GRAVER: Box 63 Blues

Gravely Mistaken

In heaven’s name, Carl, how long will you abuse our patience? How long will that madness of yours mock us? To what limit will your unbridled audacity vaunt itself? Who of us do you think is ignorant of what you did last night, what you called together, what plan you took? What an age! What morals!

harry_graver_headshot_kat_oshmanThe above — with some slight modification — is borrowed from Cicero’s “First Oration Against Catiline.” The original text is timeless. Despite its age, we are still struck by its indignation, vitriol and rhetorical appeal. At least two of these features were on display this weekend at Box 63, courtesy of a Cicero of sorts a few places ahead of me in line: “Are you f–cking kidding me? I paid for a drink 20 minutes ago. Why do I need another one to come upstairs? This is absolutely the worst run bar in New Haven.”

While a bit harsh in delivery, this unnamed undergraduate orator was speaking some truth to Fireball-wielding power. Box 63 is a bar that continually shoots itself in the foot. And if trends continue, its cardinal virtue — location — won’t be enough.

In almost every case, Box 63’s problems are unforced errors. The quintessential example falls somewhere between “Loose Lemur Night” and “Ricin Roulette” on the spectrum of terrible promotional ideas for a bar: the smoke machine. With every second that toxic, thick, wretched smog creeps across the hardwood floor, a drinking angel loses her wings. What’s more, the addition of the smoke machine just violates a basic principle of a good bar: Have an identity and own it. Box 63’s choice to play some anti-Top 40 playlist and cloak it in a gray, machine-induced fog is about as fitting and wise as Toad’s replacing DJ Action with Pat Robertson.

The bar seems just to fly by its coattails at times: What is the best thing to build next to our three immovable brick pillars? Of course, the large bar that I expect everyone to congregate around!

Consider the fact that Box 63’s only regular promotional night is on Sunday, with a “Bottomless Cup” for $15. This is all well and good, except for the fact that you cannot enter the upstairs area unless you participate. What is the thought process that places the highest fixed cash barrier of entry on an inherently less social night (Sunday) that caters primarily to a customer-base (washed up seniors) that has shorter (society-filled) nights anyway? Even if this is a brilliant and desirable promotion, why not allow customers to opt in or out?

This ad hoc style of bar planning also manifests itself in continually arbitrary covers. Besides the inconvenience and expense, the random cover policy, coupled with an even more capricious coat-check mandate, creates immensely large lines (often extending to the corner of the street, despite a largely empty bar) that just leaves drunk hoards to shiver in the cold (even though there is a perfectly good waiting area through the side entrance). Additionally, Box 63 creates an unnecessary, dangerous safety hazard with its decision to require a drink to enter upstairs (cf. Drunk Cicero above). While it may seem like a clever way to extract a cover charge from patrons, it has, in practice, translated to bartenders repeatedly denying overly intoxicated students cups of water, in fear of fraud or trickery. Smart.

This is not to say that Box 63 is not largely a great bar. I am pretty sure I’ve put braces on Carl’s kids and grandkids by this point. And two years ago, it filled a tremendously important, previously vacant niche in Yale’s social culture: the sort of down-to-earth, large, typical college bar that Toby Keith could be proud of. So out of love and affection, it’s important to let these concerns be known.

And, Carl, if you’re looking for a night to kick off the good ol’ restored Box 63, please leave the smoke machine at home.

Harry Graver is a senior in Davenport College. His columns run on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at harry.graver@yale.edu .

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