Every restaurant has a story.
With thousands of food and drink options in Connecticut, it can be hard to know where to start your search. It could be a great restaurant right under your nose and you wouldn’t even know it existed.
All this great food is often well paired with a greater story. There’s a hole-in-the-wall spot that started as a food truck, a brewery built over a dairy farm, and a restaurant that opened its own theater. This is just scratching the surface.
There is no end to stories to share in Connecticut’s vibrant restaurant scene. That’s why we’re starting a new series to try and tell them all: Quick Bites.
Starting things off is the First and Last Tavern in Hartford with their long history in the Connecticut capital, all told in the plethora of pictures hanging on its walls.
Over 80 years old and counting
If you’ve ever spent time in Hartford, you may be familiar with First and Last Tavern.
If you grew up in the area, you’ve likely visited at least once.
“It’s one of the oldest restaurants in the state,” says Patrick DePasquale, owner of First & Last Tavern. “It’s been there since 1936.”
While most people who live in Hartford today may not have much memory or experience with Hartford after depression, you likely have parents or grandparents who did. Plumbers, electricians, etc. 9 to 5, five days a week workers walk the city streets and get what they have. It wasn’t an easy era for anyone, but it was when Dimella’s First and Last Tavern opened its doors.
“The name derives from it being the first pub you see when you enter Hartford and the last you see when you leave,” DePasquale says. “Open after forbidding”.
According to DePasquale, the hole-in-the-wall pub saw a lot of traffic even on the way back. Traders would often stop by for a quick lunch or after work for dinner. Without a full kitchen, the menu was limited to no more than a dozen or so options.
“One of our popular menu items at the time was number 13. It’s shells with sausage and meatball with a small salad, all served in the same dish. We have 14 too, and it’s the same dish but with angel hair pasta. They still work well.” It’s a quick lunch or dinner.”
Besides licensing basic liquor, and allowing the pub to serve beer and wine, First and Last Tavern has segmented its market in Hartford and has kept things moving decade after decade.
However, over time, Demila cars were ready for sale.
The first and last hands change and expand
“My father’s family has been in the restaurant for years,” DePasquale says. They had DePasquales Restaurant on Front Street. It’s the Constitution Plaza venue now. This is where a lot of our old photos in our restaurant come from.”
It was an obvious decision to pick up the storied Hartford Pub. They purchased the business in the early 1980s. It didn’t take long for an expansion to take place.
“It was connected to an apartment building before we expanded it. There are even pictures on the wall from 1989 when the renovations were done.”
What was once a cozy pub now has a full service kitchen and an annex Patented Brick oven that rotates during cooking.
However, it was more than the handiwork of his father, who made the newly expanded First and Last Tavern a smash hit with clients.
A family business, through and through
DePasquale’s mother, Diane, has put over 20 years of hard work and dedication into running the restaurant. She was a familiar face to regulars, and she took care of her patrons and staff. Even today, after backtracking, you’ll likely find it helping however you can.
“We had really good people,” DePasquale says. “We have had a waiter working here for over 50 years. We have multiple servers with 25 years and more of service.”
In his words, “It is a restaurant for generations. Multiple layers of families who have come to the restaurant over the years. We have employees whose children later came to work here and get clients across the state.”
At its core, First and Last Tavern is a family business. You see it in countless pictures on the walls. Some of them are politicians and prominent figures, such as Al Gore and John Madden. More from DePasquales and Hartford. They catalog the history of the First and Last Tavern and the city in which you were born.
So far, after a difficult pandemic, First and Last Tavern and DePasquales are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
“It’s been tough years for everyone, but people seem to be recovering.”
The First and Last Tavern is located at 939 Maple Ave in Hartford.