Ever wonder who the face is behind the Toad? scene’s Amanda Ruggeri went one-on-one with the man who has owned Toad’s for 11 years, Brian Phelps.
scene: Did you party in college?
Phelps: When I was in college, the drinking age was 18. But I wasn’t all that much of a party guy. I was a chess player, as crazy as that may sound. Occasionally, I’d go out.
Who has been the band that was easiest to work with?
Hootie and the Blowfish were just out of here and we had a great time with them. Those guys are really nice. When they came through here two times ago, they were playing at the Special Olympics at the Yale Bowl, and they wanted to come to Toad’s and jam with the band that was playing. But it was a dance party, so nobody was playing. This was in ’95 — these guys were really hot then. Anyway, I gave them all Toad’s T-shirts and the following Monday morning they walked on Good Morning America, the whole band, wearing Toad’s T-shirts. Really nice guys.
Toughest to work with?
We get a good number of them in here that are tricky, artists that want everything just so — I can’t think of any offhand because if they read it here, they wouldn’t play here again. But I’d rather deal with a band that’s tough to work with and make some money than work with a band that’s real easy to work with and lose some money.
Yale or Quinnipiac?
(Laughs) It’s like mixing oil and water, but I don’t know who the oil is and who the water is — Yale is not going to fill the whole place up every Saturday; Quinnipiac’s not going to fill the place up every Saturday. It works out for everyone. We have very few fights in there — occasionally, we have a couple. But there’s no getting around that, you know.
And the bus?
A few years ago when we started this thing a lot of the [Quinnipiac] students were trying to get something going on here at Toad’s. And I said yeah, if you guys want, come on in. At the time it was tricky; we had a lot of [competing] nightclubs opening up on Crown Street. But Quinnipiac’s a high-priced school, a lot of the kids that go over there come from decent families, so I thought maybe this would actually work out. It’s not like your bringing in the townies from around New Haven — But we actually bus the [Quinnipiac students] in. They had some problems about three or four years ago. A bunch of them were going over to the Crown Street area for the clubs, and a few got killed at this club named Risk. The place got closed down. So I gotta bus the majority of them in, I don’t want to take the chances that any of them get killed coming in here. And I pay for it.
Who are the bouncers?
We get them from all over the place. We usually have a couple of guys from DKE that will always be working here. If we have a big concert I’ll bring the whole offensive line [from the Yale football team] in here. Right in front of the stage. That’s their job.
The drinking age — agree or disagree?
I think there’s no doubt the drinking age should be lower than it is. I think it should be 19 overall — If those kids want it they’re going to get it anyways. During the Prohibition, when nobody was allowed to drink, people were drinking. The general populace, adults, they want to protect their young [from drinking]. I have kids myself that I want to protect. But — it is what it is. I don’t think you’re going to change that.
You see a scantily-clad girl huddling in the cold outside of Toad’s. What crosses your mind?
I figure it’s the age. They’re right at that early age, just past puberty, just getting into the free spirit age. And if that’s what they want to do — they don’t think the same way a person 10 years older might think, and wrap up. They’re just going to tough it out and get to where they want to get to.
Who was your grandfather’s uncle?
Professor Phelps. He was a great literary professor at Yale. They named the gate to Old Campus after him.
The floor. It’s mopped — when?
Obviously we clean it and mop it every night. But a few hours in, especially on Saturday nights, you’ve got people already drinking and spilling beers all over the place. You just can’t get to it; it’s impossible. It’s a tough battle.