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A restaurant inspired by college movie favorites

A caricature of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hangs behind the bar at Delta Haus in Boston.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

When Finn McCool’s opened last May in a space previously occupied by Julep Bar in prime real estate just off Atlantic Avenue, the ownership group had visions of a swanky lounge space downstairs decked out with old barrels and speakeasy inspired decor (to be called The Barrel Room). Just before opening, however, disaster struck — a water main break severely damaged the space. While this was a setback, it gave the proprietors the chance to reevaluate their concept, and they came up with something different.

“We thought we’d go the movie route,” says manager Keith Gleason, “We wanted to go for a fraternity house feel, but not with a specific movie per-say, and it’s been a big success so far.”

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Delta Haus is the result of all of that brainstorming. Strolling down the street, you’d have no clue there was a tuition-free frat house nestled below the pavement but that’s what Gleason and company have managed to create. After taking the stairs down from Finn McCool’s, you’re confronted with all sorts of games like Skee-Ball and air hockey and cans of every proper college brew. Since opening in January, the fun spot has built a following among the weekday crowd with a concept built on references to famous college movies like “Animal House” and “Old School,” and some great food and cocktails as well.

A place like Delta Haus needs to have an understanding of the needs of its clientele. It’s centrally located downtown, but away from the action of Faneuil Hall or the hustle and bustle of the Fenway. Rather than drawing people from their homes into the location, most customers head downstairs on their way home to get drinks after work and maybe catch a game. Because of that, the bar opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

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“Thursday and Friday nights have been big so far,” Gleason says. “Saturdays have been surprisingly good as well, even though this is a part of the city where it can be tough on weekends.”

When it came time for Gleason to design the menu, he knew the pressure was on to come up with items and names that gelled with the fraternity concept. He needed to do some leg-work, namely watching old movies and taking notes on characters, scenes, and quotes that might be iconic enough to find their way into a menu item. That’s how he came up with the “ZERO.POINT.ZERO” Jack Daniel’s cocktail, named for a famous “Animal House” scene where Dean Wormer informs John Blutarsky of his GPA. “You’re My Boy Blue” — a blueberry vodka, lemonade, and Red Bull combo — is named for a famous quote from “Old School.”

The food menu is decidedly less curated than the cocktail selection, but some items pay homage to the theme, and nearly everything is made from scratch. The bar pizzas have been big sellers, like the chicken/bacon/ranch and Buffalo chicken varieties. Delta Nachos, complete with cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, pico de gallo, spicy sour cream, and salsa verde, is a crowd-pleaser. The Bleu-Tarsky burger with bacon bleu cheese dressing pays homage to the legendary “Animal House” character.

“I must have gone through three or four drafts of the menu,” Gleason says, “I also got some help from employees.”

Further feeding into the concept is the beer selection. It was decided early on that everything would be offered in cans, and while the traditional Bud Light, Sam Adams, and craft beers are available, there are some decidedly less urbane choices as well. Rolling Rock, Coors Banquet, and Narragansett are all staples. If authenticity is what the people want, it’s what they’ll get, and in its first few weeks of existence, Delta Haus has already generated a large swath of repeat customers.

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“Our crowd [is made up of] creatures of habit,” Gleason says. “They come in the same groups and order the same thing every week. I’m not sure why, but people love coming down the stairs into a basement to drink.”

Delta Haus, 200 High St., Boston, 617-737-3466, www.deltahausboston.com.


Jon Mael can be reached at jmael2014@gmail.com.