The closing of Clark's Dairy, and the news that Rudy's will be relocating to a location that bears absolutely no resemblance to the place it's been since it opened in 1934, have bummed me out significantly, but I think I can handle it. What made me realize I had to snap out of it (particularly in regard to Clark's) was the act of stumbling on a copy of Enjoying New Haven: A Guide to the Area, by Betsy Sledge and Eugenia Fayen.
This is a little paperback that I remember my parents having a copy of in the late 1980s. I don't think I ever looked at it then but I do remember throwing it out when they moved out of their apartment downtown. The edition I remember -- and which is now sitting on the desk next to me -- is from 1989 and was published by Sledge and Fayen as East Rock Press, Ltd., and it is a fine little guide to the city with some really lovely prints. I found a copy of it a couple of Saturdays ago. I had spent the day at the Institute Library, a wonderful quiet place to go when you need a place that's wonderful and quiet, and on leaving, I went into the English Building Market, which is a couple of doors down. I cruise the place fairly regularly but hardly ever do I look at the books; however, this book caught my eye: I thought, "Oh, what the hell," and bought it.
So let me tell you: reading a guide to New Haven from 1989 is a trip. It's really a strange experience. I found myself remembering shops that I had really and truly forgotten about, though they were once landmarks of downtown New Haven. Scribbles, a shop on Chapel Street, beneath the Yale Center for British Art: you went there for stupid doodads, stickers, obscene greeting cards, and other things no sane person would spend money on. I'd forgotten all about that place. And what makes that awful is, I actually worked there briefly. For about two days. The job was so deplorable that, at the age of 16, I phoned them and said, "Yeah, hi, I won't be coming in. No, I don't need to pick up the paycheck. Keep it." I never wanted to set foot in there again.
How could I have forgotten about Scribbles? And yet I did.
The guide mentions Gentree's, a fairly dignified restaurant that used to be on York Street, in a building that no longer exists because Yale tore it down. It was on York near Chapel, a site now housing the new part of the Art and Architecture school. Gentree's was originally a men's clothing store; I own an overcoat from there, which I acquired at a tag sale on Orange Street simply because I wanted an article of clothing with the Gentree's label. The men's shop closed, and somehow Gentree's was re-conceived as a restaurant, the kind of place where you could get decent burgers and serious drinks. Plants; dark wood; 80s yuppie heaven. Gentree's closed, and I was sad; it wasn't that it was such a great restaurant, but it was reliable. Fitzwilly's, which was on the corner of Park and Elm Streets, was a similar establishment, but much larger, and I was very sorry when they closed, too.
And the Old Heidelberg! Which is now a Thai restaurant! How can it be that the Old Heidelberg is a Thai restaurant? Well, it is the case, my friends. Been that way since 1991. Which means that the Old Heidelberg has been gone for almost twenty years. Which means that there's at least one generation of people to whom that space has "always" been a Thai restaurant.
A sobering thought.
New Haven is, I suspect, no different from any other small city, or even town, in this regard: any business establishment that opens and then lasts longer than three to five years becomes, simply out of its survival, an institution. Some institutions are more entrenched than others: Rudy's may thrive in its new spot, but it won't be Rudy's, really; it'll be something else -- but even so, you know that for the next ten years, there will be people sitting around bars around town going, "Man, remember Rudy's, that night when...." I know that's how it is with the Grotto, a club on lower Crown Street that closed in I think 1988 or maybe it was 1989. New Haven is filled with sentimental chumps like me who remember every club, every restaurant they ever ate at, every store where they ever bought shoes, and lament their closings. If you don't believe me, there is proof on Facebook, even about the shoe store: Cheryl Andresen's shop Solemate, which started on State Street and moved to York Street, is much missed by many. I still wear shoes I bought from Cheryl and her shop closed in 2000. Are people more sentimental in New Haven than in other places? I have no idea. But when I meet someone who has been here a long time, inevitably our first conversation includes a litany of "do you remembers": the Daily Caffe; the Willoughby's on Chapel Street; The Moon on Whalley; the Third World International Cafe... it's always sort of romantic, actually, these conversations. We woo each other with our memory banks of the Nine Squares and the streets that radiate from it. Tight friendships are born out of these shared memories of places long gone.
Mamoun's is still here. Mysteriously, Clarie's Corner Copia is still here. Ashley's is here. All true.
But I miss Thomas Sweet. I miss the pancake restaurant that used to be on York Street. (Not the crepe place; I mean the pancake place; it was where Bangkok Gardens is.) And don't even get me started on the bookstores.
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