“Want to just go to Delaney’s?”
That’s a question either I or my girlfriend will ask on a weekly basis. Sometimes more depending on how many times we’ve visited recently or how tired we are to make dinner. After all, the bar was always a quick walk down Central Avenue from our home, and we could depend on the taps to be flowing with great beer, the kitchen to be cooking up great wings and fries, and more importantly, we’d be certain to have a great time.
Until last week.
When my girlfriend told me that Delaney’s was “on fire,” I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t walk down the street to watch, and tried, at least at first, to avoid the reports online. It wasn’t fair. Our favorite bar was gone.
But the truth was unavoidable the next day when, while walking our dog, I noticed that traffic was still blocked off for much of Whalley and parts of Central Avenue. All anyone I walked into on the street wanted to talk about was what happened to Delaney’s. Consensus that it was cruel and unjust to lose a place that had truly been a Westville institution for ages.
We’ve been part of the fortunate many who’ve been able to consider Delaney’s a second home throughout the years. It’s been great having a reliable, comfortable place like Delaney’s stumbling distance from our house. It was a place we could throw back a few Sea Hag IPAs from New England Brewing Company, share some sweet potato fries while we drew dirty pictures in crayons on the paper placemats. And up until it burned down on Monday, it was a place we were looking forward to spending several afternoons together, dog lying at our feet, drinking away fall weekends on its outdoor patio.
What’s great about Delaney’s is that it’s been a lot of people’s favorite bar for a long time. I’d been coming to Delaney’s regularly only since 2010, which is nothing compared to a lot of the guys who’ve worn out its bar stools, logging their time chucking peanuts on its floor in decades or remember when it was the Cape Codder. One of those very same regulars chimed in on comments about the blaze, and another recalled proposing to his wife there.
It was a rare and lucky thing to have a bar like Delaney’s in Westville—warm, unpretentious and staffed by friendly and knowledgeable people. It was a true neighborhood place in the style of Cheers or Moe’s.
I’d been spoiled on bars like Delaney’s before before coming to New Haven. First, there was Willlimantic’s Willi Brew and Hartford’s Spigot after that. These were real “bars,” I thought. Not clubs, or gastropubs, or (gasp!) lounges. They were places were people could get a good beer, or glass of wine, or bourbon and just talk. Nothing frilly or gimmicky about them. When I moved into Westville, I established a high bar for Delaney’s that it cleared with the grace and ease of an Olympic high jumper.
Like I’m sure many people who’ve regularly walked through its doors, I started to claim ownership of it in a small way. It was my secret. My haven from the noise (and Yalies) downtown. My place where I could go and crack open a book, or a laptop, and not feel conspicuous. It was the place to watch Patriots games and the World Series. It was the cool local spot I’d take girls on dates. And also the place where I’d eventually dread running into exes. That’s because Delaney’s was the kind of bar people just had to go back to. A secret that never stayed a secret for too long.
That’s because Delaney’s was hardly a secret to anyone, even if it felt like it was. On any given afternoon, the bar was stuffed with regulars and students. But all that activity gave it an unmistakable energy, even when that energy meant that it was impossible to find a seat or a get a drink, that no other place in New Haven could replicate.
I’ll miss all that as well. I’ll miss hovering around the bar like a vulture waiting for an open seat, and waiting hours for my song to play on the jukebox. I’ll even miss having to show up armed with four choices for beer because Sea Hag, and my next two picks, would be unavailable.
I know that I won’t be missing it all forever. I know Delaney’s will be back. In Westville. But for now, our little neighborhood is a little less hip, a little less special, with it gone. And it sucks that I’m not going to be able to ask “want to just go to Delaney’s?” for a while.