Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved the idea of a neighborhood bar. As a 10-year-old I would watch the gang gather at Cheers, Homer hang with his pals at Moe’s, and Jack Tripper cook up a scheme at The Regal Beagle. As I started watching Seinfeld and Friends I found myself wanting to kick back at a coffee shop. Considering I had yet to begin drinking alcohol or coffee at this point, it’s obvious the allure of these establishments was the camaraderie and feeling of community contained within. You meet up with your buddies, have some sort of comical misunderstanding and within a half-hour all problems are solved and life is good.
While life does not imitate sitcoms, these types of places do exist, minus the studio audience and perpetual availability of your favorite seat. East Rock, a neighborhood in north-central New Haven, has its fair share. Largely residential and home to many Yale graduate students and young professionals, East Rock has numerous bars and eateries with less congestion and chaos than downtown. It’s also home to East Rock Park, which provides some of the best views in the state.
10 a.m.: Pedal power
Driving south on I-91 toward New Haven on a crisp, partly-sunny weekday morning in November I see quintessential Connecticut right before my eyes: right lane closed ahead. A few minutes behind schedule, I take exit 4 to Humphrey Street and a quick right onto State Street, which serves as the eastern border of the neighborhood. Driving north on State Street is like running a gastro gauntlet, with restaurants, bars and cafes lining both sides.
On recommendation I make my first stop at The Coffee Pedaler, a quiet, no-nonsense coffee bar. Six people sit at six tables — definitely not the cast of Friends — all on laptops click-clacking away. I order a mocha latte that comes to $5 with tax included. I’ll get to the latte, but first the price. Thank you, Coffee Pedaler. It could have been $5.12 or $4.93, but you make it $5 even. It’s faster, it’s cleaner and 88 cents won’t slide out of my pocket and roll under my car seat when I leave. The latte is brought to my table at the perfect temperature to drink immediately, so smooth and creamy with a flavor that makes me ashamed of my daily Folgers tin/Keurig machine routine.
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10:45 a.m.: Art with heart
Right next door to the Pedaler is East Street Arts, where I pick up a few Christmas gifts for the wife. They have a good selection of candles, kitchenwares, soaps, scarves and bags, plus donated chairs that have been restored in their caning studio. According to their website, East Street Arts is a “social enterprise of Marrakech, Inc. dedicated to fostering the creation of art through artisan training programs, workshops and community interactions for persons of all abilities.”
11:15 a.m.: Monumental views
The most surprising aspect of East Rock Park is its proximity to the city. Take a right on Orange Street and you think you’re in Vermont. My vehicle climbs the windy road up to the summit and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, an iconic symbol of New Haven that’s been looking south over downtown and Long Island Sound since 1887. To the west is mostly tree tops and trap rock with an occasional church steeple piercing the treeline. To the east are the highways and Quinnipiac River, all winding their way through the Elm City.
The park itself is 427 acres with more than 10 miles of trails and is open year round for biking, hiking, cross-country skiing or simply soaking in the view. For those who want to soak in some knowledge, there are educational panels detailing the history of the monument, the glacial geology of the park and New Haven as a whole. I had seen the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument a thousand times through a car window from 350 feet below. My trip to the top is long overdue.
1:30 p.m.: Moore, please
Archibald Moore opened up a tavern on Willow Street in 1898 and today there are five Archie Moore’s locations in the southern part of the state. The original is a neighborhood bar in every sense of the term — if not for the green awning and glass front it would look like every other house on the street. Archie’s is best known for its wings, so I order seven (they give me 10), a giant pretzel and a Counter Weight Headway IPA and sit at the bar like an extra on Cheers.
The bartender — full of personality, always a plus — holds multiple conversations simultaneously, loudly enough to where I can follow each one. He talks about the UConn men’s basketball program making a comeback under coach Dan Hurley. At the other end of the bar they decide the Dallas Cowboys need to fire their coach. Other conversation topics: UConn football will never be good, plans for Thanksgiving, which NFL pregame show is best, kids don’t work hard these days.
It seems like every person coming or going knows somebody else at the bar. I don’t, but I definitely don’t feel like a stranger.
3 p.m. A Decor in East Rock
Heading back to State Street I stop by Decor Vintage Market, an antique/vintage store that was stocked up for holiday shoppers with Christmas-themed gifts, sleds, rocking horses, signs, wreaths, pillows and more. It would be difficult to walk through and not find something for somebody. Decor is new to the neighborhood, moving here from North Haven this past February.
3:30 p.m.: If it makes you hoppy
Another new tenant just a few blocks away on Nicoll Street is East Rock Brewing Company, which opened in October 2018 in a former munitions factory with a lineup of German-inspired lagers. I ask for a flight of four — bartender’s choice — and Sandi selects their pilsner, hopfen lager, Vienna lager and black lager. East Rock’s beers are designed for drinkability, and the crisp, fresh suds I sample are a departure from the hop-forward, high-ABV brews dominating the trends. But there’s always room for an easy-drinking, quality beer. And there’s always room at East Rock. The place is absolutely monstrous for a relatively new operation.
5 p.m.: August and everything after
There’s one more stop I have to make before dinner, based on multiple recommendations. August, a wine bar on the corner of State and Edwards, is 350 square feet of dimly lit mood and vibe. It may be slightly intimidating if you’re not a wine aficionado, but the owners, Michelle and Andrew, are knowledgeable and friendly.
There’s no room for a kitchen — or much of anything for that matter — so all the food is prepared right behind the bar. I order a board (just $12 Tue.-Thu. from 5 to 7 p.m.) with d’Affinois and Red Dragon cheeses, almonds, apricots, pear jam and fresh bread that goes beautifully with a Big Flower cabernet sauvignon.
All the recommendations are warranted. I can’t say enough good things about August.
6:30 p.m.: Oak and a smile
Sufficiently lubricated, I walk two blocks south and meet up with my wife for dinner at Oak Haven Table & Bar. We are seated at a small table along the wall but decide to belly up to the bar instead, and I’m rewarded with my fifth great bartender of the day (which I believe is the maximum allowable by law).
The space is illuminated by Edison bulbs and chandeliers made from Mason jars, and classic rock plays softly in the background. Both the food and drink menu are lengthy and varied. We dine on arancini — nicely made with broccoli and cheese as opposed to the usual marinara — Asian barbecue pork bao and a fantastic cheeseburger made with two patties and some killer sweet onion relish. We opt for Oreo beignets off an extensive dessert menu. And since Oak Haven is big on whiskey, I request a small glass of the bartender’s choice. Basil Hayden’s Caribbean Reserve Rye serves as the nightcap to an indulgent day in East Rock.
5 Facts about East Rock
1. The neighborhood of East Rock is named for the trap rock ridge that is part of the Metacomet Ridge, which runs north into Massachusetts.
2. If you were standing at the top of East Rock 22,000 years ago, you would be buried underneath a half-mile of ice.
3. The 11-foot-tall Angel of Peace stands atop the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument — which honors the residents of New Haven who gave their lives in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican-American War and Civil War — raising an olive branch and holding a wreath.
4. A portion of East Rock was (and still is, to some) known as Goatville because of the many goats that roamed the area. The East Rock Brewing logo pays tribute.
5. The upscale Corsair apartment complex, home to over 200 units, opened in 2016. The building was constructed in the late 19th century and was used to produce Corsair aircraft propellers from 1939-52.
Carol Horsford, a New Haven native, is the founder of Farnam Realty Group. She shares three properties to provide a flavor of the housing market in the neighborhood.
For $499,000: A three-family house with 3,096 total living square feet at 56 Nash St. Listing agent is Horsford.
For $625,000: A two-family house, new gut renovation, fully modernized with 2,272 total living square feet at 52 Linden St. Listing agent is Horsford.
For $899,000: A single-family, five-bedroom, four-bathroom, 4,578-square-foot Prairie-style home at 245 East Rock Road. Listing agent is Kim Fenlon at H. Pearce.
On the Calendar
Throughout January: Group Show
Thu.-Sun., noon-4 p.m., City Gallery. The first exhibit at City Gallery in the new year will be a group show featuring photographer William Frucht, artist Joyce Greenfield, and printmaker Barbara Harder.
Jan. 1: Recovery Brunch
11 a.m.-5 p.m., Oak Haven Table & Bar. Start 2020 with Oak Haven’s fifth annual New Year’s Day Recovery Brunch, a farm-to-table, all-you-can-eat buffet for $25. Bottomless sparkling cocktails and Bloody Marys are $15 if you’re trying to keep the party going.
7:30-10 p.m., East Rock Brewing. The opening night of the winter session kicks off the eight-week competition. The league meets every Thursday at the beer hall. Teams, comprising two members, play games of knock off, and no shuffleboard experience is required.
Jan. 26: The Dirty Grass Players
7-9:30 p.m., mActivity fitness center. The East Rock Concert Series in New Haven continues as Fernando Pinto Presents an evening of bluegrass with The Dirty Grass Players. Tickets are $20 ($15 in advance) and available at brownpapertickets.com.