The 23-point moose Richter Elser’s grandad shot in 1908 will survive, along with the name on the front door, when John Ginnetti reopens one of city’s oldest bars.
Ginnetti (pictured) made that pledge Tuesday as he led the Independent on a tour of the vacant space at 990 Chapel St. The 34-year-old, one of three co-owners of the bar 116 Crown, announced plans in August to renovate the space after Richter’s pub closed its doors in June.
As the year comes to an end, the windows remain papered over and the pub remains closed. Walking by the dark storefront, some downtowners have wondered if the revival plans fell through.
Ginnetti said Tuesday his plans have been delayed but by no means aborted. He made a loosely defined promise to open the bar in the first few months of next year.
“It will be ready before the snow melts,” he said.
The latest incarnation will be “a true modern pub” that sticks to its historic roots, he said.
The bar dates back to 1858, when it was part of the New Haven House Hotel at the corner of College and Chapel streets. When the hotel was torn down to make way for the new Hotel Taft in 1910, builders saved the oak wood paneling and reused it for the Taft Tap Room, which opened on Dec. 31, 1912. When Prohibition rolled by, the bar took cover in the basement “Promenade Room” and continued to run as a speakeasy. It moved back upstairs in 1933, and survived to enjoy its “heyday” in the 30s, 40s and 50s, according to a history of the bar.
The bar went dark in 1972 when the Hotel Taft closed. It remained vacant even as the hotel was revamped in 1980 into the Taft Apartments. It lay empty until Jan. 6, 1983, when Richter Elser, a recent Yale grad, opened the bar as Richter’s. Elser ran the joint until 10 years ago, when he turned it over to Dieter vonRabenstein. On the verge of eviction, vonRabenstein closed up shop on June 25.
Ginnetti said he struck a deal with Elser to keep the bar’s name and the old artifacts that adorned the walls “for a reasonable fee.” The bar will be called Richter’s Taft Tap Room.
Ginnetti and his two partners who co-own 116 Crown aim to run the historic joint simultaneously to their sleek, modern outfit in the 9th Square. They signed a lease in June. Ginnetti said he originally thought it would be possible to reopen Richter’s in a short amount of time.
“I thought that it would be in operable condition,” Ginnetti said. However, once he got inside, he discovered a troubling “lack of infrastructure.”
Opening it without significant rehab would have been a “disservice” to customers and to the storied establishment, he said. “I’m just not willing to do a sub-par job.”
In reopening the space, Ginnetti said he’s looking to preserve “the same charm” while updating the infrastructure. The old kitchen setup was not equipped to handle crowds, he concluded. He’s now in the process of replacing “every bit of equipment.” He ripped up the carpets in a back room and scoured the tiles on the barroom floor, which were “caked black.”
Once the rehab is done, the barroom will be decorated as it was before, Ginnetti said.
That means the 23-point moose, which Elser’s maternal grandfather shot in 1908 in Otterbrook, Maine, will remain presiding over the bar.
The moose is the only decoration that remains on the walls. When the bar closed in June, Elser brought all the photos and artifacts into his garage and basement.
Elser said he’ll be happy to get the paraphernalia out of his house and back onto the walls at Richter’s.
The decorations include a 1848 photo of Elser’s namesake, Heinrich Richter, his great-great- ... (he forgot how many greats) ... -grandfather, who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany.
There are also lots of rowing-related photos and artifacts, Elser explained. That’s because Elser rowed on Yale’s crew team, then went on to coach Yale’s lightweight freshman rowing team for eight years. He’ll be bringing back a photo of Guy Nichols, Yale’s first professional rowing coach—as well as the oar Nichols used as a student in the Oxford-Cambridge race of 1893.
“I’m excited that John is reopening it,” Elser said. “The bar itself is a New Haven classic.” It was designed by Henry Austin, the architect of City Hall, he said.
Richter’s is “one of only a few bars that can claim to be the oldest bar in the city,” Elser said. The “oldest” depends on how you count, he explained. Richter’s is the oldest bar occupying one physical space, according to Elser.
Up to 8 feet high, the dark oak-paneled walls are original to the New Haven House Hotel, according to Elser. When the hotel was torn down to build the Taft Hotel, the ceiling on the taproom was raised. The paneling above 8 feet dates back to 1912, he said.
Ginnetti said he plans to keep all those old details intact, including the images of grapes in the ceiling ...
... the floral woodwork behind the bar ...
... the vintage iceboxes, and the black walnut bar.
Ginnetti noted that the new spot sits in prime foot traffic, right near Yale’s campus and the Chapel Street shopping district. It feels like more people walked past Richter’s during Tuesday’s half-hour tour than have walked by 116 Crown since it opened in 2007, he noted (with slight exaggeration).
As he prepares to wheel in new equipment and furniture, the history remains preserved behind papered windows, kept safe under lock and key.