Rarely is 400 years of history and presidential name-dropping relevant to a CTbites review, but allow me to digress.
Bar Ordinary, New Haven's newest incarnation of its oldest bar, sits on a storied site on the corner of Chapel and College Street. Nearly 400 years of New Haven history converge on this location, beginning with its role as the town’s first ordinary, or tavern, in 1659 where it hosted a few early visitors you may recognize, including the infamous Benedict Arnold as well as General George Washington as he made his way to command the Continental Army in 1775 (other presidential visitors may have included Lincoln in 1860 and Taft in 1914). In subsequent centuries it was known as The Beers Tavern (18th), the New Haven Hotel (mid-19th) and the Taft Hotel (beginning in 1910), serving as the locus for the city's social stratum for the greater part of the twentieth century.* By the 1980’s, The Taft Hotel's bar room became Richter’s, a popular spot owned by Yale grad and crew instructor Richter Elser who embraced its layers of historic patina, keeping much of the wood paneling and its original plaster ceiling until it closed in 2011.
Embracing its storied past as New Haven's most popular watering hole, Bar Ordinary opened to the public in April 2013, bringing this beloved spot back to life while preserving much of its architectural and historical character. The wood paneling, plaster ceiling, and light fixtures remain, with careful restoration of details such as wood carved rosettes along the bar shelves and the preservation of several vestiges of its recent Richter’s days such as a Moose head mount (technically on loan from Elser) and half yard glasses along the bar shelves.
This is no historical reenactment. The bar's dimly lit, centuries-old setting may evoke a bygone era, offering a rare glimpse into New Haven's history, however Ordinary has taken equal and careful consideration about its own identity and future.
Serious cocktail drinkers will appreciate the Ordinary’s attention to detail in its thoughtfully curated cocktail menu. Peels and garnishes are carefully constructed for each cocktail, and ice cubes are solid inch and a quarter, perfunctory for a perfect cocktail on the rocks. The cocktail list is a greatest hits list of American cocktails befitting a bar with historical roots, including a Rye Old Fashioned, Calvados Sidecar, Manhattan, Sazerac, French 75, Bee’s Knees, and Viking Funeral. The Bee’s Knees (pictured below) is a one-two-punch of tart (lemon) and sweet (honey) layered with welcome hints of botanicals in this gin-based drink. Ordinary’s Sazerac is an exemplar of the classic 19th century New Orleans cocktail, in its combination of High West Double Rye, Bitters, Simple Syrup and a Duplais Ansinthe Rinse, served in a chilled rocks (or Old Fashioned) glass.
In addition to the seven classic cocktails, a short list of five red and five white wines is Ordinary’s starting point at about three weeks into service. There are six rotating beers on tap, and many more by the bottle. According to one of the partners, Tom, “the beer list is approachable, we’ll keep most of them at $5 to $6.” Dimly lit and cozy, if you can’t find a stool at the bar, shallow drink shelves protrude from the opposite wall, perfect for busy nights where bar service may be two people deep. Seating in the rear (under the auspices of the aforementioned Moose) offers a bit more elbow room for snacking.
Keeping things modern, yet approachable and true to the space’s historical origins were paramount to crafting the bars identity, according to Bar Ordinary owners Tom Sobocinski (Tom is pictured above, right), Jason Sobocinski, Mike Farber and Timmy Cabral who all grew up in or around New Haven and are familiar faces in the New Haven restaurant scene. “Preserving the history was really important to us. It’s about the space,” said Tom Sobocinski. This seasoned team took on the project of reopening this historic bar room with this guiding principle. Taking ownership of the space late in 2012, their renovation of the bar and the evolution of its menu, was realized with its opening in mid April 2013.
As for the food, Ordinary's presents is a focused menu of cheese, charcuterie and savory pies as well as tarts and warm cookies to pair with its libations. This humble menu is informed by a kitchen that stands at a diminuitive 48 square feet. Ordinary embraces this tiny footprint by leveraging a close relationship with a team of purveyors, including nearby Caseus Fromagerie, Sixpense Pie. Co in Southington, and La Palette Bakery in Watertown. The connection to Caseus is an important one. Ordinary partner Jason Sobocinki is owner and founder of New Haven's award-winning restaurant and cheese shop Caseus Fromagerie Bistro and a Cooking Channel host.
Served on slate boards, the cheese and charcuterie selection will rotate and continue to evolve, informed by the cheese mongers at Caseus. In addition to cheese plates, a list of seasonal and savory pies from Six Pence Pie Company (a Southington company) are available. The company's motto, “old world pies, a Yankee makeover” feels made for Ordinary's tavern setting. Overseeing the food, Jason also works directly with Sixpense Pie Co. on the types of pies they will offer as ingredients change seasonally.
"Ordinary is very excited to be featuring some really fun and delicious cheeses and charcuterie selected by Caseus Fromagerie and pies by the Sixpense Pie Co. The savory hand pies feature all local ingredients and are made in small batches from scratch. Sweets like dark chocolate covered pistachios and bacon studded Vosges chocolate alongside freshly baked chocolate tarts and warm cookies from La Palette Bakery with local milk are perfect to round out a night of libating with friends," said co-owner Jason Sobocinski.
Ordinary may fall into a few categories, but its most fitting, thanks to its handsome setting and curated list of snacks, may be the coveted pre or post dinner cocktail spot. New Haven is filled with some great bars, but only Ordinary has the ability to connect with its four hundred year old roots.
Bar Ordinary is located at 990 Chapel Street in New Haven, CT. Information at http://ordinarynewhaven.com/.
*This history is paraphrased from author and historian Colin M. Caplan’s timeline, displayed on a back wall at Bar Ordinary and available online.