Hundreds of New Haveners gathered at the newly opened Graduate Hotel on Chapel Street yesterday to join in on the “Apizza Bash” — an event open and free to the public featuring pizza from three renowned local pizza establishments — hosted by the hotel chain’s management.
The event featured free pizza from Frank Pepe’s, Sally’s and Modern Apizza — pizzerias referred to as “the big three” by Colin Caplan, a food historian who founded Taste of New Haven. In addition to serving free pizza, beer and cocktails, the Graduate Hotel brought in Caplan and Steve Dolinsky, a food reporter at ABC7 in Chicago and author of “Pizza City, USA,” to educate attendees on the history of two styles of pizza.
“With all of our Graduate Hotels properties … each one is supposed to feel like it is the first,” Caroline Stephens, the chain’s communications manager, told the News in an interview. “We like to take a very localized focus to each opening and make sure to celebrate with each set of the community who will come in our doors. Obviously students are a big part of it and locals are a big part of it, and hotel guests as well.”
The hotel, which opened on Oct. 3 but will have a grand opening attended by Mayor Toni Harp on Thursday evening, intends to build its brand through interactions with local businesses, institutions and students, according to Stephens.
While Caplan engaged in an illustrated presentation of New Haven pizza history, Dolinsky spoke about Chicago-style pizza, giving event attendees a view of what pizza looks like both within and outside the Elm City.
“The people who come to the event will learn a lot more about the pizza they take for granted,” Dolinsky said. “People are going to learn about the origin story of the great pizza places here [from Colin], but they’re also going to learn about Chicago-style pizza, which I don’t think anybody outside of Chicago knows anything about.”
Throughout the evening, hundreds of New Haven residents did stop by the event. While many people attended the event for the free pizza, others attended to check out New Haven’s newest hotel.
The hotel occupies the former Hotel Duncan — a historic New Haven landmark that most recently housed low-income boarders before it was purchased and converted to the Graduate Hotel. The conversion to an upscale hotel, with its accompanying loss of low-income housing in a city that has struggled with housing equity and homeless, has courted controversy. Nonetheless, guests on Wednesday enjoyed the hotel lobby and the event.
“My first year here I remember this place as abandoned, last year it was under renovation, and I was curious what it would become. They made a beautiful thing out of it,” said Gabriele Strata MUS ’20.
In line with the theme of the night’s event — local pizza — the Graduate Hotel also showed off their pizza pay phone. In order to incorporate pizza into the culture of the hotel year-round, historic phone booths were restored and installed in the lobby. These phones have direct lines to Modern Apizza and Pepe’s at designated times.
Although the event was well attended by the Yale community, New Haven residents also enjoyed the evening. For Rhoda Zahler Samuel, a resident who worked as a New Haven City Planner for 24 years, such an event was a great way for the Graduate Hotel to introduce itself to the New Haven community.
“This is a wonderful turnout. It’s very good exposure for the Graduate Hotel, for New Haven Pizza,” Samuel said. “I’m just so happy to see so many people enjoying downtown New Haven and all it has to offer.”
There are currently 21 Graduate Hotels across the country.
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