PLAINVILLE — The tavern that opened the year of Washington’s inauguration and witnessed the town’s break from Farmington is celebrating 40 years of operation under the owners who transformed it into the nationally-renowned eatery, “J Timothy’s Taverne.”
Four decades to the day after Tim Adams and Jim Welch purchased Cooke’s Tavern on Feb. 26, 1980, the restaurant will be hosting a celebration of its evolution from a “white table cloth type of restaurant” into a casual dining establishment known for its chicken wings. Tickets to the celebration can be purchased on the tavern’s website for $40 and include food, champagne, live music and beers specially brewed in a partnership with New England Brewing Company.
Proceeds from the celebration and $1 from every sale of the restaurant’s buffalo wing sauce go towards the newly created John Huwe Memorial Scholarship, dedicated to the restaurant’s first executive chef and kitchen manager, who died in 2017. The scholarship is available for Plainville High School students planning a future in business.
Since Adams and Welch took over the restaurant, it has been featured on the Food Network and Travel Channel. It employs over 140 people, up from 20 in 1980.
Much of that success is due to the accidental invention of the restaurant’s “Dirt Wings.” A customer nicknamed “Dirt” — “..as in 'This guy's old as dirt’ ” would get distracted after ordering his wings and ask the bartender to have his cold meal fried and seasoned a second time, said General Manager Greg Gardner. Regulars started picking up on the trick in the late 1980’s and requested that their wings be prepared how “Dirt” likes them.
“They end up very crispy and very flavorful and it’s a style that no-one else in the area offers, that we invented,” said Executive Chef Erik Wichert.
About 350 tons of wings are served each year, including 13 tons over Super Bowl weekend, according to Nikki Vinci, who handles J Timothy’s marketing.Remaking of a Plainville icon
Around the same time the Dirt Wings started to take off, Adams and Welch, who are now in semi-retirement, decided to rename it with an amalgamation of their own names: J Timothy’s Taverne.
“Just the fact that we were changing the name of a restaurant that had been here since 1789 was daunting in itself,” said Gardner, who has worked at the restaurant since 1981. “...but we felt that going from the fine dining to the casual theme required a pretty big change and the name itself had to change, so people’s perception wasn’t that this is Cooke’s Tavern just with a lighter fare.”
The building was renovated during the change, expanding the bar and moving it from the basement up to the ground floor.
Gardner said it was immediately apparent that the change was for the best the first day they opened as J Timothy’s.
“Just the jukebox kicking in, people chatting and the energy of the place — we all looked at each other and went ‘Wow, this is it. We did the right thing,’” he said.Plainville’s social center since the 18th century
Though it’s operated as J Timothy’s for decades, the change is still a hard adjustment for some residents who occasionally refer to it as Cooke’s Tavern, said Nancy Eberhardt of the Plainville Historic Center.
The tavern served as one of the town’s central gathering places as far back as its days as an inn and tavern for stagecoach travelers along the main thoroughfare between New Haven, Hartford and Boston. It had a blacksmith for repairs, a barn stocked with hay for horses and bedchambers on the second floor, all of which are now J Timothy’s nine dining rooms.
“It was the social center for the town’s history before it even became a town,” Eberhardt said.
The business was passed down through four generations of the Cooke lineage, eventually adding a second floor and transforming into a full service restaurant. It left the family around 1965 when John Kirkham sold it to Raymond Galvin, a Bristol native who continued operating it as an upscale restaurant, according to historic center records.
Gardner said those eating in the basement can still see the blacksmith forge and bellows.