B ehind the bar in West Haven’s Duffy’s Tavern, there’s a refrigerator carved entirely out of wood, with no gaskets or modern touches. The vintage cooler is still in use, and, putting his hand inside to feel the chill, owner Chris Walsh says, “This is the one fridge that’s never given me any issues, if you can believe it.”
John Walsh, Chris’s father, opened Duffy’s in 1983 after a long scavenger hunt across the eastern seaboard for antiques like that fridge. As a boy, Chris remembers trying to play in the family garage with his brother, but it was stuffed with the furnishings their father had collected. “I thought, ‘What’s going on? This stuff is in our way.’ Meanwhile, my father had this vision of what he wanted to do.” John refinished and installed the finds himself.
As soon as you walk into Duffy’s, his vision is realized. Thick wooden booths, stained glass lamps and festive bric-a-brac—including a flag that reads “Erin Go Bragh” (roughly, “Ireland Forever”) and a framed print from the ’40s radio show the pub is named for—populate the tavern. Two panels of elegant, art deco-inspired windows with stained glass tulips flank the bar.
There are also artifacts from West Haven’s history, mainly having to do with the now-defunct amusement park Savin Rock. “My dad was actually a police officer and he used to work the beat down there,” Chris says. Photographs show winding roller coaster tracks, seaside amusements and clusters of park-goers grinning at the camera. There are shamrocks, antique beer advertisements and even the odd leprechaun wherever the eye wanders. The bartender makes a crack about being an antique himself.
Rather than feeling claustrophobic, the effect is cozy—equal parts authentic and kitschy. It seems like the kind of place you could drink Guinness and enjoy a plate of liver, bacon and onions. And, in fact, it is.
“That’s a huge seller,” Chris says, going on to explain that it’s the old-school dishes like Hot Roast Beef ($14.99), Meatloaf ($14.99) and Fish & Chips ($15.99) that Duffy’s customers order the most. “People know that they can come to an Irish pub, and they know that it’s going to be warm, friendly and inviting,” he says. “They can come and get their comfort food. They want that home-cooked meal.”
I tried the Lobster Grilled Cheese ($15.99), a dish that’s heretical compared to the old country staples but doesn’t sacrifice any of the comfort. While many dishes that throw lobster in their title use a light hand with the meat, here it was stuffed with fresh, rich lobster, red claw meat spilling out the sides. It was all melted together with dill-specked havarti and served with a pile of fries.
Chris says Duffy’s brings in clientele in their 20s as well as their 90s, and that recently the children of Duffy’s original patrons in the 1980s are coming in alongside their parents. “We’re seeing a generation turnover which is really cool,” he says, speculating that the enduring appeal of an Irish pub is the “warmth, and the know-how.”
When asked to pick a favorite antique from among Duffy’s many offerings, Chris says he can’t separate a part from the whole. “I love them all. I appreciate it so much,” he says. “Especially because a lot of places that get built today, they try to put in things that look older, but they’re replicas. They’re not the real deal. This place is the real deal. I always want people to know that… When my dad started doing it, you could buy it cheap but you had to put a lot of work into it. It was a real labor of love.”
Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.