Nestled between the ever-popular Owl Shop and the newly popular College Street Music Hall (despite me having never heard of half those bands), Elm City Social rose from the ashes of Briq, which rose from the ashes of Bespoke which… well… you get the idea.
I never frequented Bespoke, but I bought enough $8.50 vodka sodas at Briq to know what it was about: poor service, an inconsistent menu, overpriced drinks, and a rooftop bar which canceled that all out anyway.
Enter Elm City Social, the newest incarnation of the three-story bar (and basement!). Much like Ordinary, Elm City Social goes for a pre-prohibition vibe. I’m pretty sure I’ve even heard a jazz cover of “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul. Whether that’s a good thing or not is… entirely up to the listener.
(Yes, I know she’s alive — on the outside.)
A Better Bar Experience
First, I’d like to point out that the service and bar experience is significantly improved from Briq. Everybody I’ve dealt with has been incredibly friendly and the service has generally been excellent. They’re almost too nice.
In fact, one bartender spent a surprising amount of time discussing how this one virgin cocktail a friend ordered (don’t ask) is really too tart in the recipe but don’t worry, he knows just how to fix it cause he’s got a PhD in Cocktailology. Why they didn’t make it that way the first time is just a mystery of the universe.
Still, they get the drinks out fairly quickly, the waiters and waitresses have all been pretty awesome, so that’s a big plus from Briq. And honestly a bit of a rarity in New Haven.
They also have a small, but effective beer list. I’ve seen them with Stone Arrogant Bastard and a few Black Hog brews on there. They definitely make their taps count.
The food, however, was a little more hit-and-miss.
A Smorgasbord of Okay Options
I was with two friends and we ordered a little bit of everything: zucchini chips (with aioli sauce), baked brie, duck sliders, and even some pumpkin & cheddar perogis.
Given such interesting menu items, I expected some pretty impressive tastes. But I found myself constantly underwhelmed. Except for the duck sliders. It almost makes you forget that they were once cute little ducks.
(Which Elm City Social makes difficult by having little rubber duckies everywhere).
Those things were awesome. I’m just gonna say it. If you’re here and you only order one thing, I’d give the duck sliders a shot. I found them perfectly savory and the accompanying fries were good, too, though they could use a bit more crispiness.
However, everything else? Not bad, not great. The fried zucchini chips were pretty bland. The baked brie somehow was even more forgettable. I have no idea how you bake cheese in such a way but it just wasn’t doing it for me. The pumpkin and cheddar perogis were definitely interesting, if not entirely pleasant.
Which is not to say that it was bad — it wasn’t. It just wasn’t great, which was surprising because the menu is really creative and interesting, but I guess when you take so many chances with flavors, some are bound to hit and some are bound to miss.
Cool vibes all around
The overall atmosphere is pretty hip, but not in a fancy, 116 Crown kind of way. It’s a bit more down-to-Earth. It’s chill. Some people were dressed pretty well, but others were definitely super casual.
The music is pretty eclectic and I heard a ton of jazz if you’re into that kind of thing.
The bathrooms remain a total mystery. I guess they’re unisex? It’s unclear which one I’m supposed to be using, and I still have this weird fear that I’m going to accidentally wash someone else’s hands in the shared, under-the-mirror sink.
That might be worth it alone.
Still, I think it’s definitely an improvement and the service was really good, which is important — especially important when those summer months come around and everybody wants to hang out on the rooftop deck.
I look forward to coming back, but I may eschew the food and stick to cocktails (but not too tart!) in the future. And the duck sliders.
All the duck sliders.
Final Grade: B
What I Liked: Good, friendly service. Duck sliders were awesome. Decent beers on tap.
What I Didn’t Like: Many dishes were only okay. Noise levels can be high. Some of the bartenders are almost too friendly.