New Haven | New Haven, Connecticut

Posted by on November 26, 2001

How about a safe, nearby destination; a place with culture, students, (and therefore books and food,) and guiltless distractions from the current state of the world?

I recently fulfilled a long-time wish to go to the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven Connecticut, and in the process I discovered a delightful, convenient day-trip destination for my readers!

New Haven has almost always been on my radar screen. (I was born several miles north in Naugatuck, Connecticut) Yale was my idea of sophisticated culture and fun when I was young. (Also, the Yale Bowl offered great field sports, and cute college boys.)

For the past several years, the Yale Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art have come to my attention one way or another, but I had never quite managed to get there. I was fortunate enough to have friends invite me to join them on a drive there last week.

I can now unequivocally recommend New Haven as a wonderful city to visit, and the Yale Center for British Art should be the centerpiece for any trip.

The museum is a part of the Yale Art Gallery, and the two museums are across Chapel Street from one another. Famous American architect Louis Kahn designed both buildings. The British Art Center was his final building, and was opened in 1977. His first major commission was the Art Gallery, opened in 1953. Obviously students and lovers of architecture would want to study these buildings.

The interior of the British Art Center is an extremely pleasing space for the display of the remarkably deep collection of British Art.

It is the most comprehensive collection of British Art outside the United Kingdom. Its foundation is the generous gift of paintings, drawings, prints, rare books, and sculpture presented to the University by Paul Mellon.

The Center mounts a regular program of changing exhibitions throughout the year and offers films, concerts, lectures, tours and special programs – all free and open to the public.

This is one of the most remarkable, positive, and (clearly) heavily endowed examples of American largesse that I have ever seen. The museum is totally user-friendly, has lots of small rooms where you can concentrate on a particular genre of painting; the identifying placards for each painting are particularly interesting and educational; there are lots of comfortable seats on which to rest.

The current special exhibition is called “Great British Paintings from American Collections, Holbein to Hockney.” I was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of marvelous examples of the long history of British Art. We were unable to see all we had hoped, and vowed to go back soon.

I found directions to the British Center and The Art Gallery on the Web. (How did we ever get along without the Internet?) And remember, everything at the museum is free, including the lectures and concerts. Kind of makes you want to move to New Haven, doesn’t it?

Of course, if you do, you’ll have to put up with all those cute college boys, (and girls, since 1971).

We did of course have our mandatory lunch. I never go anywhere without checking out at least one restaurant. Luckily I had the presence of mind to ask the young clerk in the Gallery’s attractive museum shop where she would take her mother for a very nice lunch. Her eyes lit up asshe said, “Union League Café.” (Always ask a local.)

This proved to be a great find. It is just a block from the museum on Chapel Street, between High and college. Just walking there from the museum revealed all sorts of temptations, including a Book Trader Café, two exquisite Men’s’ Shops, a Starbucks with soft easy chairs, a great ethnic gift shop called “Ten Thousand Villages” and numerous other eateries and shops which demand a return

The Union League Café was indeed the perfect place for lunch. Even on the incipient crowded Parents’ Weekend, we found a table without a reservation. This is the genre of restaurant so popular these days: a former bank or some other neo-classical building, reincarnated into a very comfortable, not-too-chic, white tablecloth space, which manages to remain informal. It’s hard to be informal with all those students around, even though many were with parents. Many non-students were enjoying this intriguing menu as well. The wine list was long and eclectic, as was the beer list. I managed to order something wonderful: a rare filet of beef sandwich on pumpernickel bread, which came with caramelized onions, and home-made vegetable chips (their version of Terra Chips.) the combination was absolutely delicious.

We thought our waiter was probably a student, and when we inquired and learned that he was Brazilian, my friends broke into fluent Brazilian, and we were treated to the grandest smile I have seen in the past month. He was thrilled to see these gringos speaking his language. He had been a particularly good and attentive waiter before the revelation, you know, the kind that makes you want to go back to a place, just to leave him another tip.

There are plenty of other restaurants in the area. Without ever leaving Chapel Street, there is “Scoozi,” a trattoria and wine bar, which was my informant’s second choice. It had an outdoor café, which looked extremely inviting. In addition, I counted four Thai restaurants within two blocks, and a Vietnamese one tucked in between.

I went back to New Haven again, just to see if I was right, and I was. I had lunch at Scoozi, the inviting Italian trattoria, and found it every bit as good, in its own way, as The Union League Café. A delicious mixed green salad with poached salmon was my choice, followed by a decaf cappuccino, (my substitute for dessert). I also spent a couple of hours in the Yale Art Gallery itself, which is also an amazing collection of American Art.

Still on Chapel Street is the Yale Repertory Theatre, in a former church, which seems to have a full schedule of intriguing productions for the academic year. Featured are Shaw, Tennessee Williams, Christopher Durang, Caryl Churchill, and more, plus Yale School of Drama productions of The Three Sisters, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The

Trial. For information, call (203) 432-1234, or on the

Can’t you just imagine what fun you could have in New Haven? And there are other streets, lots of them, and all sorts of discoveries that I will leave to you.

Betsy Shequine wanted to go to Yale, but in those days, they wouldn’t let her. She often wonders if that was only because she was female.

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