“Call it, buddy. Heads or tails.”
When walking into Celtic Cavern during its 3-to-7 p.m. happy hour, patrons may be greeted by the bartender with this cryptic proposition. Call the toss correctly, and the drink is free. Call it incorrectly, and you’ll receive at worst a sympathetic grin and at best an offer to try again on the next glass.
“That one’s on me,” said Chris, who wished to be referred to in The Argus as “Chris the Attractive Wednesday-Night Bartender.”
Chris has been a bartender at the Cavern since it opened in March.
“I’m the last man standing, actually, who’s been here since the opening,” he said, pocketing the coin and reaching for the tap.
Where did Chris develop the coin toss happy hour?
“I had a friend who owned a bar a few years back and he did that,” he said. “I picked it up from him.”
The bar is located at the bottom of a glass-hemmed staircase, around the back of the 386 Main St. building that also houses the New England Emporium and Froyo World.
Founded as a collaboration between Bob Jeffrey and Scott Brown, a longtime restaurant owner and a building contractor, respectively, the pub has found a niche among Middletown staples such as Eli Cannon’s, the First and Last Tavern, and La Boca.
While the moniker and Gaelic typeface on the sign may evoke the vaguest image of an old country-themed mead hall, the Cavern is in fact a pleasantly appointed and modern-looking Irish pub. It possesses the usual accoutrements: a row of six TVs above the bar tuned in an alternating pattern to ESPN 1 and 2, a felt-green billiards table nestled into the corner, and a large chalkboard listing the 18 beers and ciders on tap on any given night.
Beyond meeting these neighborhood bar standards, the Celtic Cavern has a distinct personality. The countertop is lined with several CDs drawn from almost every existing genre of the 1990s, with artists like Limp Bizkit and Nirvana featured prominently. Although the bartender knows the precise number of CDs, it will not be disclosed here; those who manage to guess within 15 CDs of the actual count will receive a free drink.
Overall, the atmosphere is casual and friendly. Patrons range from college-aged to likely retired, and they chat readily down the bar, shooting the breeze about the highlights of the beer selection or the game on TV.
Despite the low-key atmosphere, the Cavern boasts a small but well-designed menu of upscale bar food. Supposedly the biggest draw therein is the lobster bisque, noted on the bar’s website as the owner’s secret recipe.
“A lot of people love the lobster bisque here, but I think right now the chowder is better,” one bartender noted.
The menu includes a couple of explicitly Irish dishes, including a shepherd’s pie and Celtic bangers and mash, described as a blend of Irish sausage and mashed potatoes with gravy. Also included are more contemporary New England staples like the aforementioned clam chowder.
Beyond that, the menu includes tweaked versions of classic bar staples like wings, here made of pork shanks and tossed in buffalo sauce, and Reuben sandwiches made with Mahi steak in place of the traditional pastrami (although pastrami is available as well).
The bar seems suited for a casual night on Main Street with friends. For older students who still have fuzzy memories of bar nights at Titanium, the question remains as to whether Celtic Cavern is equipped to meet the needs of a Wesleyan bar night, especially in light of the gaping hole left in students’ schedules with the recent demise of The Nest, which hosted the iconic Wednesday bar nights of years past.
“I remember being out and about when the Wesleyan crowd would come through with a vengeance for about 45 minutes and then they were gone, and that was the night,” Chris said.