My 21st birthday was on a Tuesday night this past September. Kind of a bummer it being a school night, but there was no question in my friends’ minds that we would be spending it at Elmer’s Place. The bar is located on East Street, on the edge of our New Britain campus. Up until that day I had only ordered food from the take-out counter and it seemed like a rite-of-passage to go there for my first legal drink. Like so many other CCSU students on their 21st birthdays, I walked into Elmer’s with my ID in hand, ready to be carded. The bartender behind the counter skeptically looked back and forth for a moment and jokingly asked if I was sure I was 21 and not 12. (I get that a lot seeing as I am only five feet tall and look too young for my age.) He handed my ID back and asked what I wanted. My first “legal” drink. Seven of my closest friends and I sat at the bar and enjoyed ourselves as the speakers blared “Your Love” by The Outfield and the T.V.’s played football games. Even though we didn’t stay long because we knew we’d have to wake up for class the next morning, I couldn’t have imagined spending my 21st any other way.
Opened in 1977, Elmer’s Place was the original college tavern of CCSU. “My mom and dad work during the daytime and I work nights,” says Michael Cook, Co-Owner of Elmer’s Place and a CCSU Alumni. Cook’s father and two partners purchased the bar in 1979, and immediately began working to improve the atmosphere of Elmer’s Place.
Cook sits on the restaurant, or “booth” side, of the bar, clicking a pen with the restaurant’s logo printed on it. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon, a half hour before the bar and restaurant opens for the next eleven hours. “I transferred to Central in 2007 and have worked here full time ever since. I went to school full time all four years, and then continued working, and became part owner two years ago.” On a typical night, Michael runs between the bar and restaurant side, ensuring all of the customers and his staff have what they need.
Elmer’s has certainly seen its fair share of changes since 1977. “Back when I first started, we used to be open from 11am-2am until my dad became sole owner in 2008. It was too much for him working full time. He would be the only one here other than me, one or two nights because I was still in school, so he switched the hours to 3pm-2am.” The bar has had to adapt to stay up-to-date with the changing New Britain and CCSU student population. They have also rearranged the menu several different times in order to keep up with trends. “We took some of the small items off the menu like hot dogs, fish sandwiches, more of the lunchtime specials, but we also changed the wings because now everyone wants flavor wings. We used to have only one flavor, now we have fifteen different flavors [of wings] and it comes with fries. We added gyros, and even changed pizza toppings. Always trying to keep up with what the new ‘in’ thing is.”
With the most recent remodel in 2015, Elmer’s Place is much bigger. There are more T.V.’s, and the lines aren’t as long as they have been in the past. “We don’t have any of the ticky-tacky metal signs like you see at most college bars, we made it look a lot nicer, there’s a lot more room for people now.” During homecoming weekend, returning alumni are quick to comment on how much the place has really changed. “When all the older people come back, they come in and say ‘wow this place is so much different now. The kids have no idea how nice they have it.’ Before it was half the size, sponge paint on the walls, not as many T.V.’s, less staff on the bar so you were waiting longer for drinks. Now we have double the staff working here.”
It’s nice to have a hangout that’s close to campus and college student-oriented. “Because we’re so close to campus, we’re a sponsor of CCSU sports; football, basketball, we have a sign on the football field, a sign in the gym, we do t-shirts, we take the BlueChip card here for food only. We deliver to campus, especially with the new dorm building, it’s helped with delivery immensely.”
However, even with all of the improvements, Elmer’s Place has had to work very hard to remain relevant in the competitive New Britain and Hartford bar scene. “It’s definitely harder now than it was in the past, especially with the Fastrak, people going to Hartford, a lot more options now; Uber, Lyft, it’s a lot easier and cheaper for people to go to Hartford, other bars. When I was in school it was pay for a cab, wait an hour and a half, and split a $60 cab ride to Hartford. Now it’s maybe $15 for all 4 of you to get a car, or take the Fastrak, which is $3 there and back.” But even with all of those options, CCSU students and longtime customers still come to Elmer’s.
Whether you’re a current student, alumni, or just passing by, Elmer’s Place has a stool waiting for you. Michael and his family are always looking for ways to improve so if you have a suggestion please stop by and start a conversation. “We’re always looking for student’s input so if any student, or customer has any suggestions for new food items, new drinks—we’re always trying to keep the customer happy. If you’re here all the time and suggest we get a new beer, I have no problem ordering it as long as you continue to come and get it.”