Before Patagonia began selling 12-dollar packs of bison jerky, before Au Bon Pain brought corporate coffee to New Haven, before Yale controlled the leases of most of the stores on Broadway, Demery’s was making its thick pizza crust with too much cornmeal. A slice from Demery’s was big and slightly sweet and tasted strongly of tomato, but the bottom of the pizza was littered with hard yellow bumps. Some Yalies compared it to gravel.
That didn’t stop Yale students from eating the pizza, though. Demery’s, a pizzeria by day and a club by night, stood at One Broadway, the current site of Patagonia, throughout the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s. It closed in 1994, when Yale purchased the property and installed an Au Bon Pain.
In the 1990s, Yale began a conscious effort to acquire the properties surrounding the university as part of its 7.5 million dollar Broadway beautification project. At the time, the businesses along Broadway were diverse in their function and ownership: the Yankee Doodle Diner sat at the intersection of Elm and York; Cutler’s Record Store was a musical hub on Broadway; the Daily Caffe provided the Downtown neighborhood with a taste of coffee and bohemia. Positioned at the entrance of the district, framing the busy corner of Broadway and York, was Demery’s.
Broadway did not shed its old character—dominated by local business, accessible to New Haven residents—on its own. Many Yale administrators in the 1990s, including then-President Richard Levin and Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander, mobilized to assert control over the district, buying commercial property on Broadway and inviting large national chains.
Yale’s plan, Vice President Alexander stated at the time, was “to start to buy the properties on Broadway and start to treat that retail district with the dignity it deserves.”
Demery’s invited the type of behavior that university administrators might have found undesirable.
“It was great fun to go up the Branford/Saybrook tower and launch water balloons from a giant slingshot just after closing time at Dem’s,” recalled an alumnus.
In the same comment thread on an alumni page, another Yale graduate replied: “It’s also worth mentioning that this was shut down after a balloon caught a woman in the face and detached her retina.”
In New Haven today, over 85 businesses and 500 residences are on property owned by Yale University Properties (YUP), the branch of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs created in 1996 to manage the university’s expanding proprietary portfolio. Overall, the university controls more than 270,000 square feet of office and retail property in New Haven.
Many feel a distinct sense of place left Broadway with the local businesses.
Yale alumnus and professor Elihu Rubin told The Politic that the Broadway of today has “the feeling of an outdoor mall.”
This was not always the case.
On most nights, Demery’s brought out the cheap beer at nine. All types of New Haven residents—locals, Southern Connecticut State University students, older Yalies and younger ones with good fake IDs—would stream into the club for a night of dancing and drinking. Multiple Yale alumni told The Politic that it was one of the only places they could recall where Yale students and New Haven locals organically interacted.
“It was a place for underage drinking, and one of the places where town and gown would come together,” an alumnus said.
A Yale graduate told The Politic that “at times the Yalie-local connection wasn’t one of mutual respect. That said, myself and another roommate are still married to lovely [non-Yale] women we met [at Demery’s] in the late 80s.”
At Demery’s, most women wore their hair big and their jeans acid-washed (“Lotta hairspray,” recalls a Yale alumna), and students in nearby colleges could hear motorcycles pulling up to the club on Saturdays. There were always almost as many people out on the corner of Broadway and York as there were inside the club. Across the street, an aged hippie named Wally would usually be selling flowers.
With floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping around the exterior of the building, “you could do a ‘fly by’ without going in…If no one you were interested in seeing was inside, you kept on walking,” recalled an alumna.
And from suites in Trumbull College, Yale students could watch partiers dance on the tables until the windows steamed up.
A glass vestibule, separate from the dancing area, served takeout pizza and funnel cake throughout the night. Through the window of the takeout counter, cooks could be seen cutting, throwing, and spinning raw crusts, and many Morse students would walk down York Street in the late hours of the night, through the smell of stale beer and cigarettes, for last call pizza.
But Demery’s was not purely mindless fun. Many Yale students stayed away from the club for fear of the regular “Friday Night Fights.” Yalies of the era described teeth punched out on the dance floor, shards of glass in roommates’ arms, and crutches smashed to bits against a heckler’s body. There would often be an ambulance and police car waiting in anticipation across the street.
Seen by some as rowdy, violent, and dominated by Yale jocks and locals, Demery’s was not a welcoming space for many LGBTQ+ Yale students.
It was “not a place for anyone who was out,” an alumnus told The Politic. “I was in Morse, so I had to walk by it every Friday and Saturday to get home. I knew to keep my head down, [not] make eye contact, move like water, flow around people.”
The business’s decline began as its general character—loud, frequently violent, rife with underage drinking—grew to conflict with Yale’s vision of Broadway.
There was a sense among university administrators, including then-President Richard Levin, that the Broadway area was run-down, poorly managed, and in need of improvement that only Yale ownership could offer. According to Rubin, the university began thinking of Broadway’s retail area as a potential single, unified shopping district that could be consolidated under Yale for the benefit of students and the broader community.
A harbinger of trouble came to Demery’s in the fall of 1993, before the weekend of the Harvard-Yale football game. On November 18 of that year, New Haven and Yale police officers, along with Connecticut State Liquor Commission officials, raided Demery’s as part of a crackdown on underage drinking. They slapped the bar with 14 violations.
It had always been an open secret that a fraudulent International Student Identification card from a local travel agency or AAA could gain one admission to Demery’s. Allegedly, an underage student was once let in after using a department store credit card as ID.
But this raid came just a few months before the business’s lease was up for renewal. Demery’s was set on edge.
“It seems like they’re after us,” an anonymous employee told the Yale Daily News at the time. “I don’t know if we’ll be here after the lease expires in ’94.”
Betty Trachtenberg, the former Dean of Student Affairs who once instilled order on a cappella rush night by patrolling Old Campus with a Super Squirter water gun, offered a tepid denial of Yale’s involvement in the crackdown at the time: “If Yale is behind this, I’m not. I think it is unlikely.”
The defiant manager of Demery’s, John Pickard, expressed no fear about the upcoming lease expiration: “As long as we want to be here, we’ll be here.”
Pickard was wrong. Demery’s would not survive its lease renegotiation. Within the year, Au Bon Pain would be setting up shop in the property, and Yale would be announcing its 1.3 million dollar acquisition of One Broadway.
Alumni remembered rumors of foul play, possibly in the form of an anti-Demery’s campaign led by the famously stringent Dean Trachtenberg. No one fanned the flames of conspiracy harder than owner Jerry Demery did.
Demery accused Yale of orchestrating the rent increase that forced him to move his restaurant to a farther-removed Crown Street location.
His business was “the fall guy for the Yale administration and the police department,” Demery told the Yale Daily News after Yale’s September 1994 purchase of One Broadway. “Anything in our area, they tagged our name on it. I was singled out because of the location on the corner, the attraction to outside students and customers, and the goal to eliminate alcohol from campus.”
At the time, Yale administrators shed no public tears about the loss of Demery’s.
Referring to One Broadway, then-University Secretary Linda Lorimer stated that “the University has long looked to that location as an area which would be important for the development of a longer-term strategy of having an attractive establishment for Yale students and New Haven residents.”
“We are not unconscious of the security issues around that site in recent years,” she added.
Understandably, the safety of Yale students was a primary concern of Yale administrators. Just three years prior, in 1991, Christian Prince, a sophomore in Pierson, was murdered in a nighttime mugging on Hillhouse Avenue. The killing shook Yale, and contributed to to the 1992 resignation of President Benno Schmidt.
Because Yale suffered from New Haven’s reputation as a violent, unsafe city, it did not benefit from businesses like Demery’s.
“Demery’s was a pizza and beer joint,” Rubin told The Politic. “Along with Toad’s Place, there was a sense among Yale administrators and planners from the Office of New Haven and State Affairs that Demery’s…created too much uncertainty, too much risk at that corner.”
Au Bon Pain stood in opposition to this. At the time, the Boston-based chain had a strong Harvard connection, and its entry to Broadway was a sign for many that Yale wanted to mimic for New Haven what Harvard had done for Harvard Square: create a benign, appealing, and nonthreatening area for students.
The reaction to the switch was mixed.
“ABP started the Cambridgization of New Haven that took all the personality away and left nothing but retail hell,” alumna Tracey Lynn Lloyd BF ’95 told The Politic.
Even so, others appreciated the area’s material improvement. The neighborhood had been “a dump” before Yale’s involvement, George Koutroumanis, co-owner of Yorkside Pizza, told The New York Times in 1999, well into President Levin’s consolidation of control over Broadway. By that point, Yale had already acquired at least 19 New Haven properties, spending over 20 million dollars in under six years.
During the 90s, neighborhood mainstays like Cutler’s Record Shop, Quality Wine Shop, and the Daily Caffe were moved off Broadway or outright closed. A series of buildings were torn down and built anew to house J. Crew and Urban Outfitters. And the area was branded the Shops at Yale, as clear a display of ownership as they come.
At some point between then and now, Demery’s, exiled to Crown Street, quietly shut its doors. Its closure was not noted in the press.
After Au Bon Pain closed in 2013, One Broadway hosted a series of temporary tenants — the DNA Emporium, Peabody II—before Patagonia moved in.
Today, Patagonia brings a different character to One Broadway. Inside, a wall collage highlights the corporation’s humanitarian mission (“CAUSE NO UNNECESSARY HARM”). Prominently displayed are the Patagonia-branded books The Responsible Company, Tools for Grassroots Activists, and Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, whose chapters are entitled “History,” “Philosophy,” “Turn Around and Take a Step Forward,” and “Thank You.”
A corner of the store marked “Patagonia Provisions” brands its packs of dehydrated food as part of Patagonia’s investment in “regenerative agriculture.” Purchasing one Thermos will “give one person in need clean water for a year.” It costs 36 dollars.
Windows still wrap around the exterior of One Broadway. Students lazily jaywalk towards Saybrook and a woman sells flowers farther up York. Gray light filters into the store.
Patagonia has entered a city where few residents could hope to afford the Better Sweater Jacket, let alone its 79 dollar miniature child’s counterpart. New Haven’s poverty rate of 36 percent is nearly three times as high as that of Connecticut as a whole, and the city’s per capita income is 16,393 dollars, or approximately 33 Recycled Wool Jackets.
For some, Demery’s was neither functional nor desirable. Patagonia is a better fit for YUP’s vision of large, national chains drawing shoppers to the Shops at Yale. It is the ideal New Haven institution, at least to the Yale administration.
It’s tempting to feel the tug towards a romantic past, reconstructed through hazy, nostalgic recollection, and to wish today’s Yale students had a Demery’s of their own.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. When The Politic posted on the Yale alumni Facebook page for comments on Demery’s, hundreds of responses poured out in a few hours. Today’s Yale’s students probably won’t reminisce as passionately about Patagonia in thirty years.
But “a key theme for people who study cities and how they change,” cautioned Rubin, “is to accept the fact that every generation will form its own new connections to the city.”
Students form their own meaningful sense of place at Yale and in New Haven, and commercial establishments play just one role in forming this community.
Despite the lamentation of the passing of familiar places, “we can’t assume, or even anticipate, on [new people’s] behalf what will be popular or meaningful,” Rubin said. “Yale students of today…will remember what they remember. They may be forming their own bonds to these places, and they may look fondly back on late nights at the Junzi Kitchen.”
“God bless that.”
Photograph courtesy of the Yale Daily News.