July 10, 2014 10:08AM
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD — When alcohol prohibition was repealed near the end of 1933, Crescenzo Santillo, an Italian immigrant, decided to open a bar on Hall Avenue.
In 1934, Santillo received a liquor permit and opened what is now known as Chris’ Restaurant and Bar, at 35 Hall Ave. The bar is celebrating 80 years in business. Santillo’s grandson, John Torelli, has humbly operated the bar since 1968.
“It’s just your average everyday neighborhood bar,” Torelli said.
Since the bar first opened, it has been owned and operated by the same family. This is a major point of pride, said Mary Torelli, John Torelli’s sister. Al Torelli, their sibling, also helps out at the bar on special occasions.
Since retiring from her profession as a teacher in Wallingford a few years ago, Mary Torelli has helped out at the bar by working the kitchen.
“It’s really just a family thing,” she said.
According to John and Mary Torelli, their grandfather purchased property from the railroad on Hall Avenue during prohibition. The bar is located downtown across from the former train station.
Before opening a bar, Crescenzo Santillo operated a fish market and confectionery in the same building. When the bar first opened, it might have been called Santillo’s, John Torelli said. It’s unclear when the bar took on its present day name, but Chris’ is named after Crescenzo, he said.
In the early 1960s, John and Mary Torelli’s parents took over the bar. At the time, John Torelli started bartending. When his father died in 1968, John Torelli inherited the business.
Being close to the railroad, the bar used to attract travelers from all over the region, Mary Torelli said.
“Back then, the railroad was pretty active,” she said.
Soldiers taking the train would often stop off at the bar for a drink, John Torelli said. When he knew they were coming, he would have sandwiches prepared for them.
The bar has loyal customers, said John Torelli.
“I’ve known the parents and kids,” he said.
Gerry Malone, a regular, was eating at the bar Monday afternoon.
“It’s a good bar with good people,” said Malone, a contractor. “And I get a lot of work here.”
Meeting people is one of the best parts of the job, John Torelli said. It wasn’t always that way though.
“It was tough at first,” he said, referring to when he first took over the business. “It was hard coming in here and listening to everybody. You have to listen to everybody’s problems, but you really can’t tell them what you think.”
The bar is decorated with New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Steelers memorabilia. John Torelli follows both teams, and through a men’s club he is part of in North Haven he has had the opportunity to meet several athletes, including Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. Autographed photos adorn the wall behind the bar.
Other than a facade renovation in the 1970s, the bar has remained the same. The bar doesn’t accept credit cards because it uses an antique cash register from the early 1940s.
While he doesn’t plan on closing anytime soon, John Torelli said, Chris’ likely won’t remain in the family forever. No one else in the family is willing to run the business, he said, so eventually he plans to sell so that he can retire.