There’s almost no more room for initials.
Old Yalies are ten times lacquered into the backroom tables; Y’s and years, manifestos and fraternities are two years buried in the pasty mint walls. The empty canvas in the front room is mostly plywood, the fake grain punctures with the tip of a mechanical pencil. But people still try to leave their mark.
A hospital-mounted television projects a commercial for Zoloft onto the Baker’s Dozen plaque in the back corner. The floors smell like peroxide and lemon Pine Sol. This one-time Yale institution now feels simply institutional.
The place is nearly empty, occupied only by a band of pot-bellied Italian pizza men with Clorox-white aprons, watching Brazilian soccer reruns at nine on a Thursday night.
This is the new Naples.
90 Wall Street is now the site of a dreary and unofficial hot war between town and gown, fueled by daily papers with opposite interests, ignored by a University administration with a liberal alcohol policy and prolonged by an increasingly popular and conservative philosophy of youth and drinking.
The story of Naples is the story of New Haven’s revolt against Ivy League Entitlement. It’s about the perception that Yalies think that having Y’s and years to carve gives them the right to chisel their way into immortality.
When they’re 18.
With a pitcher of Bud in their non-carving hand.
For 30 years, professor David Musto has taught a Yale class called “Alcohol and other drugs in American society.” He remembers the seventies, when the prospect of raising the legal drinking age to 21 seemed like a civil rights violation to most Yalies.
He remembers when Naples was born on Whitney and Grove Streets in 1968, when it moved to Wall Street in the 80s.
He was around when Jonathan Spence wrote most of his famous book about Chinese history in the wooden walls and booths more than a decade ago.
He was around when they painted them green.
“It’s an awfully interesting thing to watch what’s happened to this place,” he said. “Naples represents an earlier time, one in which there wasn’t that much concern over drinking, and it’s coming up against this new changed attitude toward alcohol.”
In its heyday, said long-time Naples employee Harry Riccio, the restaurant was always crowded at night with Yalies by night and professors by day.
Among the regulars was Professor Spence, who said he wrote his famous survey of Chinese history in a booth by the window over “one egg scrambled and coffee for five hours a day in the 80s.”
“I must have had tens of thousands of cups of that coffee,” he said. “I liked Naples because it was a cross-section of Yale and New Haven, a very harmonious place.”
Twelve years ago, Riccio said, Naples was the thirteenth college. They had the Miss Naples beauty pageant where new-to-Yale co-eds would sing and dance, parade up and down the greasy tile floor in evening wear with sashes before a panel of pizza chefs.
“We’ve been through it all,” he said. Including the time ten years ago when the Oxford rugby team put half a dozen Yalies in the hospital and he had to fight them off with a chair.
And now this time, when the place is empty by eight thirty, when the little league party of twenty leaves to get ice cream, when he’s fielding calls from University Health Services about his own health rather than taking pizza orders.
In 1983, when he first came to Naples, the most popular menu item, a SliceAndAPitcherHarry, cost a total of $5.85. In 1990, it became $7.25. In 1994, it was $8.50 and in 1998, inflation brought it to $9.65.
Today, Riccio said, it is $1.65 with a glass of lukewarm tap water and no beer on Thursdays or $9.65 and two forms of valid photo identification.
Or $5.65 on Wednesday if you’re a Yale senior or nothing ever and a cabride home if you’re from Quinnipiac or Southern.
After a year of expensive and frequent police raids, Riccio and the rest of the workers at Naples said they can’t afford not to card any more.
They still have the business-lunch crowd with Richard Brodhead. They still have the dinner rush, mostly with townies. Money’s not an issue, really. They make what they need in food, he said.
But Naples is suffering, if only from pangs of loneliness from putting chairs on tables where a year ago platform boots of drunk freshman girls once danced. The thing is, the folks at Naples get attached.
“I get to be friends with undergrads,” Riccio said. “It’s sad that I get to know them for four years and then they leave, and I never see them again.”
But he admitted that it’s better to have the Yalies come and go than to have them avoiding the place and the lurking Connecticut State Liquor Commission officers altogether.
He said he feels bad, now, checking and taking fake IDs, and a little insulted at the smart Yale students’ stupid attempts to prove their “age.”
“Since I’ve had to start carding, I get these picture IDs from New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and they’re all the same,” he said. “I say to these kids, ‘Do you really expect me to believe you guys are all born on the same day?'”
There’s one day, he said laughing a pizza-filled belly laugh then stopping, squinting with black pepper eyes, that he wasn’t born.
The real problems for Naples started with the Yale Daily News.
At least, that’s the consensus on Thursday night, behind the counter, while reheating cooling countertop pizza for the gentle trickle of Yalies. The problems started with the News’ freshman issue, which came out over the summer, and which vaulted Naples into the public realm of underage-serving superstardom.
In an article titled “For freshmen, Thursdays are Naples nights at Yale,” the News reported that “Naples is one of the few places in New Haven where underage students can buy alcohol.”
Riccio and owner Rose Prifitera said that no law will prevent kids from drinking. They also thought the story in the News was unfair.
The state liquor commission responds to complaints, and Riccio suspects that it’s probably Yale who’s doing the complaining, in light of that story.
But Naples is not new to yearly raids and such comments are not new to the News’ freshman issue.
In the 2000 edition of the freshman issue, in a guide to bars and clubs around New Haven, the News wrote, “Though all kinds of students frequent Naples, its proximity to Old Campus and lax carding practices (your 12 year-old sister could get served there) make it especially popular for freshmen.”
And Naples has been raided almost yearly for the past five years, said Prifitera. In 1996, the restaurant was fined $2500 and had it’s license suspended for six days for selling alcohol to minors. It received another fine and short suspension the next year as well and in February, 2000.
In March of this year, undercover agents from the liquor commission and New Haven police raided Naples, finding 14 minors, 10 of whom were Yale students, who had been served alcohol. In a recent settlement, Naples was fined $5000 and had its liquor license suspended for 20 days.
What was different in the past year, in addition to the higher fine and longer suspension, is that the New Haven Register chose to write a series of articles and editorials condeming the restaurant and suggesting Naples have its liquor license permanently revoked for consistently breaking the law.
In an editorial published September 17, 2001, the Register wrote, “Naples Pizza and Restaurant is a serial offender when it comes to serving alcohol to minors — primarily Yale undergraduates. Its easy-going attitudes toward state liquor laws may seem right at home next to a university campus. But they are inapprop
riate and illegal.”
But Riccio and Prifitera said they were unfairly targetted by the editorial and denied the accusations that they were “flagrantly” serving minors.
“It’s obvious they go out of their way to write about us,” Riccio said of the Register.
Prof. Musto sees the editorials as symptomatic of a sense among New Haven residents that Yale students receive de facto exemptions from the law.
“It’s the concern people have over what seems to be Yale’s exceptionalism, said Musto. “There’s a feeling that this is unfair, that other people have to obey the laws and Yale does too.”
He added “That isn’t quite fair, but it’s a widely held feeling.”
It was at least last night, when the median age of the Naples clientele was enough to receive retirement benefits, let alone purchase alcohol.
“The perception definitely exists that somehow or other, Yale students feel with respect to Naples that they’re above the law. I don’t know that its true, but I know a lot of people seem to think that,” said David Schancupp, a Guilford resident in town for a concert.
At another booth, where “DKE” was carved deeply across the table, Dot Ward, who was also in town for the symphony, said she was pleased with the recent crackdowns. “It’s about time establishments like these started taking some precautions,” she said.
But at Yale, where throughout history tradition has occasionally been valued at the expense of law, many students don’t feel Naples represents Ivy League Entitlement.
They just lament that next year’s freshmen might not even know about freshman Thursdays, that they themselves have one less place to go where they can carve their names into the furniture.
“I’ve been a regular Naples-goer since the first week of my freshman year. I live right across the street,” said Ran Frazier ’03. “It used to be an institution here. Now I just have a big hole in my social calendar one night a week.”
And perhaps the greatest sense of loss is among current freshmen, many of whom saw freshman night as prefrosh and arrived to find Riccio asking for IDs.
“The police leave us alone on Old Campus anyway, I don’t see why they’re so concerned with Naples,” said Nate Kemper ’05. “It’s not going to prevent freshmen from drinking. All it means is that now we have to go get drunk at the fraternities with the older kids and not here. Now it’s just, it’s dead.”
Naples is not the only longtime collegiate watering hole facing local police after years of operation.
At Harvard this year, a popular Cambridge bar, the Crimson Sports Grille, was fined and eventually closed after more than a decade of serving Harvard underclassmen.
According to the Harvard Crimson, the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission suspended the bar’s liquor license for 18 days for serving six minors, refusing to accept payment instead of suspension because of the Grille’s “excessive history of violations.”
The bar had previosuly accepted five fines for the same offense in the past 10 years.
Alcohol is nothing new for college students, regardless of their SAT scores. Yale students, Princeton students, Harvard students, State school students and high school students – and the workers at Naples — quickly lament the drinking laws that deem their weekend activities subversive.
But Musto says the laws have worked.
“Since 1980, there’s been a steady decline in alcohol consumption in the US, so that now it’s about one sixth of what it was 20 years ago. What we have is a new temperance movement well underway. It represents a changed attitude toward alcohol and the problems alcohol can cause. It will probably go on for 10 or 20 more years.”
Until a sea change occurs in popular morality, or a new generation of Yalies comes to New Haven with new laws or new thoughts on drinking, Naples may continue to be a lonelier place on Thursday nights.
To help, they’ve thought of new ways to draw a crowd: Tuesday nights will be pasta night. Thursday will be senior nights now. Maybe they’ll have another beauty pageant.
“You simply have to obey the law, until the law is changed,” Musto said. “You can’t advocate that Naples just forget about the drinking age. This isn’t going to go away. But it seems to me Naples should be given another chance.”