New Haven’s Anchor Spa cocktail bar charts its own course

New Haven’s Anchor Spa cocktail bar charts its own course

Photo: Bar manager Raasikh Muhammad Joseph, shown here, and restaurateur Karl Franz Williams have charted a new course for the rechristened Anchor Spa. Lisa Nichols for Hearst CT Medi/Lisa Nichols/Hearst CT Media


New Haven’s Anchor Spa cocktail bar charts its own course

Karl Franz Williams wasn’t looking to open a bar and restaurant in New Haven. Back in 2016, the New York City restaurateur known for creating destination cocktail bars already had two Harlem restaurants: 67 Orange Street and Solomon & Kuff (which has since closed). Although Williams had gone to college at Yale, the Elm City wasn’t on his radar (or should we say sonar?) until he heard about the Anchor Restaurant.


“If you look at some of the things that I’ve done, there’s this thing around history and places that either have a historical significance, or there’s an opportunity to create an experience that is like that,” Williams says. “A friend of mine, who was a regular at 67 Orange, suggested I look in New Haven, and he was like, ‘It’s actually a little foodie town with a few great bars and some great food and people who really care. And you might find a home there.’ ”


Williams found both a home and plenty of history at The Anchor, a storied New Haven cocktail bar that opened in the 1930s on College Street in downtown New Haven, though its original location was in nearby Milford. Over the decades the bar had hosted celebrities from Lucille Ball to George C. Scott, and generations of Yalies have been drawn to its striking blue Art Moderne façade and cozy interior-bar feel.


When that incarnation of the bar closed in 2015, there was an outpouring of grief. The New Haven Preservation Trust even released a statement about the property’s historic importance. So there was much rejoicing when Williams resurrected the bar as the Anchor Spa and reopened it in 2016 with a newly restored interior and a rejuvenated cocktail menu. Since that time the cocktail menu has evolved into one of the state’s best. Raasikh Muhammad Joseph, who has headed up the bar program since 2019, was nominated for a 2022 CRAzies award from the Connecticut Restaurant Association. This honor is well deserved.


While Joseph was not present during my recent trip to Anchor Spa, his cocktail menu was on full display, as were the talents of bartender Bianca de Jesus. She graciously answered questions about the menu and mixed some wonderful cocktails. The Carrot One is a vegetable-forward mix of carrot juice, gin, mezcal and simple syrup that shows off the full creativity of Anchor Spa’s cocktail chops. Even better was the Warp Speed Mr. Spock, which lived up to the creativity of its Star Trek-inspired nickname with a mix of Laphroaig, green chartreuse, St. Germain, Sherry, lemon juice, peach bitters, and oregano, all topped off with a flaming pour of absinthe. The combination of the drink’s smoky flavors and high alcohol content make it a voyage worth taking.


Despite the complexity of many drinks on the menu, Joseph and the staff pride themselves in making things approachable and finding drinks that appeal to each customer’s unique tastes. Staff might advise a more straightforward cocktail first and then move them up to more complex drinks.


“We tend to start people with something that’s less spirit forward,” he says. “The idea is to have a cocktail experience like you’ll have a food experience, and have your first course, second course, and your nightcap.”


This multi-course cocktail experience takes place in a warm, subtly nautical-themed setting. Whether you sit in one of the booths or at the bar, Anchor Spa offers a cool, casual meet-up or date-night vibe that is hard to beat.


Staff members also pride themselves on their ability to execute classic cocktails with skill. The Moscow Mule is a popular favorite and features Uncle Waithley’s ginger beer, a small-batch producer owned by Williams and made with fresh ginger, lime and turmeric. The product has been sold by Whole Foods and works wonders in mocktails, or as a replacement to a drink with alcohol all on its own, Williams says.


The food at Anchor Spa also complements the cocktails. From Caribbean-inspired cuisine such as crisp plantain chips to bar-room favorites such as excellent buffalo chicken wings, this restaurant offers quality from bow to stern.


That sense of approachability in the cocktail program extends to the feel of the entire restaurant. “One of the things I’m extremely proud of is the diversity of the place,” Williams says. “That diversity expresses itself across ages, across gender, race and sexual orientation. It’s very easy to walk into the Anchor and be whoever and see someone else who looks like you.”


The Anchor Spa
272 College St., New Haven
203-821-7065,, @theanchorspa on Instagram
Open for dinner and drinks Tue.–Sun.
Not wheelchair accessible


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