New Haven, CT Weekend

Get an Honorary Degree in New Haven

Photo by micromolar

Sure, New Haven has decent culinary and art scenes. But they're not the main draws of this Ivy League college town 80 miles from New York. Nope, it's the classics that make overnighting here worthwhile: New Haven-style pizza, served flat as a board, fresh from a hot brick oven; hamburgers wedged between two slices of white bread at the nation's original burger joint; bona fide independent bookstores with adjoining, equally independent (no Starbucks!) cafés; and a troika of Yale University buildings by Saarinen, Bunshaft, and Kahn.

What to Do

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Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

121 Wall Street, New Haven, CT; (203) 432-2977;; Free

This exceedingly important Yale library was, amazingly, designed by Gordon Bunshaft, the same architect behind the pioneering all-glass Lever House on Park Avenue. This later commission is a windowless antithesis to his earlier work, and ingeniously constructed using Vermont marble, which allows subtle light to filter through. That's not the only reason to venture inside, though: There's also a rare Gutenberg Bible displayed behind glass and a splendid Isamu Noguchi sculpture courtyard one level down.

Photo by aadair4

David S. Ingalls Rink

73 Sachem Stree, New Haven; (203) 432-2489;; Games from $4

Eero Saarinen graduated from Yale with a degree in architecture in 1934. He returned 20 years later to design what must be the most unusual skating rink in the United States (if not the world). Nicknamed the Yale Whale because of its shape, it does indeed look like an effigy of Moby Dick, with its curved oak roof joined to an upturned tail-like extension. It just came off a $23.5 million restoration at the end of 2009 which should, among other things, allow year-long skating inside. For now, fall and winter weekends bring Yale Bulldog hockey games to the ice, which are a fun way to experience university spirit.

Photo by docjfw

Yale Center for British Art

1080 Chapel Street, New Haven; (203) 432-2800;; Free

Along with the Beineke Library and Yale Whale (above), this Louis I. Kahn building is an essential example of Yale's innovative architecture. Its cold, uninviting exterior gives way to surprisingly warm galleries like this one, where soft wood-paneling and luxurious carpeting contrast wonderfully with the industrial, concrete cylinder that contains the inner staircase. Indeed, the coterie of artists that grace the walls (Whistler, Gainsborough, Blake, Turner, Hirst, etc) is rarely this successfully presented outside of Britain. And, thanks to benefactor Paul Mellon, they're also presented here for free.

Photo by frizbeemom

Book Trader Café

1140 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT; (203) 787-6147;

Used bookstores like this have, unfortunately, all but disappeared from New York (and no, the Strand doesn't count). There's a shelf of affordable first-edition hardbacks to the left of the cash register (I spotted Mary Gaitskill's Two Girls Fat and Thin for $8.95 and Cormac McCarthy's The Road for $14.95), dozens 0f other cheap-and-cheerful shelves, and an adjoining student-filled coffee shop that invites real lingering, besides.

Photo by Aaron Gustafson

Atticus Bookstore and Café

1082 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT; (203) 776-4040;

Not far from Book Trader (above), this equally enticing New Haven literary institution stocks new books and a great selection of letterpress stationary and cards. The adjoining café could qualify as an eatery of its own accord in the next section: It's especially famous for its breakfast pastries (definitely try the scones) but its lunchtime soup and sandwiches are justifiably popular, too.

Where to Eat and Drink

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Bar and Bru Room

254 Crown St, New Haven; (203) 495-1111;; From $9

Don't be put off by the name: Bar is more of a local tavern than a traditional drinking hole. It's blessed with an impressive space, having moved into a 1915 car showroom, and equally memorable New Haven-style pizzas, made-to-order in its own brick ovens. Bar's proximity to Yale already makes it a strong alternative to better-known local pizzerias Pepe's and Sally's, which are far-removed from campus, but its neighboring Bru Room is what really edges out the competition. It's been pouring its own micro brews since 1996 (when it was the first brew pub to open in town) and delicious choices like Toasted Blonde and Damn Good Stout, perfect companions for a classic New Haven white-pie clam pizza, are on tap for just $4.50 a pint.

Photo by mreid0183

Louis' Lunch

263 Crown Street, New Haven; (203) 562-5507;; From $5

Credited with creating the country's first hamburger in 1900, this darling brick cottage is definitely New Haven's most memorable pit-stop. Behind its its pert red door and shutters, burgers are still made according to the original recipe, cooked to order on a quaint cast-iron grill, and squished between two pieces of toast. Ask for "the works" to add tomato, lettuce, and cheese, but don't expect any ketchup, mustard, or relish (there isn't any). Park yourself in one of its confessional-like wooden seats, and wash down this bit of American history with a bottle of East Haven's own Foxon Park grape, cherry, or birch-beer soda.

Photo courtesy of Hull's Fine Framing and Gallery

The Anchor

272 College St, New Haven; (203) 865-1512

Yes, you can eat here, but it's kind of beside the point, since this two-floor institution is best appreciated as New Haven's funkiest dive bar. Granted, it's more loungey than a New York dive, but that's a huge part of its appeal. Several fabulous, circular sea-green banquettes dominate the ground floor, creating a legit retro vibe where the only thing missing is cigarette smoke. The dim Mermaid Lounge downstairs is less successful (it reads more like a college common room), but equally popular with the locals. Whichever option you choose, do ask for a can of New England Brewery beer. The Anchor is one of the few local addresses to serve it.

Photo courtesy of Study at Yale

Heirloom Restaurant

1157 Chapel Street, New Haven; (203) 503-3900;

When you're ready to graduate to finer fare, this farm-fresh restaurant at the new Study at Yale (see Where to Stay, below) serves updated American classics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Heirloom's a lot less plush than New Haven's other culinary heavy hitters (Bespoke, Union League Cafe), but its pared-down aesthetic is a welcome change that also lets the food shine. Chef John Nordin (a Todd English devotee) sources most ingredients locally and plates reinvented New England comfort fare (crab cakes, dates wrapped in bacon, mac-and-cheese), plus daily seasonal specials.

Where to Stay

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The Study at Yale

1157 Chapel Street, New Haven; (203) 503-3900;; From $199/night year-round

New Haven's newest boutique hotel is the kind of sophisticated dormitory you longed for when you were in college. Each of its 124 rooms comes with high thread-count linens, a flat-screen TV, a massive desk cheekily laid out with pencils and graph paper, and great college or town views. The luxe grad-student motif continues downstairs, where an attractive book-lined lobby hosts a small commissary stocked with pick-me-up coffees, juices, and pastries. Next door, the hotel's farm-fresh restaurant, Heirloom, is a top draw of its own accord (see review, above).