27 April 2008

Lost City: New Haven Edition: Yankee Doodle Did and Died

I often visit New Haven, Connecticut, since I have friends there. It's a city I like. Either because of a sense of tradition lent to the area by the influence of a centuries-old university (Yale), or because urban blight and economic stagnation—so common to cities in this state—halted progress to a large degree, a great many wonderful old New Haven businesses have persisted for many years.

For years, I pledged to myself on every visit that I would get around to bellying up at the counter of the half-century-old Yankee Doodle Coffee Shop on Elm Street. The narrow, slip of a place—just a corridor, really, with a counter and a row of 12 stools— had been there since 1950. It's a beloved local institution. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were regulars during their college years. It is known to locals as The Doodle. I had a hard time getting there because of its limited hours; it was a weekday lunch place, and I was always in New Haven on the weekends.

Alas, I waited too long. I arrived this past weekend to find it had shuttered for good on Jan. 28, 2008. The great neon sign, with its long-legged, white-clad serving man, is good. All that's left to indicate it ever existed is a plaque.

The place was run by three generations of the Beckwith family: Lew, Lew, Jr. and Rick. The last one closed it due to "economic reasons." That is, the rent was too high, and New Haven had become to gentrified for a tiny coffee shop to make a go of it. The website still exists, for what it's worth. You can't buy any souvenirs through it, and the phone number isn't working, but it's there. (There is an ongoing effort to reopen the place, spearheaded by patrons, but it's unclear if anything will come of it.) For the particularly mournful, there is this perverse YouTube video of a fife and drum corps playing outside the shop. Touching, and bizarre.

What it used to look like:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great photos and articles! I will add a link to the DesignNewHaven blog.