The haunting, plaintive sounds of bagpipes hung in the air Thursday morning as firefighter Jason Hall of Milford blared outside Eli Cannon’s Tap Room in Middletown’s North End.
Sporting a green plaid kilt and gray wool cap, Hall regaled patrons with the tune, “Twenty Men From Dublin,” before heading to Naugatuck to play at the Old Corner Café and Slainte Diner as part of a St. Patrick’s Day musical tour sponsored by New England Beverages and Saranac Brewing.
It was music to make you swell with pride — and especially fitting here, where the huge, somber, brownstone St. John’s Church down the street stands as a testament to the city’s Irish immigrants.
On a day when just about everybody claims to be Irish, Todd Daquila of Middletown hit Eli Cannon’s early for a “biggie” breakfast and had already finished a mug of Guinness and was working on a Brooklyn Brown Ale by mid-morning.
“I love Eli Cannon’s,” Daquila said. “I’ve been coming here since ’98, when I graduated from college.”
After this, Daquila said, he was headed to buy a truck — a brand-new 2011 Ford F-150.
Eli Cannon’s opened early Thursday with a kegs and eggs breakfast, including corned beef and cabbage, hash, bangers and mash and Irish soda bread.
“When I came in at 9 a.m., it was packed,” said hostess Kayla Landry of Portland. “I expect it to be very busy all day. By 7 o’clock, it’ll be shoulder to shoulder and you can’t move.”
Phil Ouellette, who has owned Eli’s for 17 years, says this is the second year he’s offered a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast.
Across the street, O’Rourke’s Diner served its regular menu plus corned beef and Irish soda bread with chocolate chips, coconut, cranberries and raisins.
Longtime owner Brian O’Rourke shuttled back and forth between the kitchen and the counter, serving and greeting customers new and old.
Waitress Melody Latti of Middletown got into the spirit with a shamrock headband and light green eye shadow.
Lori Constantino of Pawcatuck visited Middletown for the first time Thursday for a meeting, then stopped into O’Rourke’s for one last item — corned beef — to complete her dinner plans. “I already have Irish soda bread, mashed potatoes, kapusta (a Polish vegetable) soup and cabbage.”
Constantino says she’s a little bit Irish. “My grandmother on my dad’s side was born in Ireland, but she says she’s Scottish.”
Jeff Horn of Rocky Hill was waiting for friends from New York to join him for a late breakfast.
“I come every St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve been coming once a week for 25 years. I’ll probably get the special, Brian’s special, what he calls ‘Brian’s Breakfast,’” Horn says.
O’Rourke’s sister Maureen Maley pitched in for the day. “It could be like this (gesturing to a half-full dining area) and then two seconds later, really busy. We’re doing a lot of takeout now,” she said.
“Brian’s Irish minstrel friends, some Wesleyan-related [musicians] and some who just like to play the pipe” were part of the evening’s big dinner celebration, Maley said. For $35, customers get a full meal and were invited to bring their own drinks.
“When we rebuilt, [the diner was destroyed by fire in August 2006 and reopened in February 2008] that’s one of the things we did — no liquor license,” she explains.