Erin Go Bar

Thomas MacMillan PhotoWith wood from an old Dublin church, a contractor straight from the old country, and plans for an all-Celtic staff, Colin O’Toole is poised to open the most Irish of New Haven pubs—and complete the revitalization of a downtown public square.

When patrons belly up to the bar at O’Toole’s Irish Pub at Pitkin Plaza on Orange Street, their Guinness will be set down on a slab of 150-year-old pine taken from the rafters of a Dublin church that was recently demolished.

O’Toole, the 26-year-old former manager of Christy’s pub, pointed out that detail as he gave a tour of what he said he hopes will become the new neighborhood bar for 360 State and other downtown apartment buildings.

For the past several weeks, O’Toole and his business partner, former Playwright manager Damian Cashman, have been working on converting three separate retail spaces—former army recruiting offices—on Orange Street into one large Irish pub. O’Toole said they hope to open by Labor Day.

The main entrance will be just to the left of Pitkin Plaza, home of Bru coffee shop and the Devil’s Gear bike shop. With the blessing of city officials, O’Toole’s will offer outdoor seating in the plaza. That represents a final step in the reclamation of a once overlooked and underused public space.

Pitkin Plaza has undergone a renaissance in recent years, thanks to the creation of 360 State, Bru, Devil’s Gear bike shop, and the Ideat Village arts festival. By the fall it will be the home of Guinness-tipping pub-goers.

The Bar Of The Bar

On a recent afternoon, contractor James Lynch was at work fitting out the “snugs” that line the right wall of the pub. Lynch, who came over from Ireland to oversee the construction of the bar, double-checked with O’Toole on the proper height of the tables in the cozy, high-backed, six-person booths.

O’Toole has had his hands full converting three separate retail spaces into a single large restaurant. It’s required a complete gutting and cutting holes through a revealed brick wall.

In the center will be a large bar, dominating the middle room and accessible from the snug room through windows in the brick wall. The bar top will be made of the 150-year-old pine church rafters. O’Toole showed off a sample piece he had on hand. The rest is on its way from Ireland.

“The bar of the bar is coming from the old country,” O’Toole said.

In the rear of the snug room is a larger booth suitable for sessions of traditional Irish music. Up to 15 fiddlers and pluckers will be able to sit together and play over pints just as they do in pubs in Ireland.

In the back of the main room, there will be a stage with space for more music. O’Toole said he hopes to bringing in touring Irish rock bands from Boston and New York. He’s outfitting the rear wall of the stage to look like an old Irish cottage.

The last third of the bar, farthest from the plaza, will hold a private function room, and a new kitchen. O’Toole said he plans to offer customary Irish dishes—fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie. He said offer a “Sunday carvery,” at which a chef will set up a station Sunday afternoon out in the restaurant and people can order from a variety of roast meats carved to order. “All the pubs do it,” O’Toole said.

He said he plans to have an all-Irish staff “from the front door to the kitchen.”

“Nobody can cook Irish food like the Irish,” O’Toole said. Visas for Irish workers are easy to come by these days, he said.

Plaza Plans

O’Toole acknowledged that times are hard for the bar business given the recession. “It’s been tough for everybody.”

He said he was nonetheless confident that his new venture will find success. “I’ve been doing it long enough,” he reasoned.

O’Toole, who came to Connecticut from Dublin when he was 6 years old, has been working in Irish bars for his entire adult life. From 16 to 20, he was at the Playwright in Hamden. Between 20 and 22 he worked at Anna Liffey’s. Then he managed Christy’s from 22 to 26.

Although he’s been living in the states for two decades, O’Toole retains a Dublin accent, the result of summers in Ireland and frequent trips back. His family has always held on to their Irishness. His father was the president of the Irish club in New Haven for years. His fiancee, who played soccer at UNH is from Ireland, and so is Cashman, his business partner. Among the group of them, O’Toole said the new bar will be tapped into enough social networks to be successful.

He said he also sees promise in the influx of new residents downtown, particularly at 360 State, the new high-rise at the corner of Chapel and State streets. The building has an entrance on Pitkin Plaza.

The plaza will host new outdoor seating for the pub. Stepping outside, O’Toole pointed out an area he plans to enclose and fill with tables. The outdoor seating area will be accessible only through the bar, not directly from the plaza. O’Toole said he sees the Temple Grill as a model of the kind of plaza experience he’d like to create.

Tony Bialecki, the city’s deputy head of economic development, hailed the move into Pitkin. “The plaza, as we all know, has come from what had been an empty desolate place to a really active, well cared for and now well used public plaza,” he said. “It’s great to see so many people using the plaza.”

Bialecki said O’Toole’s outdoor seating would occupy a space of about 15 by 30 feet. “It’s doesn’t go out real far into the plaza,” he said. And it won’t interfere with the Devil’s Gear bike shop. O’Toole’s and the city are working on a one-year license agreement for the use of the plaza, as a kind of “test.” The outside hours will likely be limited to 11 or 12 p.m., at least for the first year, Bialecki said.

“We think they’re going to run a great operation,” he said. “It’s just so exciting to see the plaza re-activated.”

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: James on July 25, 2011  11:29am

Thank god.. without O’Toole’s we would only have 2,125 other bars to go to.


posted by: robn on July 25, 2011  11:50am


You should think about doing breakfast. There’s only one or two decent places in town and that downtown location would be great.

posted by: Paul Grooms on July 25, 2011  12:10pm

Great to see Pitkin Plaza becoming a vibrant part of New Haven.

posted by: Cindy on July 25, 2011  12:18pm

All-Celtic staff, isn’t that discriminatory on the basis of one’s ethnic background?  Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

posted by: DKR on July 25, 2011  12:46pm

love it guys,....good to see a “classic” bar/pub coming to the area instead of the usual late night dance crap that attracts the “wrong” crowds, from owners looking for a quick cash,..i know damian personally,..and he is the right fit for this project, and knows the game of politics and all it’s loopholes in new haven that have plagued the downtown area for many years. here’s a chance to have a class establishment in the area….let’s hope johnny boy doesn’t interfere…..

posted by: Pedro Soto on July 25, 2011  12:48pm

This is exactly the spillover economic activity that I anticipated 360 State would bring to this area when it opened last year. Over the next few years, there will be more restaurants and shops as well as more apartments, as this big bet on the city has proven to be a great one.

From what I have heard, 360 is actually almost totally rented out, a full year ahead of schedule. And this is without the grocery store being open!

Elm City Market, for those interested should be open for business mid to late september.

posted by: Larry on July 25, 2011  1:14pm

Hopefully Colin stays true to the “bringing Irish acts from boston and NYC” comment.  The city hasn’t had that since the heydays of Anna Liffeys back in the late 90’s.  To be a true irish pub you need irish music not just the “Mean Carlenes” of the world.  Not that theres anything wrong with that.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on July 25, 2011  1:16pm

Seconding the breakfast suggestion!

posted by: Dan on July 25, 2011  1:26pm

I think its great and will add something to downtown. Once the city gets smart and makes all the places move away from 18+ we can get back a vibrant adult nightlife in New Haven!

posted by: on July 25, 2011  1:29pm

As an American that has visited Ireland many many times. I am so excited to see a genuine Irish Pub in New Haven. I live in 360 State and can’t wait to drop down.

posted by: Curious on July 25, 2011  1:52pm

Are these people capable of pulling this off? I thought both Playwright and Christy’s went out of business, the latter for tax reasons. 

posted by: MM on July 25, 2011  2:29pm

Haven’t you ever heard of BLACK Irish?????????????
From the northern six counties….

posted by: alexey on July 25, 2011  2:38pm

As exciting as this sounds, my first reaction also was—wouldn’t an all-Celtic staff be illegal?  Sad to think that’s the way we think these days.  Maybe it’ll sort of be like St. Patrick’s day, when “everyone’s Irish.”  Like our president, O’bama, who visited his other-than-Kenyan roots recently.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 25, 2011  3:20pm

Is this like the Blarney Stone Pub.

posted by: robn on July 25, 2011  4:05pm

Don’t forget one of The Greatest Irishman…

Muhammad Ali

posted by: Bobby Moran on July 25, 2011  4:32pm

Colin and Damo.. wishing you guys the best of luck. I’ll be happy to spend my dollars at your bar. Ignore the negative comments and the people who post them (not that I’ve read very many) and keep pushing on. Those of us who know you, know you can and will be successful in this business and are looking forward to a lot laughs, good times, and great craic at the new O’Toole’s Pub!!

posted by: we have one on July 25, 2011  5:20pm

irishatheart, If you want an authentic Irish pub while waiting for this one to open, just walk up Church Street until it becomes Whitney, and drop in on Anna Liffey’s.

posted by: RKan on July 25, 2011  5:45pm

Oh wow - an Irish pub. What an exciting addition to the area. I can’t wait to see what it’s like since Irish pubs all seem to have such varied characters and atmospheres.

I’m happy for the economic development and am all for new nightlife options, but just about anything other than another Irish pub would be more interesting.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 25, 2011  6:27pm

posted by: robn on July 25, 2011 4:05pm
Don’t forget one of The Greatest Irishman…

Muhammad Ali

Alex Haley’s Other Roots: African-Americans with Irish Ancestors “My own grandmother about whom I’m now writing in my father’s book, my mother’s side went into Roots, but on my father’s side, both paternal grandparents were the parents of white Irish fathers and black slave mothers. Therefore, I’m part Irish. I can’t feel Irish to save my soul, but it’s a fact.”  Alex Haley Interview

Force Roots which came out of slavery and Rape of african woman by the white slave master. Ulster ancestry of African-Americans can be a difficult subject for both Ulster-Americans and African-Americans to discuss.  Before the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s, few Scotch-Irish had any desire to claim blacks as relatives and in these more enlightened times we’re embarrassed, if not ashamed, because we know that this is the legacy of “children of the plantation”—offspring of slaveowners and their female slaves.

But you said Black people should get over it.

posted by: sceptical much on July 25, 2011  8:39pm

This in no way looks like it will be an authentic Irish pub.  Nothing like it.  It looks like American-styled trash.  I don’t care if they want to call it an Irish pub, but they can at least leave the rhetoric about authenticity out of it.

posted by: J.T, on July 25, 2011  10:15pm

So let me get this straight. The people at 360 state complained about a few bands playing at Pitkin Plaza right? let’s see what happens when patrons are outside til 3 a.m. on the weekends being loud and drunk. Goo lock with that 360 State st!

posted by: Cara on July 26, 2011  9:29am

Best of luck to Colin! I am looking forward to having a pint at the bar. I hope Gary bartends!

posted by: Cinderella on July 26, 2011  9:48am

Anything we can do to further New Haven development along is fine with me. Empty spaces and stores are depressing and devalue all properties. As to the comments that it won’t be a pure Irish pub, how can it be?- it’s not in Ireland. What would you suggest, setting peat fires out front and throwing potato peelings on the brick courtyard?

posted by: robn on July 26, 2011  6:57pm


Some African Americans (including Caribbeans) have Irish roots because African men slaves were bred with Irish women slaves (since there were so many Irish slaves in the Caribbean prior to peak African slave trade.)

posted by: Anon on July 26, 2011  8:15pm

Is Kelly’s still around on Crown Street? They were/are a good authentic irish pub and I seem to recall reading they had wood shipped over here as well.

Either way, it’s good to see more businesses and activity coming into New Haven…Good Luck!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 26, 2011  9:17pm

posted by: robn on July 26, 2011 6:57pm

Some African Americans (including Caribbeans) have Irish roots because African men slaves were bred with Irish women slaves (since there were so many Irish slaves in the Caribbean prior to peak African slave trade.)

Wrong.Many African slaves were sexually abused by their masters.Many Irish sexually abused the black help on these plantations.
Ireland was an economically impoverished country during the times of slavery in the United States. Many Irish were in debt. As the British prisons were overcrowded, many of the Irish in debtor’s prisons were sent to America as indentured servants. But unlike the African slaves who were slaves for life, the Irish indentured servants could attain freedom once their sentences were completed and their debts were paid.Another type of Irish immigrant would be convicts who were sent to America due to the overcrowded British prisons. Some of these Irish were rebels and had murdered British military officials and were what we would now consider to be “terrorists.” These Irish were sent in chain gangs to America to work the fields. But although they were often treated like slaves, they were prisoners. Many of these Irish prisoners were sent to Australia, which was a penal colony. Others were sent to America.
Many Irish imprisoned rebels broke out of British prisons and incited riots within the prisons and were considered “rotters.” The British sent many of these Irish prisoners to America to live among the black slaves in the Caribbean Islands in the hopes that the would not reproduce. Unfortunately, many of them did reproduce and many of their mulatto offspring led revolts throughout the Caribbean. Many of these Irish prisoners raped the slaves and had bastard mulatto offspring. The Irish prisoners also intermingled with the Natives on the islands.Like I said force Irish roots from Rape.

posted by: Charlie O'Keefe on July 26, 2011  9:33pm

To qualify for the accolade of Irish Pub a bar needs only to serve a well known cocktail, the Begorrah, but once. Just pull a pint of Guinness and drop a medium sized potatoe (or you could call it a potato if you were a long forgotten Vice President) just as the white head froths up. Now that’s the easy bit. The bar has just become an apprentice boy. To become a fully fledged Irish Pub it then has to get some sucker to drink this sophisticated concoction. As Pitkin Plaza is but(t) a stagger away from city hall that should not be difficult.