Surprisingly, this is one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written. I wish you the very best of luck on your move, but I regret that I don’t have time to answer individual questions about your situation.
(This is Part II in a series of posts about living in New Haven. Look for more, unless I get tired of doing them.)
I first moved to New Haven from the Bay Area, and well do I remember driving up and down Dixwell and Whalley, wondering where the hell the kids were in this town. There are plenty of young adults, don’t get me wrong, but the whole blue-blazered, drinking-at-Mory’s thing was not my scene (and still, thankfully, is not). I must tell you, New Haven Transplant, that there is a lot of that in your new home. And maybe you’re into that! In which case, go nuts!
For the rest of us, though, there are a few hidden gems, and you should find them so you don’t become bitter and angry.
Yes, of course, you can go to New York — like everyone says, it’s only an hour and a half away! But you probably won’t end up going as often as you think you will, because grad school is exhausting and soul-sucking, and New York is big and expensive.
The first thing you should do is bookmark Yale’s events calendar, because they really do offer some amazing, once-in-a-lifetime stuff. And it’s usually free. Just don’t assume everything’s on there. Some departments just don’t have their act together about submitting stuff to the main event calendar, so be sure to check the websites of departments you’re interested in.
Also keep the New Haven Public Library in mind. They have some great speakers from time to time, plus a great collection of fiction, DVDs, and audiobooks.
If you’re into suburban hardore, a la Nickelback, good news! New Haven is a hotbed! Young Connecticutians come from all around to inflict their shitty music on us.
The other stuff, though, is out there, albeit a little hard to find. There’s Toad’s, which occasionally has good shows, despite the inexplicable frequency with which it hosts Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime. (And Aaron Carter, for the love of God). I saw Le Tigre there once, and Joanna Newsom and the Dresden Dolls.
I’m not really a jazz or classical or avant-garde fan, but I respect Firehouse 12 for the ambitious and experimental shows it offers.
If you do like classical or jazz, Yale’s music school is terrific, and offers a lot of free concerts.
My favorite venue is The Space, out in Hamden. It’s a scrappy little place that hosts a lot of local bands and the occasional better-known act. I saw Jonathan Richman and Vic Chesnutt there, and missed Deertick, sadly.
There used to be a cool little movie theater on York Street, but now American Apparel lives there, gross. But the Criterion is pretty good! And you can get discount tickets if you’re a grad student — just ask at the McDougal Center. It’s a great, great deal.
You are actually in luck if you are a broke cinephile, because Yale’s Film Studies program has two 35mm facilities that are in pretty much constant use. Seriously, you could do nothing but go to all the Yale movies — which are free — for a couple years and get a terrific film education. And not only the screenings themselves, but talks by filmmakers and film people — D.A. Pennebaker, Jodie Foster, David Lynch. However! There is no website for these screenings, for reasons that I don’t quite understand but have to do with copyright. So in order to find out about them, email the Film Studies administrator and ask to be added to the email list for film screenings. You’ll be really glad you did.
One of Yale’s hidden gems is the fantastic collection of DVDs and videos at the Film Study Center. If you’re a Film Studies grad student or major, you can check movies out for free. Otherwise, you can purchase a pretty affordable season pass. And, really, the collection is amazing.
If you prefer to browse, Best Video, in Hamden, is one of the world’s best video stores, with really knowledgeable clerks.
I may be in the minority here, but I wish that New Haven’s profusion of small, independent, mediocre bookstores (Labyrinth, Atticus, Book Trader) would just join forces and be a decent larger bookstore, a la Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. But whatever. There are a number of fine smaller bookstores around town for your browsing pleasure. There’s also the Yale Bookstore, which is really a Barnes & Noble, but not called a Barnes & Noble, where you can go to read magazines for free.
You have to get out to Niantic if you possibly can, to go to the Book Barn. It’s a huge complex of ramshackle barns crammed with used books and roving dogs and cats. Seriously, it’s awesome. Go there.
It’s also worth noting that the Yale School of Art is one of the best in the world, and it has frequent shows. I like New Haven’s City-Wide Open Studios week, where you get to see the inside of a lot of cool art studios.
You can usually find grad students whining into their beers at the Anchor, Rudy’s, or GYPSCY. GYPSCY deserves special mention because it’s run by the Yale grad student council and has cheap booze. I like Rudy’s best because it has beer on tap, occasionally hosts bands, and has awesome pommes frites.
If you like grinding against sweaty guys in striped button-downs, check out Bar on Thursday night! But otherwise, don’t! Other places not to go: Hula Hank’s (do I even need to tell you this?), the Playwright, and Hot Tomato’s.
Festivals and Etcetera
A lot of people like New Haven’s Arts and Ideas Festival, but I’ve just never felt it. It runs a little too world-music-and-middle-aged for me. Like, is there a special booking agency for anodyne blues music and Ladysmith Black Mambazo? You’re better off getting out into New England to less pretentious festivals.
One of my favorite things to do is to pick peaches and apples and berries at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford. Don’t miss this. It’s really fun. Plus they make a mean apple cider donut.
In general, I recommend you learn to embrace the whole New England thing. Drive amongst the changing leaves! Eat apples! Buy yourself a cable-knit sweater! Seek a fireplace! Obtain tweed clothing and an L. L. Bean Boat & Tote! Take up sailing! Connecticut can be infuriating, mainly because of the chasm between rich and poor, but the New England thing has its charms.
Except in the winter. Good luck with that, sucker.