December 29, 2016

The Tap Room at the Griswold Inn in Essex, Connecticut

Historic Bars Griswold Inn and Tap Room in Essex Connecticut Tree and Bar Detail

photo by: Caryn B. Davis

The Tap Room's Christmas tree is decorated in different themes throughout the year.

The picturesque town of Essex sits on the Connecticut River, just inland from the Long Island Sound. You might call it a quintessential New England village, with its streets lined with the preserved houses of old sea captains, independent boutiques, and galleries.

At the heart of the town sits a collection of historic structures, painted in white, known collectively as the Griswold Inn and Tap Room. The establishment survived an 1814 raid by the British, the trials of the Great Depression, and the cultural disruption of Prohibition. Through all of these events, the “Gris” has remained a stalwart of Essex, an emblem of its proud history and determination to carry on.

The best place to start the story of the Gris is in 1801, when the Essex schoolhouse was rolled down Main Street to its current location, about 50 yards from the Connecticut River, and became the Griswold Inn and Tap Room. Little has changed since.

The current proprietors—the sixth family to own the Gris—have preserved the bar's individuality while making sure that it remains a comfortable haunt for locals and visitors alike. The interior hasn’t seen any major renovations, so the flecked brown paint washed over the domed plaster ceiling and the central fireplace that keeps patrons warm are as familiar now as they were to people generations ago.

Historic Bars Griswold Inn and Tap Room in Essex Connecticut Sea Shanties Performance

photo by: Griswold Inn and Tap Room

Sea shanties, a type of music sung by sailors as they worked, can often be heard at the Gris.

One addition in recent years is the Tap Room’s Christmas tree—decorated 365 days of the year in a number of different themes—which is kept company by an upright, potbelly stove and an impressive number of maritime paintings that almost completely obscure the bar’s plaster walls.

The Gris is known for these paintings, which were once appraised at $1 million and include work from notables such as Norman Rockwell. Though many of them were collected by the bar’s past owners, the current owners continue to add to the collection, and have even had to expand their display into other rooms of the Gris, such as the 11-year-old wine bar.

If you’d like to study the maritime theme more closely while enjoying live music and good company in one of Essex’s oldest businesses, here are a few things to know before you go.

Location: 36 Main St., Essex, CT 06426

Hours: Open 364 days a year (closed Christmas day). Monday-Thursday, 12 p.m.-11 p.m.; Friday, 12 p.m.-12 a.m.; Saturday, 12 p.m.-12:30 a.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m.-8 p.m.

Best Yelp Review: "My favorite space at the Gris is the taproom. Good selection of beer and spirits and live music every weekend! The atmosphere is comfortable and casual. I recommend staying for a weekend and experiencing the hospitality of the Gris and beautiful Essex." --Suzanne K.

Historic Bars The Griswold Inn and Tap Room in Essex, Connecticut White Painted Exterior

photo by: Caryn B. Davis

The absence of TVs in the guest rooms encourage guests to mingle and listen to live music downstairs.

Meghan White is a historic preservationist and an editorial assistant for Preservation magazine. She has a penchant for historic stables, absorbing stories of the past, and one day rehabilitating a Charleston single house.

mwhite@savingplaces.org

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