Starting a business in New Haven is a move fraught with risk. For every successful bar, restaurant, or yoga studio, another 3-4 seem to close. If you blink for just a moment, you can see Kudeta/K2/ChengDu turn into some new Asian-themed restaurant with exactly the same decor.
Yet despite the churn of so many New Haven businesses, there are survivors, too. They’re building communities and carving out their own niche, one day at a time. Days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years. That’s how New Haven institutions are born.
This week, I want to celebrate New Haven’s success stories. I apologize for any great stories I’ve missed, just let me know and I will try to include them in a future article!
Barracuda was the perfect replacement for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Meatball House (a venture from Prime 16, I believe). Blending Colombian food with other Latin dishes, Barracuda carves out a perfect blend of cocktail bar and Latin restaurant in a great location, stretching Downtown a bit further into Chapel West.
The place is constantly packed, and the clientele is weirdly, consistently attractive. Which is never a terrible thing.
(Can you put, “Has hot people” in a Yelp review?)
The owner, Sonya, is a terrific lady, too, who is always down to pleasantly chat about things, and is a great ambassador to New Haven.
Elm City Games
A tabletop gaming cafe in New Haven is one of those ideas that seems obvious once someone else has it. Luckily, Matt Fantastic and Trish Loder did, in fact, have it. And while I enjoy bars and restaurants as much as the next guy, Elm City Games is something more: a community.
Featuring about one billion board games and monthly or day passes, Elm City Games is a great alternative to the bar/restaurant scene.
When I heard they were being evicted from the original location in the back of the Happiness Lab, I worried about the future of Elm City Games. Instead, the Grove has turned into a wonderful home for and enabled it to grow.
Any time (well, not Monday or Tuesday), you can pop over there and find any manner of people of all types playing D&D or any other number of board games, and Matt and Trish have made tremendous efforts to create an inclusive community which doesn’t just pretend to welcome gamers of all types — it really does.
So stop by and nerd out.
Elm City Social/Olives & Oil
When I first moved to New Haven, some Moroccan restaurant had taken over Bespoke, and it was not going well. Then came Briq, which was the most confusing conglomeration of food and drinks I’ve ever seen in my life.
After Briq closed, Elm City Social opened as a sort of quasi-prohibition-style cocktail bar, except with a much more focused menu. And of course, adorable rubber ducks.
I hear the chicken and waffles are awesome, and I can assure you the duck sliders are excellent as well. Plus, they have pretty much the only rooftop bar in New Haven, so it’s always worth a visit (as long as you don’t mind being jam-packed in there).
In fact, things went so well the owners opened Olives & Oil. I admit I was skeptical of Olives & Oil. After Black Bear, it’s been a real mess trying to find a tenant in there. Tavern NH was… yeah.
But the only thing New Haven needed less than a pizza place was another Italian restaurant, right?
It turns out I was wrong, and by creating a sort of weird Italian fusion restaurant and focusing on the nightlife aspect, Olives & Oil has carved out a solid foothold on a once-deserted corner.
While Fresh Yoga has been a casualty of downtown (but still going in Erector Square), Breathing Room has expanded into a beautiful new space. Owner Margot Broom won the Downtowner of the Year, and the new location is absolutely magnificent.
Breathing Room is attempting to foster less of a yoga studio and more of a yoga-focused community, which also caters to things like aerial and acro yoga, as well as just a place to hang out and chill.
Kudos to Margot and the entire team for really building something.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have considered opening a tiny wine bar in East Rock, right near another wine bar in East Rock, but here we are. And August has done very well for itself.
Tucked onto Edwards Street, August provides an intimate experience, along with high quality wine. It’s a great place to bring a date. Especially cause the place is super hot so really, stripping is the only option.
This is a great little dog-friendly cafe on the edge of downtown, and I think it fills a niche pretty well. It’s tucked away far enough from Yale that it isn’t jam packed with Yalies like Starbucks or Blue State.
Plus, they have a pretty dope food menu with a ton of vegetarian options. And solid bagels. (Still searching for the perfect bagel in New Haven, but they’ve done a pretty good job over here. At this point I’d settle for very good.)
I had my doubts. Oh boy, did I have my doubts.
It can never replace the Anchor Bar, with its kitsch 50’s diner vibe and cheap vodka. Nor should it try to. But Anchor Spa has created something new and different and rather vibrant and unique in New Haven.
Think of it as an experimental cocktail bar. A slightly more affordable, more urban 116 Crown. Every time I’m in here, I’m impressed by the kind of chill vibe I get. At first it seemed a little deserted but lately I think it’s definitely picking up steam.
Not to mention, the experimental cocktails are actually pretty good!
Plus, it’s a black-owned business, and New Haven could certainly use more of those.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the most well-known New Haven startup (unless you count New Haven’s fallen angel, Alexion), SeeClickFix.
The government-focused software company works with cities around America to help them handle request and workflow, and as far as I can tell, things are going great over there.
Plus, their programmers are constantly helping me figure out my own terrible code, so thanks, everyone!
The Coffee Pedaler
Does New Haven really need another cafe? Apparently, yes. Yes, it does.
In fact, Upper State Street area doesn’t really have a ton of coffee shops, so Coffee Pedaler has been a welcome addition, especially with its high-end coffee, and now, serving beer and cocktails until 11pm, despite one particularly angry neighbor.
I’m not entirely sure I’d rank the coffee ahead of the now-defunct Fuel, but it’s damned good.
Apparently, New Haven underestimated its appetite for Crepes. One minute, there’s a single Crepe cart. The next thing you know, not only is there a standalone restaurant on Whitney Ave, but another outpost right in the middle of Broadway.
I don’t know what a Choupette is, but I know I was pretty impressed by their savory crepes. And the place is hoppin’ all the time, so I’m not the only one who thinks so.
What do you think? Did I miss anyone? Let me know!
Edit: I totally forgot Arethusa, which is amazing. I’m the worst. I’m sorry. It’s so wonderful. But you already knew that. Cause you’re waiting in line for ice cream. Or their award-winning Blue Cheese.
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The owner of Elm City Games assaulted a YouTube content created yesterday at GenCon. This guy is a psychopath and should be avoided at all cost.