musical taste at least sometime during the month. In October and November, for example, there is everything from hip-hop and progressive offerings to a Phish tribute band, and much more. Toad’s also has a pair of private party rooms – the Lilly Pad and the Rainforest Room, each of which has its own bar, tables, dance floor and unique ambiance. Every Saturday has been and still is “Dance Party” night, with DJs who play a wide variety of dance music – backed up by a light show that Toad’s boasts is the rival of arenas that seat 10,000 or more.
Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.