This is the 21st column I’ve written, a number which could be considered coincidental or symbolic. “21” of course, is an important number in recent news. Naples’ Pizza and Restaurant, the venerable Yale institution, permanently lost its liquor license last week after failing to pay a fine for serving alcohol to patrons who were under age 21.
It doesn’t matter if I think 21 should be the legal drinking age. Whether it’s fair or not, you’re either underage or idealistic if you think current legislation will change. The drinking age isn’t going to be lowered to make the lives of alcohol-consuming college students more convenient. The lobbying organizations that originally pressured congress to raise the drinking age to 21 (through the National Minimum Purchase Age Act in 1984) remain vehement opponents of such an action. If they got wind of your idea they’d probably add four years of high school just to ensure that most college freshmen would be 21.
Naples lost its liquor license as a consequence of providing alcohol to minors, and some vocal critics have celebrated the crackdown as a first step in stopping underage drinking at Yale and elsewhere. These neophyte teetotalers naively conflate the ability to purchase alcohol with the act of abusing it.
The real issue at hand isn’t getting drunk — you don’t have to be 21 to buy a bottle of mouthwash and curl up in the nearest gutter. For Yale undergraduates, it’s about social opportunity. Yale has a strict “going out” hierarchy. If you’re an upperclassman, you go to bars and clubs. If you’re a freshman or a sophomore, you go to suite parties, give or take a few fake IDs. The end result is a divided social scene.
Toad’s and the Crown Street bars have policies of carding patrons at the door. Regardless of whether one drinks, you have to be twenty-one to enter. That’s what made Naples different — anyone could enter, but you had to be (theoretically) twenty-one to drink. That’s the reason Naples is still on Wall Street, thank goodness, despite the actions of the liquor commission — it’s a restaurant, not a bar.
Anyone who is reacting to the loss of Naples’ liquor license by advocating a lower drinking age is overlooking another option. Bars, clubs, or restaurants with nighttime party scenes do not have to keep their doors closed to underage patrons.
My hometown happens to have the second-largest college campus in the world and probably the second-largest number of bars as well. And I could go to every one of them while still in high school. I didn’t live in Europe, and I didn’t have a fake ID — in Columbus, Ohio (any many other cities), bars and clubs adhere to an “18 to enter, 21 to drink” rule. Sure, you have to suffer an embarrassing “under 21” hand stamp of ink whose permanency rivals a tattoo, but you can hang out and dance with people regardless of their age.
Naples was the only place at Yale where every student could party (and by “party” I do not necessarily mean drink) save for dark suites with sweating walls and beverages of dubious provenance.
Naples’ legal issues demonstrate the one drawback of the “18 to enter, 21 to drink” system- carding upon sale of alcohol has to be earnestly enforced. But we can’t put all the blame on lax carding policies or minors using fake IDs.
Naples filled a void on a campus whose greatest asset — diversity — is also a social liability. Divide five thousand undergrads by five hundred activities and fifty weekend events and the end result is a fractured social environment. No one wants Yale to be comprised of legions of like-minded drones, but Yalies’ faithful devotion to the annual Harvard-Yale game, Spring Fling, and even this year’s basketball season suggests that the desire for a common Yale experience is stronger than many would imagine.
It would be presumptuous to say that Naples was the only element that unites us at Yale, but it is one of the few. Naples’ owner promises they’ll be back in the game by next year, but for many of us it’s too late. As a senior, I regret that underclassmen and future Yale students might never have the same experiences there that I did.
Naples is where my new housemate and I bonded over our first pitcher of the summer while talking baseball with a physical plant worker. Naples is the place that I brought my twin brother for his first visit to Yale and started a fight with the Penn marching band. Naples is the place where we went to play drinking games with strangers after ditching Winter Ball. Naples changed — they don’t brew flavored beer anymore, we got used to the Peach Pit paint job, and someone carved over my first set of initials. But it was always the place where you knew you could go after parties that tanked, dances that didn’t happen, and the Thursday nights in between.
There are other places in New Haven to buy beer and plenty of places to get a pizza. But for me, there is only one Naples, and it will never be the same.
Sarah Merriman is a senior in Pierson College. Her columns appear on alternate Thursdays.