When Rebecca Nichols ’05 visited Yale as a prefrosh, her host wanted to show her a good time. He took her to a few parties on campus, and then, at last, to Naples Pizza & Restaurant, a popular hangout then famous as “The Place” for freshmen to congregate on Thursday nights.
“He wanted to take me to show me what my freshman year would be like,” Nichols said.
Only two weeks into Nichols’ freshman year, the state Liquor Control Commission began a process which resulted in the suspension and eventual revocation of Naples’ liquor license. And while owner Rose Prifitera indicated that the restaurant may file an application this month for a new liquor license, during the past 17 months Thursday nights at Naples have become a fond, but distant, memory.
Prifitera said nighttime business has changed since Naples stopped serving liquor, and shakes her head at students who use fake IDs.
“They don’t realize the damage they do to business owners,” she said.
Professor Jonathan Spence, who spent many mornings during the 1980s working on his now-famous book “The Search for Modern China” in a back booth at Naples, said he thought Naples’ legacy may have contributed to its present condition.
“What happened, I think, is Naples became too famous as a party place,” Spence said.
Prifitera agreed, and added that students may not realize that their illegal actions affect of-age patrons, as well as themselves.
“A lot of the older people like to have a glass of beer or wine on concert nights,” Prifitera said. “They’re very disappointed.”
Among freshmen, the knowledge of Naples’ legacy ranges from none to that of an urban legend. Many sophomores, too, are disappointed, even though they only experienced a few Thursday nights crammed into the wooden booths on Wall Street before the LCC suspended Naples’ liquor license.
“I think there was a feeling of tradition and community,” Ben Breunig ’05 said.
For Spence, the Naples of old was a sort of institution. He said he once knew all of Naples’ employees by name and remembers the restaurant as a friendly place.
“I don’t want to say it’s lost all its energy,” Spence said. “I suppose each of these things maybe has its peak period. I remember it with great affection.”
Beyond reasonably-priced pitchers, students revere the time they spent with friends at Naples. It is with this reverence in mind that students welcome the possibility that Naples will file an application for a new liquor license.
“It was a good, informal place to meet people; more sociable than dining halls, not as loud or crowded as parties,” Taylor Chapman ’05 said.
The “herd mentality” that characterizes many frosh social experiences at Yale often brought hordes of students to the tables down at Naples. Sarah Pease ’05 said the pizzeria was a place to see and be seen.
“I went because all the other freshmen were going,” Pease said. “It was just a lot of fun — It was so full of people you could barely move.”
Things are different for freshmen now. Jane Metcalf ’06 said while she “follows the flock” — like Pease did when she was a freshman — without Naples, freshmen go their separate ways on Thursday nights.
“I guess if Naples used to be the thing to do on Thursday nights, there’s no one thing anymore,” Metcalf said. “We mostly go to college parties and frats and stuff.”
But Metcalf and her friend Jennifer Bloom ’06 were not confused at the mention of the pizzeria’s name.
“We definitely hear fond memories of Naples,” Bloom said.
Others, like Michael Bustamante ’06, said among their friends, Thursday night is not much of a party night.
“People don’t really go out on Thursdays, they just hang out and don’t really do work,” Bustamante said.
Bustamante went to Naples as a prefrosh himself, though he went on a Friday, rather than Thursday, night. And while he went only once and perhaps did not see the pizzeria in its full glory, he said he would go if the restaurant returned to the vibrant social scene it once was.
Pease, who lives in Timothy Dwight College — close to the restaurant — said she and her friends are often disappointed that they can no longer go to Naples to satisfy their late-night pizza cravings, as the restaurant now closes at 10 P.M. every night.
“I think if they had their liquor license back people might be more apt to go there,” Pease said. She added that she thought the acquisition of a liquor license might revive the crowd at Naples, even if the restaurant’s carding policy was more strict.
Chapman, too, said he would gladly go to a Naples with a strict ID policy.
“My God, yes,” Chapman said. “It would be good.”