Students returning from break this week, looking for a beer and expecting dear old Yale to be just as they left it, met with the latest great assault on our way of nightlife: TJ Tuckers, that cheesy, chintzy, outdated and lovable hotel bar and campus watering hole extraordinaire is closed for renovations. The infamous padlock was there, the one Yalies know to fear, the one that means some beloved or contrived tradition has been lost to new ownership. And all while we were away for the holidays.
First Krauszers. Then Naples. Now this.
Jan. 1, 2003 saw managerial changes across campus, but for many, the most personally significant and deeply emotional of those is the one on Chapel Street — not in Woodbridge Hall. On that day the LAX Sisters Restaurant Group took over management of the classically unpretentious Tuckers, the closest thing to Cheers and the farthest thing from BAR in New Haven. New owners Peter Higgins, Helen Odell and Frank Monahan then immediately began what they called a “very strong cosmetic makeover,” claiming that “the space has been underutilized over the past few years.”
Tell that to the scores of Yalies who made their way to Tuckers any day or night of the week; to bartender Joe or the upperclassmen tucked into booths drinking dollar kamikaze shots; to the baseball team and the lacrosse team and everyone else who came out to the one place where town met gown and sang “Sexual Healing” on Thursday and Sunday karaoke nights.
If all goes as planned, renovations will include fancy new floor coverings and chichi new menu options, subtler lighting and refurbished booths that will help reduce what Higgins called a “nightclub atmosphere.” A glass partition will separate the dining room and the bar area, and there will be expanded private party rooms up on the second floor. There might not be a DJ to announce your name on your birthday anymore or a nice man at the door checking IDs and making conversation. The name is changing too, and chances are karaoke night soon will be but a memory of earlier, brighter college days.
Tuckers on a good night — which was most nights — was where you went because you knew someone would be there. You didn’t have to dress up. But you could. It was the working Yalie’s bar-around-the-corner with cheap pitchers and good company, one of the few places around that was simple and straightforward and good enough.
The new owners look at their hotel lobby and think “family-style restaurant” and “moderately priced steaks.” But New Haven is not a town of many nightspots and Yalies are not a group that adjusts well to change. We mourn the loss of institutions no matter how long they have been around and no matter how filthy the carpeting inside. And so we mourn the loss of TJ Tuckers.