Bar Kept

Bar Kept

I think of Delaney’s as Westville’s Cheers. It’s a friendly neighborhood bar with a notable history, low-key vibe, steady stream of regulars and a seemingly unflappable co-owner/bartender, Mike Shanahan, who could easily be a stand-in for Sam Malone. Yelp classifies it as a dive bar, and while that’s a compliment these days, it doesn’t seem to fit a place this airy and bright (though admittedly not fancy).

“Some bars are wine bars, some known for their cocktails,” Shanahan says. “We’re known for how many shots we sell of Tullamore Dew.” In fact, Delaney’s is the number-one seller of Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey in New England, and in honor of that fact, currently displays a Christmas tree entirely decorated with 750 ml-sized glass bottles. “We put up the tree a few weeks ago, and ever since we have the customers who finish off the bottle sign it with a gold Sharpie. We’re displaying close to 90 bottles now.”

The bar does also offer a substantial selection of wines, beers and other spirits; I enjoyed a margarita ($11) as good as many I’ve had in more upscale places. But, for a “dive bar,” it’s the dining options that set this place apart. Appealing comfort fare dominates the menu, from Eggplant Rollatini ($12.95) to “Bleu Chips” ($11.95)—housemade potato chips with blue cheese sauce, diced tomato, fresh scallions, sliced jalapenos and diced red onions, to which you can add bacon or Cajun chicken. One signature dish is the popular Steak Sandwich ($16.95), a seven-ounce New York strip on a garlic roll topped with gorgonzola cheese and onion rings and completed with a side of hand-cut French fries.

I started with the Wings, choosing buffalo sauce over the honey barbecue. Vibrantly but not overwhelmingly spicy, crispy on the outside but succulent and tender within, the wings come in orders from six ($10.95) to 30 ($52.50). Every Super Bowl Sunday, the takeout demand for these is great enough that customers have to order them in advance. “I’m not sure what we do that makes our wings different from other places’, but I know we incorporate 10 to 15 different ingredients,” Shanahan says. “I think the blue cheese we serve on the side is one key to their popularity; that and the buffalo sauce are both made in-house. Our chef has been making them forever.”

In fact, he says, “Every dish here is made from scratch, with fresh ingredients,” and I could taste the difference in the classic Spinach Artichoke Dip appetizer ($13.95), a decadent blend of mozzarella, cream cheese and sour cream that’s served blazing hot in a chili crock surrounded by tricolor tortilla chips (I can’t believe I ate it all). Fresh and abundant is also the right way to describe my Harvest Salad ($16.95), where I subbed in a large, buttery, moist salmon filet for $4 extra, which, believe it or not, blended well with the field greens, walnuts, dried cranberries, gorgonzola crumbles and balsamic vinaigrette.

Earlier, I mentioned Shanahan’s unflappable demeanor, which is apropos because Delaney’s has experienced a few significant flaps. Originally established in 2000 at 882 Whalley Avenue (in a cottage-like structure that formerly housed the Cape Codder), the bar burned down in 2014. “That was an electrical fire that started with a jolt or surge and suddenly, there were flames everywhere,” Shanahan recalls. Having worked at Delaney’s for 10 years at that point, he went on to positions at Antonio’s (in Woodbridge and Ansonia) and Stonebridge in Milford, but “every time I drove through Westville, I felt there was a void here.” So when the opportunity arose to bring Delaney’s back to the neighborhood at 883 Whalley in 2019—just across the street from the first location, albeit tucked back from the road—he and former owner Peter Gremse partnered up.

They planned to open on St. Patrick’s Day 2020, but the COVID pandemic delayed that until August. Since then, history has repeated itself in peculiar ways. This year, just before St. Pat’s, an unseasonably warm day prompted the management to turn on the air conditioning for the first time in months. As a result, one of the blower fans got jammed, Shanahan reports, and started a fire in the roof. Ten days later, a live cigarette butt—during a patch of rain and wind—got wedged in a gap between the siding of the building and the original structure, causing another hard-to-find fire that caused enough damage to shut the place down for nearly a week. (One hopes the “rule of three” applies here, and such misadventures are over.)

Though its televisions are routinely tuned to sports, you couldn’t call Delaney’s a sports bar. “We don’t even turn up the volume unless it’s a huge game,” Shanahan says. The liveliest sporting events here are the Thursday night darts tournaments. “In darts, there are A, B and C league teams. I’d say our guys are the B-leaguers. For them, I think, it’s really a chance to get out every week, have a few beers, and bring their wives and kids for dinner. They’ve created their own little family of enthusiasts to visit with regularly.”

For Shanahan, family spirit is what makes this bar a pleasure to run. He has no interest in creating attractions like trivia or karaoke nights, which, at his place, he thinks, “annoy more people than they bring in.” Having worked in bars since he was 16 (he’s now 40), he’d rather just hang with the regulars. “It’s great, because you get to see your friends every day, and you get to make new friends. Most of the time, you feel like just another guy at the bar.”

In short, Delaney’s is the kind of place where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. On my next visit, I just want to hear someone yell out, “Norm!”

883 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 11:30am-1am, Fri-Sat 11:30am-2am, Sun 11am-1am
(203) 823-9337

Written by Patricia Grandjean. Image 1, of Mike Shanahan, and image 2, of the Spinach Artichoke Dip, photographed by Patricia Grandjean. Image 3, taken during the aftermath of the 2014 fire, photographed by Dan Mims.

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