Eel Repute

T here’s something refreshing about a bar that doesn’t care if it’s discoverable on Google Maps.

You’ll have to search for the official name, “Meadow Restaurant,” to find The Eel Pot. If the results aren’t refined enough, add “Branford.” You can get there by taking Main Street east through town, hanging a right on Kirkham and a left on Meadow. About a block down on the right you’ll find a no-frills neighborhood bar tucked between a sizable parking lot and tracks for the Shoreline East, with Miller High Life neon in the window.

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Inside, a photo circa 1914 shows the source of The Eel Pot nickname: a bar once located on the very same spot, its bartender wearing a mustache, bowtie, white sleeves rolled up to the elbows. The current establishment was incorporated in 1947, though its corpus had to be rebuilt in 1982, when the bar exploded the night before the Super Bowl, sometime around 3 a.m. No one was hurt. One of its current owners had turned 18 just nine days previous and, along with his parents, was shocked by the gas leak that destroyed their family business. He’s tended to the bar since his folks passed, but regrettably, never enjoyed a legal drink in the original.

It took the contractors, carpenters, electricians and plumbers that frequented The Eel Pot just four months to rebuild it, the interior walls coming away with early-’80s wood paneling. A small plaque dedicated to “the Dingus Bros. builders, the sub-contractors, and all those special people who have helped and supported us” hangs in testament to their efforts.

Despite the nom de plume, The Eel Pot isn’t trying to be anything it isn’t. And that’s its charm. No gimmicks. Cash only. Shot-and-a-beer sorta joint. The kind of place where a regular steps outside for a smoke and leaves money on the bar, their empty, sweating glass replenished with a fresh dose of their usual by the time they return. People come here to catch up, trade stories about their day and disagree about the weather. They drop in after work to watch golf or Jeopardy!.

No one cares which sporting event had the highest Nielsen rating in history, of course. The televisions over the bar just offer up new material for old, comfortable conversations and background noise for the dice game, uninterrupted since before the pandemic and now worth $3,284 if you’re lucky enough to roll five 1s.

On a Thursday night in February, incandescent bulbs make perfect amber light. The long, wooden bar is ample and accommodating. A classic brass foot rail helps me take a load off, and the service counter for the darkened kitchen has bowls of complimentary snack mix. Last time, it was a bag of empty buns and a crock pot full of hot dogs.

After the punch line of a joke I didn’t quite catch, I do manage to hear a customer utter something affectionate, meant for the bartender, into the bottom of their tipped glass: “I needed you today.” With glassware to wash and a well-lacquered bartop to wipe down, the ’keep smiles tenderly and keeps moving.

In a world of “best new” everything lists, it’s nice to hang out in a place that isn’t suffering from internet insecurity. Pay attention or don’t; it’ll be here if you need it.

Written and photographed by Chris Renton.

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Chris lives in Hamden, Connecticut, with his wife and dog. He likes old trees and old bars. He works at the Yale Peabody Museum, home to a lot of old things. He is getting old.

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