After Richter’s Cafe closed its Chapel Street location following three decades as a prominent institution in the downtown bar scene, the site is slated to reopen in approximately two weeks as Ordinary — the latest brainchild of local restaurateurs including the owners of New Haven’s highly popular Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro.
Clashing with the modern decor of nearby Shake Shack, Ordinary will pay tribute to the history of the Elm City as a classic bar. The location — which predates Prohibition and has housed President Abraham Lincoln, President George Washington and Babe Ruth — will keep its original woodwork, including the original bar top that dates back to at least 1912, and will serve old-style cocktails. While an official date has not been set, the bar is expected to open in approximately two weeks.
“I think it’s important just the fact that it’s being reopened. People argue that [Richter’s] and Anchor are the oldest [bars] in New Haven,” said Tom Sobocinski, one of the co-owners of the restaurant. “We wanted … the nostalgic character of the place to live on.”
The name of the bar may be Ordinary, but the food and drink that will be served at 990 Chapel St. promise to be anything but. There will be no shots, no flavored Absolut vodka and not even a regular soda dispenser. Instead, Ordinary will serve imported craft beer and traditional cocktails like the Manhattan. With their drinks, guests will have the option to order food like meat pies, chocolate and, of course, cheese.
The bar’s storied history began in 1858 when it was founded as part of the New Haven House Hotel. It continued to operate as a speakeasy during Prohibition. More recently, the bar was opened by a Yale grad, Richter Elser ’81, and then, after changing management, was closed on June 25, 2011. The new owners of the bar will be Jason Sobocinski, the owner of Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro; Mike Farber, the owner of Mikro Beer Bar in Hamden; Timothy Cabral, the manager at Caseus; and Tom Sobocinski, who is Jason’s brother.
Tom Sobocinski said the owners’ upbringings in New Haven give even more meaning to the renovation of the space.
“We were all born in and around New Haven,” he said. “We were all very familiar with that space while we were growing up.”
The name for the new bar was chosen in part because, dating back to the 1600s, an “ordinary” was the person at a hotel who would check in guests and offer them a drink, Sobocinski said. The bar is also meant to be an “ordinary neighborhood hangout,” he added.
Since the owners hope to create a relaxed atmosphere and keep prices down, Jenna Ciotti ’14 said Ordinary’s diverse menu and proximity to Yale could make for a compelling new spot and pleasant change of scenery. But several students questioned whether the upscale food would be accessible to them on strapped budgets. Angus Ledingham GRD ’18 said that if the bar lives up to the standards of Caseus and offers a wide beer selection, he anticipates becoming a frequent patron. He added that Ordinary may be taking on too much to master any one area of its menu.
“A special occasion thing? Maybe, depends what kind of job I get,” said Nathan Prillaman ’13. “It might be a no-occasion kind of thing. It all depends on price.”
Tom Sobocinski also said that Yale undergraduates are not the restaurant’s target customers. Rather, the owners envision graduate students and New Haven residents will make up the majority of the crowd at Ordinary.
Ordinary will have standard bar hours, opening around 3 or 4 p.m., Sobocinski said.