This week’s column will concern New London’s oldest drinking establishment: Dutch Tavern. First opened in 1933 (following the end of Prohibition), “the Dutch” is now among the most storied spots downtown. For an impressive eight decades – decades which have seen the city of New London undergo substantial political, economic and demographic changes – this venue has remained steadfast in its commitment to providing a friendly, tranquil environment for patrons.
When one enters the Dutch, the tavern’s history becomes immediately apparent. The dark wood walls of this single-room establishment are decorated with numerous photographs, most black and white, depicting New London buildings and residents at various points of the past century. Of particular note is a portrait of legendary modernist playwright Eugene O’Neill who, for those of you who’ve yet to brush up on your New London history, spent much of early life in the city (his boyhood summer home, the Monte Cristo Cottage, is now open to the public). During the 1910s, O’Neill is said to have frequented “The Oak,” a bar located where the Dutch now stands.
In terms of seating, the Dutch has one of the best arrangements among downtown bars. Five large, round wooden tables are positioned throughout the tavern, with plenty of room for maneuvering (if you’re used to squeezing between chairs at Smith dining hall, expect a much more comfortable experience). There is also a bar table which seats about ten people. Although the Dutch tends to get quite busy at lunch and on weekend nights, I have never witnessed anyone being forced to wait for a table or spot at the bar.
Complementing the Dutch’s well-formulated floor plan is the peaceful atmosphere that the establishment maintains. If you are looking to sit down with a few friends over a beer and not have to worry about loud music or televisions drowning out your conversation, this is the place to go. There is a single TV positioned toward the front end of the bar table (generally broadcasting a baseball game or other sporting event – though I did have the pleasure of watching a documentary on Jimi Hendrix one Friday night), which is always played at a reasonable volume.
Now onto drinks and food. Being a tavern, the Dutch serves only wine and beer. On tap are Bass Ale, Brooklyn Lager, Budweiser, Coors Light, Cottrell Old Yankee Ale, Guinness Stout, Harpoon IPA and Miller High Life. A number of other beers, including Heineken and Sam Adams, are available in bottle. The Dutch also carries eight varieties of wine, four red and for white. I recommend the Torresella Pinot Grigio.
Along with its notable position in New London history, the Dutch is widely known for having the best hamburgers in town. So well regarded are these burgers that, upon learning of my enrollment at Connecticut College, one of my neighbors back home in Boston asked me if I’d ever tried one. During my initial visit to the Dutch, two other first-time patrons entered the establishment specifically to sample this menu item. If you are a burger connoisseur, don’t go through college without stopping by the Dutch for lunch.
And if you’re a vegetarian or simply not a fan of burgers, do not despair. The Dutch offers a variety of food options, including a veggie burger, grilled cheese and chicken salad. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 3:30 pm on Saturday, and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.
Particularly if you haven’t spent much time in downtown New London, and find the more nightlife-oriented scene of Bank St. slightly intimidating, Dutch Tavern is a great place to check out. Tucked away on Green St (take a right off of State St. at North Indian), the establishment retains a quiet, laid-back atmosphere, day and night. You can count on both patrons and staff to be genial individuals deeply invested in what is a truly unique space on the New London landscape.
For a full menu of both food and drink options, be sure to check out the Dutch’s website: http://www.dutch-tavern.com/site/Welcome.html. The Dutch opens at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, at noon on Saturday, and at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. It closes at midnight Sunday through Thursday, and at 1:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.