With blue-leather booths and a marble-top bar straight out of the 1930s, the Anchor Spa prepares for its grand opening in mid-October, marking an entirely new chapter in the storied locale’s history.
The Anchor — a bar and diner that has served guests such as actress Lucille Ball since it opened in the 1930s — closed early last year after owner Charlie Moore fell behind on rent to University Properties. But after community members voiced concerns that New Haven would lose a historic landmark, Karl Franz Williams ’97 took over the bar’s lease.
While preserving the old facade’s style, Williams has still managed to create something entirely different from the dive bar that closed in 2015 — with its diner fare and red booths — and closer to the Anchor’s original cocktail bar atmosphere.
“I saw an opportunity to really honor the entire history of the Anchor Bar, not just what it’s been for the past two decades,” Williams said. “It wouldn’t be fair to only let it be what it was last weekend.”
He added that the Anchor Spa will soon offer cocktails from the bar’s 1939 menu. Like several other recently opened downtown bars, including Elm City Social, Anchor Spa serves up craft cocktails — such as a gin and beets concoction named the “Yale Beets Harvard.” The menu also includes small plates of seafood and local game.
Williams — a mixologist who owns the Zagat-rated Harlem bar, Solomon & Kuff — worked with a local historian and a Tiffany & Co. designer to remodel the locale’s interior to resemble its design before Moore’s family bought the location six decades ago. They swapped the red booths for blue, exposed the original brick and moved the bar from the back to the front.
“Our goal was to maintain the integrity of the space while sprucing it up,” Williams said. “From a design perspective, that was peeling back the layers and resurrecting what was great about it.”
The building’s signage is from the original cocktail bar, revealed after Moore took down the Anchor’s iconic letters.
But the changes are still hard for some community members to swallow.
The new locale appeals to an entirely different audience than Moore’s restaurant did, said Jesse Richards, an Elm City photographer who began a petition last year with 1,100 signatures asking Yale to prevent the Anchor from being gentrified.
“This [local business] doesn’t really appeal to me much personally because a designer drink bar is a pretty far cry from the kind of place the old Anchor was,” Richards said. “All the same, I hope it does well with the Yale parents and others that it might appeal to.”
For Angel Hsu FES ’13, who got to know her husband at the Anchor Restaurant, the new bar’s internationally themed cocktails and decor are unusual, especially for someone with so many memories of its former diner feel.
But Williams wants this Anchor Spa to still be a space for anyone to drink a beer or order a rum and coke, he said. Also, simply resurrecting the dive bar wasn’t feasible for him.
“You can’t just create a dive bar,” he said. “Dive bars happen.”