Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Essex, CT--Home of "The Gris"

The PubScout is an admitted sucker for historic pubs. There's just something magical to me about drinking good beer in old pubs, and The "Gris" (Griswold Inn) in Essex, CT is the oldest continuously operating inn in the nation.
The Inn is actually a campus of various buildings in this Connecticut River port town, and we stayed in a delightful suite across the street from the storied inn. 

Our suite was clean, spacious and charming--even without a TV. These days, of course, you can get streaming TV on your computer (which I did, because I didn't want to miss Tyrant), so no biggie. All the rooms are different, so don't expect cookie-cutter accommodations like the big chains have. There is real character here.

But it was in the Tap Room, with its smoke-coated, domed ceiling made of clam shells and horsehair, that the past came alive. No chairs at the bar (a throwback to an earlier "gentlemen only" policy) and a handful of coveted tables surrounding an ancient wood-fired stove gave us all the historic ambience we needed. The perpetually lit and decorated Christmas tree atop the fireplace seems to say, "Welcome to continual good cheer!" 

The Tap Room
The walls in both the Tap Room and the Dining Room are chock full of maritime art, and your head needs to be on a swivel to appreciate all of it. As New York Magazine wrote, " The Tap Room is something very special, retaining all the traditional spirit that a country inn is supposed to project. It just may be the best looking drinking room anywhere in America." The PubScout will not disagree.

The food is classic American fare, and the House Special Clam Chowder, seasoned with Bermuda-based Outerbridge Sherry Peppers Sauce was a work of art. The Gris even has its own beer--Revolutionary Ale--brewed specially by Red Hook in New Hampshire. It's a quality session brew that paired well with everything I had on the menu over two days.

The Gris also sports a collection of other quality craft beers on draft and in bottles. Two Roads Road to Ruin IPA was quite nice, as was the Charter Oak Pale Ale.

There is entertainment every night as well, and we stopped in to hear the stylings of a group called The Sea Chanteys, who sang, well, sea chanteys. The packed room obviously was full of Chantey fans as everyone knew all the words to all the songs and sang them with considerable vigor. Given the town's ancestral links to the water, the Sea Chanteys made great sense and added to the historic atmosphere.

The next night we were treated to a very good jazz ensemble as we dined in the Historic Dining Room adjacent to the room which has seen the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Billy Joel, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Richard Thomas, Henry Winkler and Rat-Packers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and others.

The food was fresh, of good quality and well prepared (if a tad on the pricey side), but socked in as the town is by marinas and yacht clubs, and with the roads chock full of Mercedes, Beemers and Porsches, that's to be expected.

Bartender Ed
For lovers of old, character-filled drinking emporia, the Tap Room fills the bill quite nicely, and it's not surprising that it is the only pub in Connecticut to make Esquire's "Best Bars in America" list every year.

There are also a few neat things to do near Essex, and one of them is riding the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, a combination journey that transports you back in time in classic, restored railroad cars and a river boat that tours up and down the river past stunning houses (like the Gillette Castle), amazing scenery and wildlife that even includes bald eagles. And the Connecticut River Museum, located at the water's edge at the foot of Main St., informs the visitor wonderfully about the history of the great river and the people who used it. You can even see David Bushnell'sTurtle, America's first submarine, and, if you aren't claustrophobic, climb into a mock up of it to see how it worked. Jockey-sized people will fit best.

The Turtle
The entire area is pretty, picturesque and tranquil, and if you have a special affinity for charming old  towns with well-kept historic homes at the water's edge, this one will fill the bill quite nicely.

And what's better than recounting your day's adventures over some excellent food and grog in a pub that was up and running in 1739?

Even if you have to stand at the bar? 

The PubScout


Unknown said...

Um... Actually, we're The Jovial Crew ( Otherwise, good article.

Kurt Epps-The PubScout said...

Thanks for the heads up, Joe, but when you ask an employee, "Who's playing tonight?" and the response is "The Sea Chanteys,"you go with the "local knowledge." I enjoyed it, regardless, and good luck! Thanks for reading!

Unknown said...

Oh, SHAME on the employee! Hah! Well, looking forward to you coming down again soon!