The York Street Cafe has always been a hidden gem. Where else can you have a good time sans ID, with a cigarette in one hand and a $4 vodka tonic in the other?
I was introduced to this spot by a close friend in the know. I dubiously followed him down the steps underneath York Street Noodle House, entering the subterranean, dimly lit bar area that features cheap drinks, a handful of plus-40 townies and the occasional Yale professor or TA. The entrance is unmarked, and I was unaware until writing this article that it had a name other than “the gay bar on York.”
I don’t usually frequent gay bars — in fact, this is the only one I know of in New Haven. But don’t let your stereotypes influence your impression of this low-key, almost rule-free paradise.
While York Street Cafe is probably not the best place for straight males to cruise for straight girls and vice versa, you can do almost anything else. They don’t give a fuck ’bout fuck.
Smoking? Yes, by all means! Go outside to the large patio area, where if you’re lucky, they’ll also be projecting a movie or a Madonna music video onto the whitewashed brick wall enclosing this smoky haven.
If you want a drink, no ID is necessary. They trust you at York Street Cafe, so sit down at the bar and start a tab (I recommend the whiskey sour). And there’s no need to show restraint; they serve a mean Sunday brunch that’s the perfect hangover cure.
Once I even brought in food from somewhere else, entering with a friend and two grease-soaked paper bags. We sat out back, munching contentedly on to-go chalupas from Taco Bell and washing them down with screwdrivers.
I realize that this might not sound appealing for some people. But for the Marlboro-smoking, Gaga-loving taco eater on the verge of alcoholism, York Street Cafe is a paradise. One balmy summer evening, I ventured beneath York Street Noodle House intending to sit outside and enjoy the breeze. But when I arrived I realized my usually laid-back venue had transformed into a buzzing bar with an uncharacteristically festive (and fabulous) atmosphere.
I was greeted by a lavishly made-up drag queen levying a cover charge, much to my dismay. Though usually no cover is necessary, tonight was special. Tonight was a charity drag show, featuring illustrious performers like Roxie (aka Damiana La Roux aka that Bass Library security guard).
Deciding the $3 fee was worth it, I entered the now-packed patio area with my skinny jeans-clad best friend on one side and my fitted-tee-wearing boyfriend on the other. We sipped our drinks as a bevy of lipsticked queens came strutting down the outdoor staircase in a blinding array of sequins, fishnets, stilettos and fake boobs to the pulsing beat of Cyndi Lauper‘s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Each one lip-synced and lap danced their way through the raucously cheering crowd, accompanied by anthems like “Bootylicious.”
My boyfriend gave me a dollar to wave down Roxie, the last performer, grinning at the prospect of seeing a slightly overweight security guard in a very risqué dress grind his derrière against my leg. But his amusement turned to shock when I swiftly tucked the bill into the front of his American Apparel V-neck, and Roxie suggestively removed it with his teeth whilst seductively gyrating his hips. Though he dons a security uniform by day, Roxie still winks at him every time he leaves Bass.
Whether it’s gender-bending antics you’re in search of, or simply a low-key spot to enjoy a cheap drink, I highly recommend going down the rabbit hole beneath York Street Noodle House to the wonderland that is the York Street Cafe.