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Raise a Glass to Connecticut's Best Bars

Plenty of beers on tap. Creative cocktails. An extensive wine list. A bartender with a perfect pour. Loads of TVs. A spot for great conversation. Our list of bars has it all.

  • 15 min to read

Ask someone what makes a good bar and you’ll likely get a wide range of answers. So when we set out to identify Connecticut’s best bars, we knew we had to break it down across different categories to appeal to different tastes. From humble watering holes to high-end cocktail lounges, historic jewels to boisterous sports bars, you’ll find a well-rounded collection of establishments on these pages. What you won’t find are breweries, distilleries and brewpubs, as we’ve covered those extensively for quite a while. And for the home bartenders out there, we asked some of the state’s most talented mixologists for a few adventurous cocktail recipes. Cheers!

Good-Drinkin’ Bars

This category is inspired by New York City newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin’s catchphrase for the Piels Beer commercials of the 1970s.

Three SheetsNew Haven

Located in the same spot as the former Rudy’s, Three Sheets has about as strong a pedigree possible for the concept of a drinkin’ bar. It’s a place where Yale kids rub shoulders with old New Haven regulars, people who have been on the New Haven bar scene for some time. The old Rudy’s would let you write graffiti on the walls, and while the team at Three Sheets has replaced the tagged-up walls with a chalkboard, much of the same spirit of self-expression remains. The bar has a sneakily good menu, too. 475-202-6909, threesheetsnh.com

Cherry Street Station, Wallingford

The “station” part of the name isn’t that far from the truth, as this local watering hole sits right alongside the Amtrak and soon-to-be CTrail Hartford train lines. It’s not uncommon to hear the rumble of the train and the bells that signify the oncoming locomotive. Sit on the patio with a few beers and watch the trains go by. As this is a drinkin’ bar, a shot of whiskey is about as fancy as the cocktails get. Live music includes occasional metal and hardcore. 203-265-2902

The PattaconkChester

The ’Conk is the definition of a small-town local, that kind of bar that plays a role in the community as a meeting and gathering spot. This artsy, quirky section of Connecticut likes to enjoy itself, so expect this place to be properly full every Friday or Saturday night, as well as on plenty of weekend nights. There is a rotating draft list, great bar food and a homegrown vibe that can be found in fewer and fewer places. 860-526-8143, pattaconk1850.com

Eli Cannon's

Eli Cannon's Tap Room in Middletown

Best to Geek Out About Beer

Eli Cannon’s Tap RoomMiddletown

One of Connecticut’s oldest craft beer bars, Eli Cannon’s has been serving quality brews since 1994. It has always managed to offer an elite lineup of rare beers from sought-after breweries in Connecticut and beyond in a variety of styles, without succumbing to any semblance of pretension. Pair this with a punk-rock attitude and great indoor as well as outdoor space, and Eli Cannon’s is a destination to seek out. 860-347-3547, elicannons.com

Cask Republic

Cask Republic in Stamford

Cask RepublicNew Haven, Norwalk and Stamford

A longtime staple of the Connecticut beer scene, each Cask Republic offers dozens of beers on tap, including a cask-conditioned option (a traditional beer served from a cask that is naturally carbonated). The restaurants also offer a huge bottle selection of rare beers that have been cellared for years in some cases. The more you geek out about beer, the more you’ll feel at home here. New Haven: 475-238-8335 Norwalk: 203-354-0163 Stamford: 203-348-2275, caskrepublic.com

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MiKro in Hamden

MiKro Beer BarHamden

Beer at this intimate Hamden bar is treated with great reverence. Each of the 18 beers on tap is curated and offers something unique and interesting. Recent options included several hard-to-find beers from Vermont, several rare sours and some Connecticut gems, including an IPA from Fox Farm Brewery in Salem. Beers are paired with a selection of small plates. MiKro is scheduled to move to a larger location down the road from its current spot in March, so keep an eye out for the change. 203-553-7676, mikrobeerbar.com

The Beer Collective

The Beer Collective

The Beer CollectiveNew Haven

As its name implies, this bar takes beer seriously. It has more than a dozen beers on tap with an emphasis on great local and regional varieties. It also is the perfect place to go for those who want to learn more about beer, or just immerse themselves in beer culture. There are regular beer seminars and beer dinners, and even a beer book library where guests are invited to read as they enjoy a brew. 203-507-2602, thebeercollectivenhv.com

116 Crown

116 Crown Street in New Haven

Best for People Who Use the Word ‘Mixologist’

Little River RestorativesHartford

With its pre-Prohibition vibe, great collection of spirits and intensely dedicated bartenders, Little River makes its cocktails with the great respect the liquid artform deserves. We fell in love with the place the moment we tried its sazerac, back shortly after it opened in 2015. It continues to impress with its signature cocktails, punches, possets and grogs. 860-403-0340 facebook.com/littleriverhartford

Elm City SocialNew Haven

In addition to its food, overall ambiance and impressive rooftop-bar area, Elm City Social is known for its modern reimagining of classic cocktails. The drinks menu is broken down into “shaken” and “stirred” sections with options such as Dawn of the Daiquiri (see recipe in this section), with strawberry- and jalapeño-infused Angostura white oak rum, in the former section, and classics including the sazerac and old fashioned in the latter. There is also a punch and highball portion of the drinks menu. 475-441-7436, elmcitysocial.com

116 CrownNew Haven

Like moths to a flame, those in search of a fine cocktail are easily drawn to the glowing bar of 116 Crown. Citrus juices are freshly squeezed, syrups are prepared in house and, while there are no TVs to watch the big game, the resulting recipes are as complex as an NFL playbook. Some drink names are fun (Breakfast in Vegas, Glitterati) and some are ominous (Corpse Reviver, The Devil Himself), but they all seek to pack a punch for your palate. 203-777-3116, 116crown.com

ConspiracyMiddletown

One of the newer places on the list, this spot has the feeling of the Prohibition era, hidden up an almost secret staircase on Main Street. The cocktails, too, are out of this world, with creations that are unique and innovative without verging into the novelty. The three-sided bar gives a particular atmosphere that is hard to come by, as well. The high ceilings and exposed brick give the place a feeling of class without being pretentious. 860-236-0211, conspiracyct.com

Hops Co

The Hops Company in Derby

Best for Fun and Games

BarcadeNew Haven

Where childhood and adulthood collide. If arcade or video games were part of your life growing up, you may find yourself greeting some of these machines like a friend you haven’t seen in ages. “Oh, wow! I remember you! We used to have so much fun!” In downtown New Haven you can relive the good ol’ days in between sips of a wide variety of craft beers, some of which are exclusive to Barcade. And unlike childhood, the kitchen is open late, so you don’t have to beg mom for a snack. 203-889-2966, barcadenewhaven.com

The Hops CompanyDerby

If you hear a loud crash in this cavernous beer hall — and you will — don’t be alarmed. It’s only the tumbling of wooden blocks during a game of giant Jenga, one of many fun-filled offerings here. With long, communal tables, there’s plenty of space to play a variety of board games, while also challenging your companions to rounds of foosball and darts. For the know-it-alls, Wednesday is trivia night. During the warmer months, THC’s 4½-acre beer garden plays host to bocce and cornhole, including a cornhole state championship in the summer. 203-734-1616, thehopscompany.com

Branford Cue & BrewBranford

This billiards hall and sports bar can be hard to find, but those who have been able to locate it know its gaming credentials are strong. Located in an industrial area off Route 1, Cue & Brew boasts 19 nine-foot pool tables, enough for both the leagues that call this place home, as well as casual players. On Tuesdays you can shoot pool for free, but there is a two-drink minimum. There are also 10 dart boards and a handful of arcade games and pinball machines including, of course, Pinball Pool. 203-483-1388, cuenbrewct.com

Hot Rod CafeNew London

This Bank Street spot in downtown New London has been around since 2005. Known for its sports bar atmosphere and robust selection of beer and wings — its traditional medium wings took second place at the National Buffalo Wings Festival in New York in 2015 — Hot Rod Cafe recently upped its game by adding a downstairs arcade pub meant to transport you back to the ’80s and ’90s. Among its many offerings are pinball machines such as Addams Family and Game of Thrones, and arcade games including Pac-Man and NBA Jam. To go even more old school, play some Connect 4 or chess. 860-447-2320, hotrodscafenewlondon.com

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Ordinary in New Haven

Best for Feeling Like You Stepped Back in Time

The White Horse Country Pub, Washington

With extensive expansions completed over the summer, The White Horse Country Pub now has even more charm (and space) than ever. Modeled on a British pub, it has warm and inspiring decor, an Indian motorcycle from 1920 behind the bar, and a beautiful outdoor riverside dining area. It’s the type of place one can easily imagine stopping in at while backpacking across the countryside. 860-868-1496, whitehorsecountrypub.com

The Griswold Inn Tap Room, Essex

A better category this bar could not fall under — it was built in 1735 with more wood than a woodchuck could chuck and dragged by oxen down Main Street to its current locale in 1801. A large fireplace, framed photos of ships adorning the walls and an old-time popcorn machine get the nostalgia flowing. Nightly entertainment and casual yet top-notch tavern fare, in addition to the beer, wine and spirits, keep it going. 860-767-1776, griswoldinn.com

Lucky Lou’s Bar and Grill, Wethersfield

They don’t call it Old Wethersfield for nothing. Tucked in Connecticut’s first permanent settlement, the 1787 Deming-Standish house that is home to Lucky Lou’s fits right into the historic district. While the exterior is much as it was in the early 19th century, the inside has seen renovations that, luckily, preserved much of the original tavern feel, including dark, wide-plank wood floors and vintage plaster walls. A bonus for history buffs: George Washington stayed just across the street at the Joseph Webb House, where he planned the decisive battle of Yorktown. 860-257-0700, luckylousbarandgrill.com

Ordinary, New Haven

This bar is truly from another era. This Chapel Street institution was originally the in-house bar of the Taft Hotel, the hulking structure that holds court on the corner of Chapel and College streets. The hotel is now luxury apartments but the bar still has the atmosphere of when the great and the good, presidents and captains of industry, would make appearances in downtown New Haven. Gorgeous wood paneling adorns the walls, and the ornate wood carvings behind the bar make you feel as though you are in another decade’s New Haven. 203-907-0238, ordinarynewhaven.com

Firehouse 12

Firehouse 12 in New Haven

Best for a First Date (But You’re Broke)

J. Lawrence Downtown, Bethel

This new bar and restaurant is a great spot for a casual date. Located in a historic downtown Bethel building, it has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. You can get wine, beer or cocktails and enjoy a menu of elevated comfort cuisine. Whether you grab drinks and a few appetizers as you talk — the Pilgrim Poutine is a favorite of ours — or settle in for the whole meal, there are plenty of options. 203-616-5949, jlawrencect.com

Firehouse 12, New Haven

The bar in Firehouse is an architectural curiosity as much as it is a great place to drink. It’s housed in the basement of the old 1912 firehouse, which also has a recording studio and performance space on the ground floor. In the bar, drinkers lean up against concrete forms reminiscent of the modernist and brutalist parking garages and academic buildings that dot the New Haven cityscape. There is dim mood lighting and nice cocktails, but also $3 tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. 203-785-0468, firehouse12.com

Highland Brass Co., Waterbury

Self-described as a “speakeasy meets brasserie,” this neighborhood spot in the Town Plot section of the city offers creative cocktails and Connecticut craft beers. But as the beer-can pyramid photo — consisting of Bud Light, High Life and PBR, among others — on HBC’s website can attest, simple fun is also on the menu. Food trucks roll in every Thursday night, and the establishment’s limited hours of operation (44 per week) ensure that regulars will soon become friends. 203-596-0070, highlandbrassco.com

Bar NH

Bar in New Haven

Best for Foodies

Steinbock Tavern at the Alpenhaus Restaurant, New Milford

The Steinbock Tavern not only offers a jovial beer-hall atmosphere, and large steins of German or Connecticut beer, it has some of the best examples of German cuisine you’ll find anywhere in Connecticut. The menu features several schnitzel varieties, soft Bavarian pretzels, potato pancakes and that favorite of German cuisine, sauerbraten. This isn’t just “good for a bar” food, it’s great food in any setting. 860-799-5557, alpenhausct.com

M/BAR, Mystic

Also known for its wine selection, M/BAR is also a haven of edible delights. Tightly focused breakfast and dinner menus feature seasonal ingredients and hand-crafted creations. For breakfast, there are house-made bagels that contributing writer Shelley Lawrence Kirkwood called “among the best you will find in Connecticut,” as well as more creative options such as spicy veggie chili and braised beef tacos. Small plates to be enjoyed later in the day include chicken and pear pot pie and schnitzel of pork. 860-245-4499, mbarct.com

Celtic Cavern, Middletown

The food menu here is something to behold: adventurous and interesting, there are enough offerings to keep you coming back many times. Not your typical nachos and wings (though we have no problem with that!), the menu at Celtic Cavern is more likely to feature fresh fish, or a Chinese-inspired fried rice dish. The beer list is impressive, to boot. 860-894-2954, celticcavern.com

Engine Room, Mystic

With its extensive program of beer, wine, cocktails and whiskey, Engine Room can more than hold its own as a pure bar. But what puts it over the top is its high-end American comfort food, led by its slate of dry-aged burgers. Powered by Dan Meiser and chef James Wayman, the team behind well-regarded Mystic neighbor Oyster Club, Engine Room uses some of the same food suppliers that provide ingredients for the seafood spot. Engine Room also offers themed monthly dinners. On March 18, Wayman presents a multi-course Mexican feast inspired by his travels in Oaxaca. 860-415-8117, engineroomct.com

BAR, New Haven

Many consider the Big 3 of Elm City pizza to be Pepe’s, Sally’s and Modern. If we’re adding a bar into the equation, well, BAR might just be No. 1. (If you take the nightclub into consideration, it’s in a category of its own.) The mashed potato and bacon pie is the calling card, but with toppings such as sun-dried tomatoes, house-roasted red peppers, eggplant, artichoke hearts, buffalo chicken, little neck clams and shrimp, you’d have to come back quite a few times to try it all. And you just might. 203-495-8924, barnightclub.com

Best For Gameday (That Isn’t Buffalo Wild Wings)

Matty’s Next Door Sports Bar, Middletown

Sports bars are a polarizing thing. You either like being surrounded by zillions of TV screens, able to look in on a dozen different games at once, or you don’t. For those who do (during March Madness, perhaps), Matty’s on South Main Street hits the spot. From the same owners as the legendary Jerry’s Pizza next door — you can order a pizza at Jerry’s and bring it to Matty’s — these people have been in the Middletown food game for a long, long time.860-346-5335, mattysnextdoor.com

Chicago Sam’s, Cromwell and Enfield

No, that’s not television-themed wallpaper. Those are televisions. Chicago Sam’s in Cromwell boasts 100 TVs in its 10,000 square feet while its little brother in Enfield “only” has about 40. Being that it’s March, these locations will be absolutely packed with madness from Thursday through Sunday for the next few weeks. For the other 11 months, there’s nightly entertainment, trivia, karaoke, and tons of drink and food specials, depending on the day. Cromwell: 860-635-1860 Enfield: 860-741-2936, chicagosams.com

Ted’s Restaurant & Bar, Storrs

It’s the UConn bar, and more accurately described as the best bar to (be at before you) watch a game. It’s also where alumni gather when they’re back on campus — you can feel the nostalgia and history in the place. Wash down a barbecue chicken onion ring pizza with a pitcher of Bionic Beaver; now you’re in Husky Nation. And if this March is like most Marches in recent memory, the women’s basketball team’s quest for another national title will bring plenty of patrons through the doors. 860-429-9545, tedsbar.com

Cover Two Sports Cafe, Newtown

Nestled in the Sandy Hook hamlet of Newtown, Cover Two has everything you can ask for from a sports bar: good TVs, a neighborhood feel and lots of gameday enthusiasm from patrons. There also is a strong beer list and solid food, and guests get the bar’s signature wings for free on their birthdays. There’s a reason locals praise this spot. 203-426-5441, covertwosportscafe.com

Acoustic

The Acoustic in Bridgeport

Best to Rock Your Socks Off

Cafe Nine, New Haven

Another New Haven classic, this spot on the corner of State and Crown boasts live music every night of the week. Every. Night. Jazz, blues, rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop, punk; all types have been known to stop by Cafe Nine. As such, the bar attracts a seriously diverse crowd of people from all walks of life. Nestled as it is along a fairly barren stretch of State Street, people don’t mind making a bit of noise. Its design is so classically that of a bar that it’s on our cover. That’s how much we like it. 203-789-8281, cafenine.com

The Oasis Pub, New London

A super selection of craft beer combines with live music in an intimate setting, so sometimes it gets a little loud and rowdy. And that’s why you come here. There’s a pool table, theme parties and occasional bingo nights, but it’s not your grandparents’ kind of bingo — check their Facebook page and you’ll understand. Local artists are also on display in what is affectionately referred to as a hipster dive bar. 860-447-3929, facebook.com/theoasispub

The Stomping Ground, Putnam

There’s seemingly always something going on at this place that calls itself “more than just a bar — We’re an Experience!” Part of that experience is live music every Tuesday through Saturday night. There’s trivia on Wednesday, jazz on Thursday, and open mic nights on Sunday. Hungry for more? In addition to Sunday brunch and Taco Tuesday, the menu is packed with gourmet grilled cheeses, burritos, pot pies and desserts. But the live music is the main course. The Quiet Corner may need a new nickname. 860-928-7900, the-stomping-ground.com

The Space Ballroom, Hamden

This spot would be a bit difficult to find if you didn’t know it was there. It’s not really the kind of place you just stumble across, hidden in a parking lot off Dixwell Avenue in Hamden. A lot of people do know about it, and travel from far and wide, as it’s become one of the premier smaller music venues in south-central Connecticut. Check their schedule often, as powerhouse Manic Presents has recently taken over booking duty there. spaceballroom.com

The Acoustic, Bridgeport

It’s all about the sound at this venue, which underwent a renovation a few years ago to maximize the live music experience. The space is small, so there’s not a bad seat in the house. Make no mistake: This isn’t the type of place where the beer list is the focus, and there’s no kitchen on the premises. But there are some solid brews on tap and you’re allowed to bring in food. The Acoustic is here to put the rock in Black Rock. 203-335-3655, theacoustic.rocks

Sarahs

Sarah's Wine Bar in Ridgefield

Best for the Wine-and-Cheese Crowd

Nouveau Monde Wine Bar + Bistro, Sandy Hook

Nouveau Monde is serious about wine. The restaurant’s Wine Spectator award-winning list features more than 40 wines by the glass and 130 wines by the bottle, many of them hard to find. Modeled on a 1930s Paris bistro, intermingled with a London pub and Harvard book club, the restaurant has a unique feel and atmosphere that is elegant and relaxed. There are even suggested wine pairings for most food menu items. 203-491-2723, nouveaumondewinebar.com

Sarah’s Wine Bar, Ridgefield

Bernard’s restaurant gets the bigger sign at this well-regarded double eatery near the New York border, but Sarah’s Wine Bar deserves a billboard for the thousands of wines it serves. A nice complement to Bernard’s more buttoned-up vibe, Sarah’s offers a casual bistro atmosphere with rustic furnishings and rotating artwork. It’s the perfect setting for sipping French vintages and noshing starters such as French onion soup and baked brie and entrées such as trout amandine and duck leg confit. 203-438-8282, bernardsridgefield.com

Vinted, West Hartford

This wine bar in trendy Blue Back Square has more than 70 wines, from champagnes and chardonnays to malbecs and merlots. While its list isn’t the longest in the state, Vinted’s WineStation cooling technology allows for maximum tasting combinations. You’re free to order in 1-ounce taste, 3-ounce half-glass, 6-ounce full glass or by the bottle. Pair that with a strong lineup of small plates and tapas and you’ll be able to try a bit of everything. 860-206-4648, vintedwinebar.com

Bin 228, Hartford and Glastonbury

While the smaller Hartford location bills itself as a panini and wine bar, the newer Glastonbury gastropub is no slouch when it comes to wine. At the Bin 228 in downtown Hartford, a modest kitchen mostly limits the fare to small plates, allowing the dozens of wines to be the focal point of the dining experience. In Glastonbury, a larger space allows for more expansive culinary offerings, along with a well-rounded selection of beer, liquor and cocktails. Hartford: 860-244-9463 Glastonbury: 860-430-9699, thebin228.com

KeagansIrishPub02 072913

Keagan's Irish Pub & Restaurant in Middletown

Best If You’re Irish (And Even If You’re Not)

Maple Cafe, Hartford

Irish bar extraordinaire. You can be sure they know how to pull their pints properly at this South End haunt, having been there since the 1970s. It also makes the claim to be the oldest Irish bar in the city. The simple and familiar interior has the kind of decorations and atmosphere that would not be out of place in Ireland itself. Cheap pints on St. Patrick’s Day. 860-956-1181, themaplecafehartford.com

Keagan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, Middletown

Keagan’s is relatively new, having been in this space for the last few years. It has settled into the space nicely, however, and feels like it’s been there for much longer than that. The food menu features all the Irish-American classics including corned beef, along with a great burger selection. 860-346-2400, keagansct.com

The Inishmor, Colchester

Opened in 2014 and named after the largest of the Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast, The Inishmor strives for the sort of community feel one seeks in an Irish pub. Live music and trivia nights draw people together, as does the food and beer selection. You’ll, of course, find staples such as corned beef, but served with locally grown cabbage, potatoes and carrots, and shepherd’s pie, but with traditional lamb rather than beef. The beer list is a winning combination of local brews and Irish imports. inishmorpub.com


This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine. 

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The senior writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University

Mike Wollschlager, editor and writer for Connecticut Magazine, was born and raised in Bristol and has lived in Farmington, Milford, Shelton and Wallingford. He was previously an assistant sports editor at the New Haven Register.

Albie Yuravich is the editor in chief of Connecticut Magazine. A product of the Naugatuck River Valley, he's also been a newspaper editor and writer at the New Haven Register, Greenwich Time, The Register Citizen and the Republican-American.