B ehind the bar at Christy’s On Orange, a sign hangs before the drinkers perched on stools, pints in hand:
Enter as strangers, leave as friends.
“Did you see my sign?” asks Christy Mulhall, the pub’s founder and namesake. “That’s the motto here.”
Most mottos turn out to be more aspirational than actual, but, as this particular Tuesday night waxes on at the Orange Street establishment—an evening of music, buoyant conversation and glasses that are never empty for too long—I begin to think Christy’s really gets there.
Manager Gary Cullinan, a familiar face for regulars, is taking orders. He leans over the bar, fashioned from dark wood and the golden, mottled copper on which you rest your drink, exercising his Irish brogue with a bit of conversation before filling (and re-filling) glasses from twenty beer taps. He crafts the occasional cocktail and pours a few stiff drinks, too.
He’s the kind of bartender who often knows what his regular customers, including a workday crowd from the nearby courthouse, are going to order, sometimes filling a pint glass before they even sit down.
As far as sitting goes, there are a few tables set for dining at Christy’s, which has a bar menu with sandwiches and other fare. But at its core, it seems a sit-at-the-bar kind of place, and tonight nearly every barstool is full, meaning that after a round or two of imbibing, talking to strangers is both inevitable and easy. “This is a bar that feels like home, no matter where you’re from,” says my friend Jenny, who is one of those aforementioned regulars.
Christy’s is just small enough to be a legitimate “cozy,” with a ceiling covered in 31 out of the 32 county flags of Ireland. County Kildaire is missing, as it wasn’t included when the flags were ordered, the accidental omission now providing a footnote to the quirkiness. There are three televisions often broadcasting European football games, with an avid crowd of enthusiasts to be found (or, rather, joined) on Saturdays especially.
But this is Tuesday, so the more musically inclined are in luck. Tonight’s the night for the bar’s weekly Irish session, which usually begins around 9:30. Allen Gogarty, an Irish singer and guitar player from New York, travels to New Haven to lead the event, accompanied by a lineup of musicians which varies from week to week.
That sort of variation is possible due to the improvisational nature of the performance; one minstrel leads a traditional tune, drinking song or modern hit, with the rest following suit. The circle often grows throughout the night. On my visit, there are four musicians initially, and seven by 11 o’clock, including fiddle, guitars, flute and drums. Customers join in the crooning when there’s a familiar tune; Mulhall himself sings along to a few.
“There are a lot of stories about this bar—and the people in it,” Mulhall says, laughing as he recalls memories made since the bar’s opening in in 2006. Mulhall, who had been a co-owner of Anna Liffey’s (“the Liff,” he calls it), left in order to open his own place. His daughter, Teresa Consivine, now owns Christy’s, but Mulhall, who lives nearby, tells me he’s at the bar every day.
Even when he’s not around, his influence is everywhere. On one wall is a black and white photograph of two of his sisters with him as children; opposite are pictures of Mulhall in more recent pursuits, including one of him as Santa Claus delivering a donation to the Community Soup Kitchen. He conducts a yearly fundraiser just after Thanksgiving, asking customers for donations at the door.
Last year the effort raised $15,000. (“Fifteen thousand dollars!?” I responded incredulously.) The group has awarded Mulhall their “golden ladle” award for his extraordinary contributions. Besides the soup kitchen event, the pub participates in charity bar crawls and other fundraisers throughout the year.
Warming hearts is in the nature of Christy’s. When seasoned regulars tell me how the bar opened the day after the February blizzard that dropped three feet of snow, I can just imagine the gleeful scene, Christy’s providing defense against inevitable cabin fever. Due to the extreme conditions, there was no kitchen staff that day, but, as usual, there was plenty of beer and cheer to go around.
Christy’s On Orange
261 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Tues 2pm-1am, Wed-Thurs 11:30am-1am, Fri 11:30am-2am, Sat 10am-2am, Sun 10am-1am
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.