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Fearless Critic restaurant review
New Haven

Mon 4:00pm–12:30am
Tue–Thu 10:00am–12:30am
Fri–Sat 10:00am–1:30am
Sun noon–12:30am

Features Date-friendly, veg-friendly, Wi-Fi
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx


Chapel District
268 College St.
New Haven, CT
(203) 624-3250
The Owl Shop
The pipe tobacco beats the panini at one of America’s greatest smoking bars

You heard it here first: tobacco is the next pork belly. Sooner or later, we Americans are going to get over the anti-tobacco craze, realize that we’re all going to die anyway, and reacquaint ourselves with the pleasure of a good, long smoke after dinner. Everything in moderation. You only live once. Why waste your time on inferior tobacco?

We’re not advocating smoking two packs of Marlboros a day, mind you. Neither is the Owl Shop. All we’re saying is that if there’s a revolution underway, it starts here. And it doesn’t start with Marlboros. Rather, this store has long been a symbol of smoking well, not smoking poorly: hand-rolled cigars, Nat Shermans, and house-mixed pipe tobacco. If you ask nicely, the staff (who are friendly on a good day, icy on a bad one) will take you in back to see the workshop of one of the country’s leading tobacconists, who still mixes tobacco by hand here and bags it under the Owl Shop’s own brand.

Over the past few years, the Owl Shop has morphed from a crusty, well-loved college-town tobacco shop into a hopping bar. And it’s not hopping just because, by virtue of being grandfathered in as a tobacco shop, it’s the only place in the city where you can hang out at a bar and smoke cigarettes legally. No: nonsmokers hang out here too, because it’s just a damn cool place to have a glass of scotch or whiskey. The bartenders make great Manhattans, too. Between the easy vibe, the smoke-browned walls, the big, old, comfy chairs and couches, the gritty bar scene, it reminds us a bit of an old-fashioned brown café in Amsterdam. The only thing missing is a European billiards table.

Oh, right, about the food. The food is what gives us an excuse to include the Owl Shop (an establishment must serve food to be included in the Fearless Critic), but it’s not much to report on. There are cheese plates, cured meat plates, and a couple of basic panini, which boast of organic ingredients, but they’re nothing special. We had muffaletta-like hopes for a hot soppressata, provolone, and olive panino, but the thing was hopelessly dry and brittle, in need of condiments, the cheese insufficient. If you must, the nutella panino is the way to go. But the shop’s staff generally gets their lunch elsewhere; that should tell you something. The sandwiches are redeemed somewhat by the excellent coffee and tea selection; they do individually-dripped-by-the-cup fair trade organic coffees. The dark roast is quite good.

But that’s all a sideshow for what has emerged as one of the most unique bars in America. It lights up our lives.

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