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Food & Drink

Anchor Bar Closes In New Haven

One year after being named a "Best Bar in America" by Esquire Magazine, the storied Anchor Bar in New Haven has closed.

News of the closing spread quickly Sunday night on social media, and patrons flocked to College Street for last call. Danielle Whittington of New Haven, a fulfillment coordinator at the New Haven Register and bartender at Thimble Island Brewing Company in Branford, said in an email that she got word of the closing from friends around 7:30 p.m. and "booked it over there to pay respects and get one last drink."

But by 8:20 p.m., Whittington said, "the staff yelled at everyone to close their tabs and leave immediately. No one was allowed to finish their drinks." Guests were speculating about reasons for the closing, and when Whittington asked a longtime bartender, "all he did was grimly say 'Yale.'"

Reports identified Yale University Properties as the Anchor's landlord. University Properties referred The Courant to Yale's Office of Public Affairs and Communications.

In an email Monday afternoon, deputy university press secretary Karen N. Peart said in order to maintain the Anchor, Yale University Properties entered into a lease agreement with DWN Enterprises, the bar's operators, in late 2012. "Although University Properties made every effort to allow the operation to continue, DWN Enterprises continuously failed to meet its obligations under the lease. University Properties made many accommodations for DWN Enterprises since their rent payments became sporadic starting in early 2013," she wrote.

"After months of non-payment of rent, University Properties and DWN Enterprises agreed to enter into a court judgment in mid-2014 that would allow DWN Enterprises to remain in the space. However, after a few months, DWN regrettably was not able to honor its commitment under the judgment. In autumn 2014, based upon the court’s judgment, DWN was given notice that it would need to vacate the space. As requested by DWN, University Properties agreed that closure would be in early January 2015, after the holiday season, in order to allow them ample time to inform employees," Peart wrote.

"It was absolutely our intent to help the Anchor continue as an institution in New Haven, as exhibited by our efforts to allow the current operator to make up for their deficiencies several times," said John Pollard of Real Estate Advisors Ltd., the exclusive broker for Yale University Properties, by phone Monday afternoon. "They obviously could not do that." As for the seemingly abrupt timing of the bar's closure, "they had asked if they could stay open until after the first of the year to have time to inform employees," Pollard said. "That wasn't the landlord's responsibility. We can't speak to when they were actually told."

Charlie Moore, whose family owns the Anchor, said they had entered into an agreement with DWN Enterprises to run the bar, but would not speak to specifics of the business relationship, citing the ongoing legal process. "It's sad to see it go, but then again there are chapters in life that you just have to turn the page. It just wasn't conducive for our family to continue running a restaurant like that," he said Monday.

The Anchor got its start in Milford and is named for Anchor Beach in the city's Woodmont area, Moore said. His family bought the Anchor when he was just one year old, he said; he's now 52. "I did my homework many nights in those booths down there in the back corner and downstairs. I watched my parents and siblings and cousins all working about. It was truly a family business. The restaurant that it was back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, is not what the industry has morphed into."

A Change.org petition began circulating Monday, directed toward Yale University Properties and staff members Bruce D. Alexander and Carin Keane (identified on University Properties' website as vice president and director of New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development and director of retail leasing and marketing, respectively.)

"The Anchor Bar and Restaurant has been one of the few remaining and well-loved local establishments in New Haven, and a place that most of us thought was safe from the slow homogenization/gentrification that Yale University has been imposing on our hometown," the text reads.

Moore said there are no immediate plans to reopen the bar. Pollard said University Properties will be looking to fill the space, but that it's "very difficult to forecast" what will fill 272 College Street next. "We're very careful about how we lease the space in New Haven and I think we've done a great job of improving the mix. We'll continue to apply the same effort there," he said.

"It’s been a fantastic run. No regrets,'" Moore said. "I'd just as soon close the page right now and have a good legacy left there. People will be talking about it for years to come, I trust."

In 2014, Esquire noted Anchor Bar's appeal as a "survivor" of the days when cocktail "lounges" were in vogue. The venue's Mermaid Room was also home to regular events featuring authors and poets.

Another favorite longtime watering hole in New Haven, Delaney's Tap Room, was destroyed by fire in late August.

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