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Have You Met... the owner of Hards Corner Tavern?

Hards Corner Tavern owner has one goal: to run a joint where you feel welcome.

" " is a chance to get to know some of your neighbors. These lovely folks work and live in our community to make it a place they love.

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Who We're Meeting: Kevin Moran

James "Kevin" Moran is the owner of Hards Corner Tavern, 1884 Main Street. He's owned it for six years -- two years under the infamous moniker "Mr. P's," and four years now with the more historic name: Hards Corner Tavern.

The bar and grill -- or "joint" as Moran calls it -- hosts everything from karaoke and live music to first communion parties. Moran, a retired Bridgeport schoolteacher, is just the third owner of the historic property since the 1930s.

They serve good food, all day.

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Elizabeth Howard: So you decided to change the name since you've owned it.

Kevin Moran: I decided to switch the name at the turn of the second year. It was a fella named John Hard (was his name "Hard" or "Hards"? I don't know) who owned a bunch of land in this area back in the day. And so everybody who grew up around here always knew this as "Hards Corner."

There was Hards Corner Mobile. But then that closed, so there was nothing here to remind us that it was called that.

EH: You are the owner of the "notorious" nightclub formerly known as "Mr. P's." How has life changed since then?

KM: Yeah, we do get bad rap. It's the nature of the beast. It was Mr. P's for a long time and it didn't have a good rep.

Let's put it this way: I'm the only bar in Stratford known by its former name, thanks to the press. Hey, they don't refer to McCoy's as "formerly The Reality Café."

I will say this about the bar: it has suffered like all businesses from the last few years due to the economic turmoil. We have had to adapt to and change with the times. I have done a fairly decent job adapting. I try to keep prices low. I always try to meet customers' needs. I try to provide a service. It is a good place to meet people.

It is your old-time neighborhood bar, and there is so few of them left. Most neighborhood bars that are left are being replaced by cookie-cutter bars. We are what you call a "generalist" bar. You can meet all kinds of people here. We are probably the most eclectic bar in Stratford -- people appreciate that. 

We have this one customer… He is the first customer I ever seen reading a book in the bar. Not a newspaper, but a book. So, I knew the title of the book so I started to talk to him. He was an artisan who did all this glasswork at St. James and he'd came down and sit at a table in the afternoon. He felt comfortable. Everyone does. When the Shakespeare was going on, there were actors in and out those afternoons.

I run a bar in a way where I want anyone to feel at home. So I work the bar. I work from one end to the other. I can tell you anything about the folks that come in, at least the ones who come in during the day.

We call places like this "joints." The one thing that makes me sad is the great joints of Fairfield County, they are all disappearing. There will not be bars like this around in 10 years. That is too bad.

One of my pet peeves is that people don't appreciate these kinds of places until they are gone. There are none in Fairfield or Westport. In Bridgeport, there are some. They had some in the suburbs, but they have all gone by the boards. They got whipped out in the '90s when the rents were going through the roof. It's a crying shame.

EH: This is a pretty hopping corner here, actually. How are your neighbors?

KM: We are very close. I basically try to do all my business with Stratford vendors, and I try to employ mostly people who are in Stratford. I try to be a good neighbor. Some don't think that, but I think I am. 

(He hollers to his employee) Hey Wayne! How do I get along with Milano? [co-owner of ]?

(Wayne hollers back:) 'You guys are inseparable!'

I believe neighbors should help neighbors. Sometimes Milano uses my ovens to cook. But then of course he always feeds me, so…

EH: Have you always been a bar owner?

KM: I was a Bridgeport schoolteacher for 30 years in History and Math. I worked at a lot of different schools. I was at Park City Alternative for 20 years and nine years at Harding Prep. When I retired in 2007, I was at Central High School. I liked those kids. I thought I was a good teacher; I was concerned about them.

Some of my pupils do come back and see me. When you live in Bridgeport you do run into them from time to time. I enjoyed teaching. It was a good job. But I always wanted to open a bar.

I'm lucky. I only wanted two jobs in my life: to teach history and own a bar. I can say that I met what I wanted to do in my life. 

EH: What do you think is the most important part of keeping a place like Hards Corner hopping in a town like Stratford?

KM: You try to provide a service that is reasonably priced.

But, I don't think people go to bars to drink. They go to bars for company. It's that old Cheers mentality: that is way more important. So, if you know the owner and you know the bartender -- if you feel like people know you -- that's what they want.

Like Uncle Chris has on the calendar there everybody's birthday. It's small stuff. If I am here, I will talk to customers, I listen to them: they've got a moan or complaint or want to tell you what they like. Then they get to feel invested. Then they are going to come back. It's that simple. I try to make them feel welcome.

EH: I know you get bummed about the reputation this location gets for being a bit rough. So just to clear the air, what IS the weekly average number of bar brawls here?

KM: Zero… I mean …weekly?? We might not have anything here but every 3 or 4 months. But what we do have, it would get reported. Whereas if other bars in Stratford had a brawl, it wouldn't get in the paper.

EH: I read somewhere online that this place is open "all night."

KM: No. We close at 2 a.m. like everyone else. How are we going to get around the liquor laws? We want to go home and sleep like everybody else.

EH: So if I come in here, will I be able to get a half-caf skinny mocha latte and free Wi-Fi? 

KM: No. We don't have it. We are not a yuppie joint.

EH: Can I at least get a clean glass?

KM:  Absolutely.

EH: I've heard about this Uncle Chris guy.

KM: Chris? He's the chief cook and bottle washer. He does everything around here. Take it this way: if this bar was a body, he would be the arms and legs.

EH: A business like this is full-on, non-stop. How do you take a break from it? Or do you? 

KM: I don't. I am in here every day. Some days at 5 a.m. I am basically here until noon. Then I go home and come back in the afternoon. I don't stay as late as I used to. I didn't used to have all this white hair. Plus, believe me: I am in the new age. You can see a lot of things on cameras these days.

Besides, the people who work for me are very honest. They don't steal. In the bar business, 50 percent of all bar employees somehow steal. In here, they really don't. It is not in their nature.

Look, from when I took over the bar, there is still four or five people who opened the bar with me. So, yes, there is turnover. But if you have six bartenders, well, four have been here forever, one is here a lot, and so there is a lot of turnover in that sixth spot.

EH: What kind of boss are you?

KM: I am stubborn. I don't think I have to change. And I don't give up easily. Part of that comes from teaching all these alternative kids.

There's this girl Juanita. I promised another teacher that she would graduate. She was a smart girl but she was absent all the time. Well, I had another girl in the class. Her grandmother, Mrs. Fernandez, lived above Juanita. She said: call me and I will wake Juanita up. So Mrs. Fernandez would tell Juanita: you got to go to school.

Well, one day Juanita came into my office and she gives me that look. So, I said: are you trying to give me the look? You are either going to come to school or I am going to call Mrs. Fernandez every day. You are going to graduate.

Well she just busted out laughing and said: I didn't think it would work. She came to school and she did graduate.

A couple years later I saw her at a doctor's office.  She'd had a baby when she was 14 or 15 and her daughter came up to me: YOU'RE MOMMY'S TEACHER!! She must have told her daughter about me, and so the little girl recognized me.

That's all to say, I am not going to give up. I won't give up on this joint either.

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Three Questions:

(I ask these same questions to .) 

EH: If you could be or do anything else, what would it be?

KM: I am happy the way I am. (He thinks about it.) But I know I've got one more bar in me. I would like to open a real Irish bar. With Smithwick's and snugs and everything. That’s what I'd like to do. And I'd like to call it Moran's. 

My family owned a bar back in Drumshanbo (County Leitrim) Ireland. It recently closed. I'd like to have one with all Irish bartenders and barmaids. The real thing. 

EH:  What three words would your friends use to describe you?

KM: A good-natured soul. 

EH: If you could change one thing about Stratford, what would it be?

KM: Outside of one notable exception that I won't say in the press, I really like Stratford. I'd like to see the public perception of Stratford change. I think people should come in and give it a try instead condemning it before ever coming here. The worst critics are the people that bitch and moan about Stratford as den of iniquity and they have never been in the place.

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