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Fearless Critic restaurant review
New Haven
American, Burgers

Daily 11:00am–2:00pm

Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards None

East Rock
150 Nicoll St.
New Haven, CT
No phone
Contois Tavern
A charmingly gruff East Rock classic since 1934: old men, cheap beer, and occasional burgers

The cult following of this humble, no-frills bar off State Street seems to grow every year, even as (or perhaps because) the place doesn’t change a bit. Contois is an unapologetic local, a place that’s been in New Haven since 1934, a squat, square, brick building on a residential block that avoids hype to such an extent that it hides beneath almost imperceptible dark wood signage over the door. It’s quintessentially an old-man bar, and that’s what the staff is used to.

Don’t look here for a swinging scene, late-night hours, or witty post-modernisms. Don’t look, in fact, for anyone that’s not a 40-to-70-year-old male slugging a bottle of Bud Light or Michelob—or a New Haven Advocate editor. But for a quiet beer (they come in dainty little glasses, too, for just a couple of bucks) and conversation; for some great, basic, and inexpensive lunchtime dining; or to observe a true slice of old New Haven life, this is your spot.

Knowing that anyone who sits for long enough on a bar stool will eventually become hungry, Contois has the good sense to serve food. In fact, the lunch counter serves one of the better burgers in town, available daily as long as the grill is on. It’s as classic as the bar itself. The burger comes on a paper plate, and on request, it comes with blackened onions and tomato, too. The beef patty is big and tasty, if browned a bit much; if you’re looking for rare, you’ve come to the wrong place. The cheese is melted beautifully.

The schedule at Contois is as erratic as the menu; generally, food is available at lunchtime until 2pm, but occasionally it’s still being served at 3:30, depending on the traffic. Hot dogs are always available, but roast beef sandwiches usually appear later in the week. Pepperoni soup has a particular following. This is not nouvelle cuisine, nor should it be. Just stop by, pull up a stool, and enjoy a taste of living history.

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