I took time from my walk to be a supportive Alumni and go up to New Haven, Connecticut for the Cornell versus Yale game on September 30, 2017. I also watched us get our butts kicked with the score 49-24. I swear, every time I thought we would catch up, we fell behind. We kept going through quarterbacks throughout the game.
A lot has changed in New Haven since I lived there in the late Eighties. I lived in New Haven from 1988-1990 at a time the city was being revitalized during the boom of the early 80’s. I also saw what the Crash of 1987 would do to the city when the effects of the financial meltdown started to do to the economy. I lived on College Street at the time working at R.H. Macy on Church Street (where a college stands now).
Our little area was really nice around the Shubert Theater with lots of shops and restaurants but even those were effected by the economy as well as the store was in the end and it closed after I got promoted in 1990. The store closed with almost thirty years in service in 1994. Even though I moved from the city twenty-seven years ago, I still consider it in my own way ‘home’. There is always a piece of me in all the places I have lived in the past. There still is a part of me in the city. Going up for the Cornell-Yale game has given me an excuse to visit New Haven in the last four years.
I was lucky to make the 9:02am train out of Grand Central and arrived in New Haven at 11:20am. Walking through the train station brought back a lot of memories for me as I used to head home every Sunday for dinner with my family the first year I lived there. I watched the station get renovated in 1989 and morph to what it is now with the vaulted ceilings and the specialty shops. It is the weirdest thing about the city. They have the most beautiful train station and then the city builds public housing right across the street from it.
For me, stepping out of the station brings back a flood of memories for me. As I walked from the station to downtown a few blocks away it reminded me of the first time I truly became independent as an adult with my first real job and my first apartment alone.
I walked to Church, Chapel and College Streets now and it is so much different. New Haven has become a restaurant and shopping destination. So many independent restaurants have opened to much acclaim and many small creative shops have opened up along the Chapel Street corridor. I was able to pop in here and there before the game.
I was able to walk around the ‘Nine Block’ of downtown New Haven, which is where the city was founded around the famous ‘Green’. When I lived there, this was an area of cut rate stores and empty historical buildings. To have the hindsight thirty years later but being the home to Yale University, I figured eventually in time this area would gentrify strong.
It is now home to many top-rated restaurants, shops and the most beautiful lofts. The buildings have been sandblasted back to their original beauty and its just fun to walk around and look at the architecture from the 1800’s. The city and the buildings owners have done a wonderful job bringing this area back to life. It is worth the afternoon to just look around the lower downtown.
I walked all around the ‘Green’ and not too much has changed over the years as way of the park. It has been fixed up and reseeded but still picturesque. The office buildings still add to the backdrop of the park. What has changed is the quality of the stores and restaurants over the years that line Chapel Street next to the Yale campus. They have gotten a lot more fancy and expensive, much more than when I was there.
Chapel Street seems to have become the new ‘Columbus Avenue’ of New Haven (terminology is based on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan when it went upscale in the 1980’s and 1990’s). From Church Street downtown to the edge of the Yale campus is lined with new restaurants, shops, art galleries and upscale boutique hotels. Even the area between campus and the stadium, which has seen better days has changed. The extension of the hospital has turned everything from Orchard Street to Yale Avenue by the Yale Bowl into “Upper Chapel Street”.
You can see this is an up and coming neighborhood, lined with Victorian homes that are now being snatched up and renovated. It must have been some neighborhood back between the 1880’s to the 1920’s. It is still pretty run down but here and there especially around the new hospital extension things are changing. Homes along Edgewood Park on and off Chapel Street are starting to get spruced up and landscaped. You can tell this is the time to buy in that neighborhood.
I passed old haunts of mine from back in the 80’s that are still in business. Willoughby’s Coffee and Tea was still there at 258 Church Street, where I went for late night snacks. I thought it was in another location but still here. The Owl Shop at 268 College Street was still there as well but is now a dining place as well as a smoke shop. Claire’s Corner Copia at 1000 Chapel Street still stood on the corner of College Street and Chapel Street, where I used to go for my morning sugar fix. Claire herself still mans the counter after all these years. Further up Chapel Street is Union League Café at 1032 Chapel Street, where I took many special employees from Macy’s for a meal when they did something special.
Where I stopped for lunch before the game was one of the most famous restaurants in New Haven and was right around the corner from me, Louis Lunch at 261 Crown Street (See review on TripAdvisor). It was a block from where I lived at the Taft Apartments and in the two years I lived there, I never ate there. The food was excellent.
Their hamburgers are legendary in the food world and Louis Lunch has been written up in countless reviews, blogs and articles on the best hamburgers in the country. I got their at opening at 12:00pm and there was already fifteen people in line. It does go quick though and my suggestion is to order the burger medium well and then it comes out perfect.
They are right about one thing, the burgers do not need ketchup. One slice of fresh tomato adds to the complexity of the flavor. It has a crisp, caramelized salty flavor to the outside and a juicy meaty center. This is not your typical burger and is worth the $8.00 and change I paid for it and the Pepsi. The restaurant is an institution in New Haven and should be tried at least once when visiting the city.
I then continued up Chapel Street to the stadium. The upper parts of Chapel Street start to give way from the college campus to residential homes, more like Victorian mansions and you can see the wealth that once dominated the northern part of the Yale campus.
Yale Bowl Stadium is unusual for such a wealthy endowed school. It looks more like a prep-school, high school field. For a team with such an hollowed reputation and the team doing so well the last few years, I think the stadium, even after the renovation, is falling apart. It has the most uncomfortable wooden seating and I am still afraid of getting splinters from the place.
That did not stop the team from running all over Cornell. I have to admit for every play we had up our sleeves, they had two to counter act it. They really are a good team. Even though we tried to put up a good fight, we made too many mistakes and the second half of the game, we were done. We lost the game 49-24. We really need to work on our offensive. At least the Yalies were good sports about it.
The one thing about Yale that I have found with most of the Ivy league games I go to is that none of the students seem to want to go to the game. We always sit in empty stadiums. When I visit the Penn Stadium, Cornell dominates the stadium both with the band and the Alumni. Columbia the same way. Cornell seems to be getting a more loyal following (in hopes of a winning season). The Yale game was no different. I think there were more of us then there were of them and they were home.
After the very disappointing result, I walked back into the downtown, taking peeks at the side streets to look at the graceful homes. For all of you home flippers reading this, buy in this area NOW! It will be hot, hot, hot in the next two years as it is already starting. I really do believe that people are moving back into New Haven.
I turned around ‘the Green’ and looked at the downtown one more time. For the most part, it had not really changed in twenty years. By walking the city streets, I could tell it was a lot more vibrant than it was when I lived there and for the better. I am proud of the city I once called home for working so hard to improve it.
My last stop of the day was at Frank Pepe Pizzeria at 157 Wooster Street (See review in TripAdvisor) in the heart of the city’s ‘Little Italy’. I had not eaten here in twenty seven years. My first and last time dining there until today was my last night living there. My buddy manager at Macy’s, Rose, had taken me here for dinner with her fiancé, Kenny. The Pepe’s vs Sally’s conversation is one that I have had with many a Yale Alumni.
The restaurant has morphed into a small chain over the years of about eight restaurants but the original is still iconic. I had the 12 inch Clam Pizza with a Coke and it is the best $20.00 (with tip) that I had spent in a long time. The clams are so sweet and fresh tasting on that pizza that it was worth the wait in line for it. People were so happy to be eating there and wait staff is extremely friendly. It is worth the trip to Wooster Street.
I had dessert at Libby’s next door at 139 Wooster Street (see review on TripAdvisor) and is worth bypassing. The $4.00 soggy cannoli was just not worth it and you can not even buy individual cookies. The place needs a renovation as well.
Wooster Street and the area that surrounds it has improved over the years like the rest of the city. Many of the homes and businesses have been fixed up and the factory when you cross the bridge to this area of the city has been turned into lofts. You know where this neighborhood is heading. You could see it in the cars in the parking lot.
I left Wooster Street to head back to downtown and to the train station to my way back to New York City. The streets were quiet except for a few diners leaving restaurants and the walk back to railroad station didn’t seem as dangerous as everyone says. No one was walking around at 8:00pm at night.
It was a real treat to take a step back in time and see part of my past. I really loved living in New Haven, CT over twenty years ago and it still holds a special place in my heart being the beginning of my professional career. Okay things were not always perfect but it was first real sense of adulthood in the ‘real world’.
Who knew a Yale/Cornell Game could bring this flood of memories back?
As for the next football game, GO BIG RED!
261 Crown Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Frank Pepe Pizzeria
157 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop
139 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Yale Bowl Stadium
81 Central Avenue
New Haven, CT 06515
Nine Block Square
Located in the heart of Downtown New Haven: Various Stores and Restaurants off Chapel Street
Located in Downtown New Haven on Chapel Street