Ryan Whipple, co-owner of The Corner Tavern
Ryan Whipple, co-owner of The Corner Tavern

It was like meeting up with an old friend you hadn’t seen in five years.

Maybe your friend has had some work done. A chin-tuck maybe. Hair dyed a smidge. Leaner.

That’s how I felt stepping into The Corner Tavern, which for decades was known as The Old Corner, on North Main Street in the Union City section of Naugatuck, Conn. It was old school, with tin ceilings and walls and a shiny, deep bar. The jukebox was still near the entrance. Tables were still scattered about.

But the walls were a ruby red, the ceiling a bright white. The tables were new and organized. The partition that divided the restaurant portion was down. And there were two giant television screens over the bar. So, some elements were flashier maybe. No big deal…

Until I saw the beer line-up. This is when I knew that the 103-year-old bar was really entering into a new era. Connecticut beers were there: Two Roads, Back East, New England, Olde Burnside, and Thomas Hooker.

But so were beers from Allagash, Stone, Southern Tier, Otter Creek, and Evil Twin. Nearly 30 taps, and only one named Budweiser and one named Coors Light.

The former owner, whom I profiled in a column from 2009, was John Woermer. He’s a guy that didn’t drink, but had a great work ethic when it came to running a bar, and the pride he had in the bar showed. It always drew a happy crowd, and the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were legendary.

Woermer sold the bar, and for five years the new owners tried to keep it afloat. I don’t know why it didn’t work, but last fall the Old Corner became the Corner Tavern, complete with a brand-spanking-new beer list.

I got to talk to co-owner Ryan Whipple for a while today, while I sucked down a Back East Porter and started-then-abandoned a Two Roads Holiday Ale. The Naugatuckian has a degree in education, hopped around for years as a DJ/karaoke host, then decided to open the bar. He’s a homebrewer and understands his beer; his recommendations show a keen understanding. He’s affable and the kind of guy you want to have listen to you, since he actually listens.

My time was spend poring over the latest issue of The New Yorker and listening to the jukebox blaring Dave Matthews Band and Metallica. I wished I could have stayed to try the Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous American Black IPA or Stillwater Cellar Door porter. But I needed to head on my way. I plan to write up a full profile before St. Patrick’s Day, so keep your eyes open.

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