Salty Dog adds flavor to New Haven

By on February 22, 2006

The bartenders get down and dirty with patrons, pouring hard liquor into waiting mouths between paddling customers who are eager for free drinks. Patrons cram together near the bar waiting for their drinks, eyeing the scantily clad female bar staff and well-toned male bartenders as they perform ‘extreme bartending’ tricks.

And as if that’s not enough, there’s also a mechanical bull.

No, this isn’t a scene from “Coyote Ugly.” This is 29 Center Street in New Haven, where weekends have become a little bit saltier thanks to the opening of a new downtown night spot, The Salty Dog Saloon.

The Salty Dog opened its doors four weeks ago and has been extremely busy so far despite a snowed-in grand opening, according to owner Richard Nunez.

Nunez has run a Salty Dog Saloon in Springfield, Mass., for two years and saw a need for this type of bar in New Haven. He wanted to bring something new and different to the area.

That something different is what Nunez calls “interactive fun,” where the staff strives to involve the crowd.

“This is like being on Spring Break every night,” Nunez, 38, said. “The crowd dictates where the party is going to go.”

The atmosphere is indeed reminiscent of a night of spring break debauchery. Colored lights are draped from the ceiling and loud rock music blares from all directions. Bartenders toss bottles in the air and throw around ice cubes, catching them in cups.

There’s something to look at in every direction. On top of the main bar sits a life-size motorcycle and other similar pieces of “flair” fill the vast space. A bar toward the back features a giant moose head with lacy bras hanging down from the antlers.

On the right side of the bar the majority of space is devoted to the mechanical bull-riding arena. Here patrons line up, signing their name and doling out $4 to take a spin on the bucking beast.

“It was wonderful,” Nicole Otterspoor, 24, said after riding the bull. “My friend made me do it. I would definitely do it again.”

Employee Robyn Dostie, 24, also loves the bull. When she’s not helping to run the attraction, she takes rides herself.

“It’s crazy,” Dostie said of working at the Salty Dog. “I’m sober and everyone else is drunk. It’s a lot of fun though.”

If riding the bull isn’t enough excitement for one night, patrons can also request a spanking from the staff in return for a free drink. Bartenders pull the customer onto the bar and blow a loud whistle before wielding a wooden paddle amidst shouts from the crowd.

Getting spanked by an attractive blonde bartender sounded like a good idea to Eric Holzer.

“It was interesting,” Holzer, 23, said. “It hurt, but it was fun. It’s all good fun.”

Not everyone at the Salty Dog is interested in crazy thrills however. Many people were content standing around tables, talking to friends, and enjoying the cheap drinks.

The featured drink is the $4 Jack and Coke, served in an old-fashioned glass jar. Karen Taylor, 22, enjoyed one on her visit to the Salty Dog, but had a complaint.

“It’s spicy,” Taylor said. “It tastes like cinnamon, it’s different. But I don’t think there’s much alcohol in it for what it cost.”

Although the bar does not offer any drink specials, Nunez says that their slogan, “Every hour is happy hour,” ensures that they have the best prices around. Bud, Bud Lite and other run-of the-mill beers cost $3.25 while Coronas and specialty beers run $3.75 a bottle.

Another aspect of the Salty Dog that sets it apart from other downtown New Haven establishments is the music, which features anything from 80’s hair bands to classic rock.

“They played a lot of rock and some country, a lot of 90’s music,” Jeff Bliss, 22, said. “It’s a good change from the hip hop and techno they place everywhere else.”

Beats like Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” got the crowd moving and brought plenty of girls up onto the bar to dance, something that occurred more and more as the evening went on and the bar became more packed.

On Friday night, plenty of Quinnipiac faces could be spotted in the crowd which consisted of college-aged through middle-aged individuals. Several of the patrons noted that it was a slightly unusual mix, including senior business management major, Scott Handelman.

“It’s a little trashy,” Handelman, 21, said. “I feel as though it’s an older atmosphere. Love the music though.”

Not everyone had a problem with the age range however.

“At this bar there’s something for everyone,” Jason Chidester, 21, said. “There was a mix of ages and colors and genders. There’s no one set theme. If you like to drink and have fun, it’s the bar for you.”

The Salty Dog is open Thursday through Saturday. You must be 21 or older with positive ID. For more information call (203) 773-3523 or check them out on the web at


About Lauren Flaum