By Mark G. Auerbach, Published: February 2014, Special for PRIME
You may think of New Haven, Conn., as the home of Yale University, or the last stop on MetroNorth’s Grand Central line, or the city with the closest Ikea. It’s all of the above, yet much more. Just about 65 miles down I-91 from Springfield (a 75 minute drive or 90 minute train ride on Amtrak), New Haven, a slightly smaller city than Springfield, boasts a world-class university, three world-renowned museums, three professional theatre companies, two professional orchestras, over 50 Zagat-rated restaurants, shopping, and more.
New Haven is a city of firsts. After the city was founded in 1638, city planners developed the city in a “Nine Square Plan,” centerpiece of which is the beautiful New Haven Green. New Haven had the first public tree planting in America, and the canopy of mature elm trees around town gives New Haven its moniker of “The Elm City.” The New Haven District Telephone Company produced the nation’s first phone book in 1878. The first lollipop-making machine was built in New Haven in 1908. Gant Shirts was headquartered in New Haven. Plays and musicals like “Oklahoma” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” had their premieres at The Shubert Theater, dubbed “The Birthplace of the Nation’s Hits”. The Shubert’s still up-and-running.
The Lender family launched America’s first frozen bagel business in town in 1927. New Haven has contributed many unforgettable foods to American cuisine. Pizza may be New Haven’s greatest culinary gift … white clam pizza specifically. The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria (157 Wooster St., www.pepespizzeria.com ), and Sally’s Apizza (237 Wooster St., www.sallysapizza.com ), are both among the best, and within walking distance of each other. Tony & Lucille’s Little Italy, also in Wooster Square (150 Wooster St.) is credited with creating the calzone. Louis’ Lunch (261-263 Crown St., www.louislunch.com ) claims to be the birthplace of the hamburger in 1900.
You can eat your way around New Haven, but build up your appetite with some sightseeing first. Downtown New Haven and the Yale campus are walkable, and you can find a lot of nearby parking garages or take a shuttle bus (or cab) from Union Station to Yale and the New Haven Green.
New Haven: sights to see
I lived in New Haven twice, once as a Yale student, and once again as a member of the management team of The Connecticut Ballet. I used to get my bearings surveying the city and the Long Island Sound atop East Rock Park. The panoramic view of city, the Long Wharf, and the surrounding shoreline is breathtaking. East Rock Park is open during daylight hours. Unless you’re hearty, drive to the top. (www.cityofnewhaven.com/Parks/ParksInformation/eastrockpark.asp ).
Yale’s Visitors Center (149 Elm St., www.yale.edu/visitor/tours.html) is a great place to begin a New Haven day. Yale offers student-led tours of the campus on weekdays at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and on weekends at 1:30 p.m. The Visitors Center shows a video about Yale life 15 minutes prior to each tour.
The Yale Art Gallery (1111 Chapel St., http://artgallery.yale.edu/) and The Yale Center for British Art (1080 Chapel St., http://britishart.yale.edu/) are “must-sees.” The former just completed a major renovation, and the latter is currently being renovated. Combined, they offer an extraordinary journey through classical and contemporary art. They both have permanent and changing exhibitions, and they’re both free.
Yale also hosts the Peabody Museum of Natural History (170 Whitney Ave., http://peabody.yale.edu/ ), The Collection of Musical Instruments (15 Hillhouse Ave. , www.yale.edu/musicalinstruments/ ), and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (121 Wall St., http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/). However, if you’re only in town for the day, make The Yale Art Gallery your prime destination.
New Haven: theater and music
New Haven has three professional theaters (along with numerous community theaters and performances on the Yale campus).
The Shubert Theater, (247 College St., http://shubert.com/ ) has been bringing Broadway to New Haven since 1914, when the Shubert Brothers used the theater to test new shows, before bringing them into New York. Rodgers and Hammerstein launched “Oklahoma” here. “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music” followed. Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” played The Shubert in 1947, giving New Haven audiences their first live glimpse of future star Marlon Brando. The theater fell on hard times in the 1970s, and closed. It was restored and reopened in 1983. Upcoming productions include: Yale Opera’s “La Boheme” (Feb. 14 to 16), the national touring company of the Tony Award winning musical “Once” (Feb. 26 to March 2); and “Stomp” (March 28 to 30).
The Long Wharf Theatre (222 Sargent Drive, http://longwharf.org/), one of America’s most prestigious theatre companies, began life in 1965, when some forward-thinking city leaders built a regional theatre on New Haven harbor in a food terminal across the tracks from Union Station. The theatre still thrives there (although the neighborhood has improved with the arrival of Ikea). The Long Wharf won the 1978 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. The upcoming productions include “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog (Feb. 19 to March 16), a new play about a lost 21 year-old who shares a Greenwich Village apartment with his 91 year-old grandmother. Athol Fugard’s “The Shadow of the Hummingbird” (March 26 to April 27) has its world premiere at Long Wharf. Fugard, one of the legends of contemporary theatre, also stars.
The Yale Repertory Theatre (corner of York and Chapel, www.yalerep.org) is the professional theatre company affiliated with the Yale School of Drama. Many brilliant actors of today got their start there, among them Henry Winkler, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, and others. They perform in a renovated church, and occasionally at the Yale University Theatre down the street. World premieres highlight their winter/spring season. “These Paper Bullets”, Rolin Jones’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, features songs by Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong (“American Idiot”). Jones is responsible for TV’s “Friday Night Lights” and “Weeds”. (March 14 to April 3). Marcus Gardley’s “The House That Will Not Stand”, the story of a free woman of color in 1836 New Orleans, whose life takes new twists after the death of her white lover, follows (April 18 to May 10).
New Haven’s music scene is varied, with lots of activity coming from the Yale campus and nearby clubs, alongside the New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s (www.newhavensymphony.org/) classical and pops season.
The ensemble to make time for is Orchestra New England (www.orchestranewengland.org/), which celebrates its 40th season this year, with conductor James Sinclair. They perform in various venues, and often celebrate the music of Charles Ives, the Connecticut-born composer who spent time at The Hopkins School and Yale. Orchestra New England celebrates Ives’ music (March 8, Battell Chapel) with a recap concert of their 1974 all-Ives program. On Feb. 8 (United Church on the Green), Orchestra New England performs music of Ives (“Washington’s Birthday”) on a program that includes Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”.
New Haven: a taste of a city
Most of my Yale days favorites are long-gone, with the exception of Claire’s Corner Copia. (1000 Chapel St. at College Street, www.clairescornercopia.com/). Claire’s was my “go to” place for filling soups and the most delicious coffee cake in the world. I had my first sushi dinner at Miya’s Sushi. (68 Howe St.http://miyassushi.com/). Miya’s chef, Bun Lai is chef, artist, environmentalist and social activist. He is a diver and fisherman who supplies Miya’s with wild seafood from his 100 acres of shellfishing grounds off of the Thimble Islands in the Long Island Sound. He lives, farms and forages 15 minutes from the restaurant. Anthropologist Dr. Yancey Orr Ph.D., and Bun Lai first began collecting and eating invasive Asian shore crabs, which subsequently led to the incorporation of other invasive ingredients to the menu, which features dishes made of foraged ingredients that threaten the region’s indigenous species.
Ray Baldelli, a New Haven broker with Edgehill Realtors/H. Pearce Real Estate, and New Haven resident for 38 years, raves about Zinc (964 Chapel St., http://zincfood.com/) and its farm-to-table menu. “It is a wonderful restaurant with a great kitchen where Denise Appel, the chef/owner, personally orchestrates its inventive and inspired menu. This artisan restaurant has been a mainstay in New Haven for many years,” Baldelli said. “My top picks for lunch are the Pan-seared Yellowfin tuna with Thai rice and Asian vegetables or the Cobb salad. I like to end a meal there with their Rooibos Chai. After lunch, walk up Chapel Street to window shop or visit some of the unique boutiques and craftsman jewelers, and you’re just steps from the Yale campus and the museums.”
Kathryn Sullivan, a native of New Haven and former ballerina with Connecticut Ballet, returns from her teaching commitments in New York, when she inherited her family home. She recommends a Connecticut institution, Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale on the Long Wharf (501 Long Wharf Drive. http://ljfishtale.com/). “It’s informal with a clam shack atsmosphere, and fresh seafood,” Sullivan said.
James Sinclair, maestro of Orchestra New England, likes the soups at Atticus Bookstore Cafe (1082 Chapel St.,http://atticusbookstorecafe.com ). “The soups changes daily,” Sinclair said, adding, “And it’s adjacent to the Yale museums”.
Jackie Downing, longtime New Haven area resident, and program officer for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, recommends Anna Liffey’s Irish Pub (17 Whitney Ave., http://annaliffeys.com/ ) for lunch. “I like the Irish Style chicken pie or beef and Guinness stew”, said Downing, who added the menu also includes a host of Irish dishes and traditional Irish and English breakfasts.
Margie Grayboff Waldeck, who has worked in downtown New Haven for 31 years, likes Caseus Fromagerie Bistro (93 Whitney Ave., http://caseusnewhaven.com/ ). “It’s a unique cheese shop and cafe,” Waldeck said, “And anything there is perfect. Check out the grilled cheese and the cheese sampler options.” Waldeck also praised Miso’s. “There’s amazing sushi in the Ninth Square area at Miso’s (15 Orange St., www.misorestaurant.com/ ). “Connecticut Magazine said it’s the ‘Best in Connecticut,’ and I agree.” Waldeck, who took a friend who had lived in Japan to Miso’s for lunch, noted.
When it comes to coffee, there are plenty of non-Starbucks options (although there are two Starbucks in downtown). Baldelli likes Blue State Coffee (276 York St., and 84 Wall St.) “It is cool, trendy, hip, and actually has exceptional coffee (and mean grilled cheese sandwiches),” Baldelli said. Downing agreed. “And, with each cup of joe, you get a token that designates funds to donate to a nonprofit,” she added. Waldeck likes BNatural Cafe (formerly Woodland Coffee and Tea) with two locations (1044 Chapel St. and 97 Orange St.,www.bnaturalcafe.com/ ).
New Haven: where to stay
Too much to see or do or eat in one day? New Haven has three good downtown hotels:
The Study at Yale is located at 1157 Chapel St.. Check it out online at www.studyatyale.com/
. The Omni New Haven is located at 155 Temple St. Check it out online at www.omnihotels.com/ .
The New Haven Hotel, 229 George St. Check it out online at www.newhavenhotel.com/ .
I’m partial to The Study at Yale. It’s within a block or two of the Yale Rep and the museums.
Before you go
Take the time to explore the websites listed below. They will help you make the most of your New Haven adventure:
The City of New Haven Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism has self-guided tours of Yale’s architecture, public art, and the Yale campus. Available online at www.cityofnewhaven.com/ArtsCultureTourism/PublicArt/PublicArtArchitectureTours.asp.
The New Haven Independent offers a superb calendar of events and other things to do in The Elm City: www.newhavenindependent.org .
Tourist information available at City of New Haven, online at www.cityofnewhaven.com/visitors/.
Tourist information available at Visit New Haven: online at www.visitnewhaven.com/ .
The Yale Arts Calendar lists all kinds of campus events, performances, exhibitions, and other campus activities, all of which are open to the public. The information is online at http://artscalendar.yale.edu/
Colin Caplan is New Haven’s unofficial historian. Some of his recent books about The Elm City are at www.magrissoforte.com/published.html.
Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Longmeadow, Mass., based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. For more information about Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, visit Facebook and LinkedIn.