Dual Respect

The Quail & Ale in Derby contains more than a few seeming contradictions. I’d be tempted to call it confusing if I didn’t like just about everything it’s doing.

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Yale Opera - Yale School of Music

Opened mid-pandemic in the fall of 2021, it’s tucked inside the historic Brewery Building on a residential stretch of Derby Avenue, just a few hundred yards from the Naugatuck River. The space isn’t large, but the owners have made good use of it by emphasizing the long, rectangular bar. I always prefer a communal bar seat to a cloistered table, so any place that makes a stool the primary seating option is off to a good start.

Last Saturday night, The Quail & Ale somehow unified an NBA playoff broadcast with a hard bop soundtrack courtesy of Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey. The bar top had more than enough room for us, and the music was playing at the perfect volume, loud enough to be enjoyed without discouraging conversation. I ordered a well-structured white negroni ($11)—just the right solution of gin, bitter Suze and sweet Lillet Blanc—with a side of freshly fried Wisconsin cheese curds ($10). As one does.

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The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

This neighborhood bar feels purpose-built for, well, me, constructed from a list of “My Favorite Things,” Coltrane edition: the jazz; a solid hamburger at a fair price ($13); a Caesar salad ($7) with an option for extra anchovies; a drinks menu that doesn’t assume folks who like a finely composed cocktail don’t also enjoy a cheap beer. Too many places think beer palate and champagne taste can’t harmonize, but The Quail & Ale understands the complicated music of pairing steak frites with a High Life. And I like the farm sink behind the bar.

Part of me wants Derby and its underrated drinking establishments to fly beneath the radar. But I also want places like The Quail & Ale to succeed and proliferate. So I’m going to embrace this final contradiction and simply encourage you to go, especially if you can appreciate a plate of poutine with a Pinot Noir and a Pharoah Sanders solo.

The Quail & Ale Neighborhood Pub
328 Derby Ave, Derby (map)
Thurs-Sat 4pm-close (kitchen ’til 9), Sun 3pm-close (kitchen ’til 8)
(203) 308-2217

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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