Whatever we like to tell ourselves, we all know that sometimes it’s not about the food at all — seeing and being seen in the right places is really the key. Here’s a look at some of the best places in New Haven to make a cameo and grab a bite … and Toad’s.

The Union League Cafe

If you like to eat roasted monkfish or braised wild boar in an elegant setting, Union League Cafe is the place to go. Not to worry, this former gentleman’s club also offers more traditional gourmet menu selections, but all the items share a similarly high price.

The restaurant’s atmosphere, like its food offerings, is classy and interesting. Hardwood floors, paneled walls and large windows give the main dining room a formal feel. But white tablecloths and wooden chairs with green leather cushions make the tables more inviting, and subtle touches like flower arrangements and stained glass artwork add interest to the space.

A main feature of the dining room is the fireplace. It contributes to the excellent lighting, which is neither too strong nor too dim, and lends ambience to the room. The mantel is tastefully decorated with two blue-and-white vases, but the two rather squashed-looking wooden pillars that flank the fireplace seem misplaced. Overall, though, the fireplace and its immediate vicinity are an asset to the main dining room.

Near the main dining room is a stairway which goes up and turns at a landing, but then dead-ends. Despite being somewhat of an oddity, the staircase is prominent and conspicuous. Covered in a red carpet with an intricate design and a heavy, ornate wooden railing, what there is of the staircase fits with the formal appearance of the surrounding rooms.

Toward the back of the restaurant, a bar and additional seating can be found in a room with a more casual feel. The atmosphere there is generally brighter — particularly due to a soft yellow paint — than that of the main dining room. A large painting of a calm ocean with puffy clouds overhead is a main feature of the room and is a pleasing touch. The less rigid atmosphere in this area makes it seem like a fun place to have dinner.

–Erica Youngstrom

Toad’s Place

The black-and-white checkered floor of Toad’s Place is often concealed by a layer of dirt, spilled beer, and other “miscellaneous” fluids. Nonetheless, when visible, it hearkens back to the ’70s discotheque scene, when New Haven’s number one music hall was established. The green awning that spans the entire front of the nightclub is lit brightly after dark. On Saturdays especially, the enticing glow functions as a beacon to college students looking for a safe harbor from the pressures of their studies.

Toad’s boasts an interior of brick and wood, along with cathedral ceilings. The walls are covered with pictures and other forms of memorabilia commemorating the many popular musicians that have played at Toad’s, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Seal, Meatloaf, Johnny Cash, The Kinks, Bon Jovi and the Rolling Stones.

The most striking aspect of Toad’s Place decor is, however, the crowd that it attracts. The so-called “booty-cam” highlights the provocative clothing that college students from all over the area may (or may not) be wearing.

At the end of the day, the unique ambience found at Toad’s can best be described by the “Toadies” who frequent it.

“Making out with someone on the floor of Toad’s is like shaking hands on the street,” Emily Condlin ’06 said.

In other words, who really cares what the light fixtures look like?

— Alex Hetherington


If it’s sheer square footage you’re after, head across Sherman Alley to Union League Cafe. But if you’re looking for “austere chic” with a hint of the elegantly exotic — actually, screw that. Basically, if you want to see a fashionable toilet, Roomba is where it’s at.

Starting with the bathrooms, of course. The women’s has said toilet and a sink that’s actually a large, asymmetrical porcelain bowl placed under a faucet jutting out of the wall. It’s also got a small bamboo table serving as a toilet paper holder, a soft, flowing white curtain serving as a stall door and a glass vase holding fresh green stalks serving as something to look at while you, um, get to know the toilet.

Right. Meanwhile, the men’s bathroom has red mood lighting, and the actual restaurant isn’t too shabby, either. The decor is simple but beautiful, and the small touches — dim lighting, mirrors, unusual candle arrangements — make for a sexy, stylish and sophisticated monastery-meets-South Beach ambiance.

The bottom line: If you want to wine, dine and, uh, ruminate in the restroom like the posh monk that you are, Roomba’s for you.

— Elana Bildner

Hot Tomato’s

As you amble into Hot Tomato’s on a Thursday or Friday evening, dressed to fit in with the 30-something crowd fresh from the office, you are immediately confronted with chaos. The chef madly dishes out food, racks of garlic bread wait to be baked, and waiters teeter trays of entrees on one finger.

Meanwhile, you may head straight for the bar, where people spill out into the entryway with flavored martinis in hand, or head up the massive sweeping staircase to your booth. The coffered ceilings and the minimalist modern decor complement one another well — no claustrophobic feeling here, unlike other popular Yale student hangouts.

While waiting for your entrees to arrive, you may find yourself ordering basketful after basketful of cheese-stuffed garlic bread. While the menu caters to just about any taste with an eclectic array of entrees, you may find that the assembly line-like cooking operation has some repercussions in the food placed in front of you. Nonetheless, Hot Tomato’s is a fun place to spend some quality time with friends before heading out to wherever your destination for the night may be.

— Brooke Fitzgerald