Most sports bars in Connecticut are places to go to eat chicken wings, pulled-pork nachos and cheeseburger sliders while watching UConn, the Celtics or the Yankees. The Cannon in New Haven is not like most sports bars.
All the food on the menu is meatless and most of it is vegan. The biggest crowds gather on nights when the London-based Arsenal Football Club is playing a televised match.
During Wednesday’s preseason match with Orlando City — which Arsenal won — The Cannon filled with men and women in red-and-white Arsenal jerseys with the cannon logo that gives the bar its name.
The fans call themselves Gooners, like Arsenal fans all over the world. Their club, the New Haven Gooners, is listed by Arsenal America as Connecticut’s only official fan club.
“I like Arsenal because the team is so international, and because it has a great fan culture. It’s fun to be part of a global following,” said Tom Krattenmaker of New Haven, who came to the bar in Arsenal gear with his wife, Carolyn Gretton. “Soccer culture is different from football, basketball, baseball. There’s a lot more do-it-yourself stuff, the merchandise, the chants. It’s fan-centered and fan-powered, a real community.”
Abigail O’Keefe got into the fan culture when she was working at Christy’s, the former New Haven pub that was the Gooners’ hangout spot until it closed for good during the pandemic.
“I worked during all the games. I’ve been friends with the guys watching the games since 2010. I fell in love with the crowd and fell in love with the team,” O’Keefe said. She is now the assistant branch manager of the New Haven Gooners.
The Cannon is owned by Kevin MacKenzie, Tessa Davis and Skyller Melton. Mackenzie and Davis tend bar. Melton mans the kitchen. The vibe — no meat, lots of soccer — was created by MacKenzie, who went vegan 20 years ago and has loved Arsenal all his life.
“As a young kid I watched soccer on TV and there was this striker, Dennis Bergkamp, playing on Arsenal. He was my favorite player,” MacKenzie said. “I just kept watching. It was my kind of thing. Later in life I started going to [New Haven pub] Anna Liffey’s to watch games. I met a lot of people. It was a great community.”
In later years, MacKenzie hung out at Christy’s. Christy’s and Anna Liffey’s are both closed now and The Cannon has taken in the Arsenal fandom base.
“From Day One the response has been positive, but our clientele is not solely Arsenal fans,” MacKenzie said. “We get a really diverse crowd.”
Bar food is a natural for Melton, who used to cook at Ordinary in New Haven. He eats meat, but meatless cooking is fun for him. “I like a challenge. It keeps me thinking,” he said.
The menu is small. Melton said it will grow when he can hire kitchen help.
Three sandwiches are the “Fresh Catch” ($9), a tempura-battered and fried hearts of palm; a Reuben ($9), with thinly sliced seitan standing in for corned beef; and a grilled cheese for $5, which for the time being is dairy-based. Melton said the kitchen is nut-free and he is experimenting with nut-free vegan cheeses to choose one to replace the dairy cheese.
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Salads, at $5 each, are a vegan Caesar and a “Spring” salad with strawberries, beets and red onions. Super-fresh hand-cut fries are $5, $7 with vegan gravy. Desserts are coconut-mango pudding ($5) and strawberry oatmeal cookies ($7). Foxon Park soda is served.
Sometimes Melton adds specials such as broccoli rabe sliders on oat milk buns; hand pies with eggplant, jerk lentil or a seitan-mushroom mix inspired by steak and ale; cardamom cake; and cinnamon buns. Tuesday is pasta night. The pasta contains eggs.
The Cannon’s kitchen opened March 13, when Arsenal’s season was nearing the end. They hoped to open as the season began; the bar’s exterior signage hopefully but erroneously reads “2021.” But like almost every restaurant opened this or last year, build-out took much longer than expected.
“This place used to be a dry cleaners. It was just a big room. We had to build everything from the ground up. It was a little scary,” Davis said. “We all come from blue-collar backgrounds so we had a lot of help from our families. My father did all the plumbing. Kevin’s father built the bar.”
They got the kitchen equipment from the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, which was renovating its facility. “We got it all for free, if we could move it out. That was a lot. It’s big and bulky,” Davis said. “But we did it. We like that their kitchen was kosher. No meat has ever touched that kitchen equipment. I’m not a vegetarian myself but it’s important to people focused on that lifestyle.”
The Cannon is at 135 Dwight St. in New Haven, at the corner of Chapel Street. It is open 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday. thecannonnhv.org.
Susan Dunne can be reached at [email protected].