Four Years of Toad’s Place: From Covid to Taylor Swift
A look back at the last four years of news at Yalies’ favorite Wednesday party venue.
Irene Jiang, Contributing Photographer
No music venue is as integral to the Yale experience as Toad’s Place. The nightclub, which hosts a Yale-only, Wednesday-night dance party known as “Woads,” has harbored both iconic performances and wild nights over the last four years.
Toad’s has been a constant feature in the Yale rumor mill, perhaps most prominently in October 2018. With Halloween weekend approaching, rumors swept through campus that Toad’s would be hosting a violent gang initiation. Those rumors were false, and they were eventually dispelled by the New Haven Police Department.
Like so much else, Toad’s was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic and was forced to close its doors in March 2020. During the hybrid year that followed, students were not able to see bands perform at Toad’s, or, to the lament of many, attend Woads. While the Wednesday night party had a mixed reputation among undergraduates, several did express regret that they were missing out on a quintessential Yale experience.
“We used to look forward to Wednesday night Woads, now Wednesday night is trash night,” Anmei Little ’22 reflected at the time.
With spring 2021 came both COVID-19 vaccines and debates on whether Connecticut should enact a “vaccine passport” requiring that people receive vaccines in order to use public spaces and patronize private businesses..
And while other establishments opened with social distancing protocols, given the nature of being a dance club, Toad’s was unable to modify its business model. Toad’s Place owner Brian Phelps weighed in on the matter to News 8.
“I would do anything at this point to just get the right to open up,” said Phelps. “And not at 25 percent [capacity], that won’t do me any good. I lose money at 25 percent.”
Toad’s did eventually reopen in June 2021 and now requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entrance.
This past October, Toad’s released a book titled “The Legendary Toad’s Place,” celebrating its 45-year history in New Haven. The book told the history of Toad’s, from its inception to the present day, including a section on Michael Spoerndle, the original owner of Toad’s. The book also features a number of photographs with famous bands that have performed at the venue, from Bon Jovi to The Ramones.
Fall 2021 also saw a more general reopening of the nightclub. With the new semester came the return of Woads. The dance party was still loud, sweaty and Yale-only, but it now also featured a mask mandate and large ventilation fans throughout the venue. Pop star Madison Beer also performed at Toad’s over fall break, and she drew a large crowd, with the pre-show line stretching all the way from the nightclub to Payne-Whitney Gymnasium.
“For students like myself who couldn’t go home to our families, it was a nice experience to have a small treat to ourselves and watch her perform right in front of our eyes,” Chris Santiago ’25 told the News at the time.
A traditional highlight of the fall semester is “Hallowoads,” the annual costumed Woads that takes place on the Wednesday before Halloween. This past year’s edition had to be called off early after conditions outside the venue descended into chaos.
A massive crowd of students, with one estimate placing their numbers at 2,000, broke the metal barriers that normally corral the line. As the conditions outside Toad’s became unsafe, police were called into the scene and the dance party inside came to an abrupt and early end.
“We got descended upon by a ton of people — the entire student body it seemed like,” Phelps said to the News after the incident. “It was more than we could handle.”
Finally, last December, Toad’s Place hosted a packed crowd for a Sunday-night “Taylor Swift dance party.” The concert, which was led by a DJ trio named “If you know it, sing it!” played Taylor’s biggest hits to a packed club of Swifties for over three hours. With a crowd that sang every word, the concert reached its emotional peak with a rendition of “All Too Well (10 Minute Version),” creating a moment worthy of Toad’s Place.
Toad’s Place is located at 300 York St.