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In Memoriam, Anchor Bar

“We do not emphasize having bars,” was realtor John Pollard’s pithy response when pressed about what kind of tenant Yale University Properties would seek when looking to replace Anchor. If you had to guess, though, what kind of tenant do you think will be replacing Anchor?

I once wrote an elegy for a still-living friend. For that almost mythic crime my gallbladder has been pecked out. I was ripped apart by a classmate who had studied the form: an elegy, he told me, is fundamentally concerned with the writer’s relation to the deceased.

By that standard, I am in no good position to write an elegy for the Anchor bar, but neither was John Pollard. My relationship to that place was short, admittedly, compared to that of those New Haven residents who have made a life of drinking there. To those who kneel, as I do, at the altar of lubricated conversation, some of their best friendships may have been cemented there. And for those, like me, who make a god of intimate friendship, they have seen the cradle of their fondest attachments suddenly go, likely to be replaced by a cosmetics store.

Like other things I only discovered my senior year, Anchor came suddenly and brilliantly to symbolize the breakage of my past- and future-selves. What I wanted more of was mental partnership, intimate friendship apart from the strange customs of the frat scene. What I wanted more of was The Anchor bar: the soft, teal leather of its booths, knees pressed together tightly, unassumingly, under its crooked tables.

Going to Anchor rapidly became my favorite activity of the week. For me, it symbolized a decision I made: to drink alcohol but only when it would involve good conversation. Anchor was an alternative to the meaninglessness of Toad’s, the strange athleticism of Box, and the worrisome sexual ethics of both of those places. It was apart from all grand Yale tradition, Mory’s pretension, as well as newcomers such as Rudy’s, which can only imitatively cover their walls with the kind of old-timey maps and things which had hung at Anchor, untouched and undusted, for years. It offered the illusion of permanence, of a place that had always been at Yale but will always be apart from it, a strange, timeless place. But what is timeless to Yale University Properties?

An ‘anchor beer’ meant conversation with my group of beloved friends, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I think of myself as having cultivated a ‘circle’ of Anchor-drinkers. It was flexible enough to accommodate athletes and artists, without pandering to any one type over the other—maybe this is why it failed. I think one can make a serious criticism of the direction in which Yale’s surrounding commercial environment is moving—hideously suburban make-up stores, international clothing outlets, restaurants distantly-managed by financiers. At Anchor, I did not feel like I was in Belgium, or a cafe in the Upper East Side. I felt like I was in a distinct place in New Haven, an authentic space among cheap imitators.

Our phrase was ‘getting an Anchor beer’ and this meant a certain kind of interaction, and a certain separateness from Yale. That we attributed the uniqueness of the experience to the beer they served is an example of projection. The difference was really the decades-old maps and photographs with which other bars can only order from bulk-websites; the fabulous collection of songs available on the jukebox, which, mysteriously, was often free to play; the smattering of graduate students, faculty, locals; the free conversation. It is too distressing to know that I will never have another Anchor beer.

But it is worse to think that Yale students in the future will not have this sort of place at all. Instead, they will have chain-restaurants and bars that stay afloat by surreptitiously serving minors and irresponsibly caloric burgers. I am tired of the disappointed shrug that Yale University Properties does whenever a favorite, but financially unstable, institution closes; as if we are all at the mercy of market forces shaping our city in regrettable ways.

I know from some early econ classes that the free-market is best and all that. But it makes me feel quite powerless when beloved institutions—Cutler’s, A1, Educated Burgher—close down and the chains seldom-visited by Yale students manage to stay open. I understand no tenant is being ‘evicted’ for any reason other than their inability to meet rents. But it’d be best to acknowledge that these rapidly increasing rents correspond to Yale University’s vision of the city. This vision is one that I find harrowingly bad, one that is defined by Starbucks and chain retailers, has little distinction, and does little to foster interaction or make life individuated and worth living.

My last drink at the Anchor was in the eerie stillness of Yale post-exams, and the place felt peculiarly my own. Most of the booths were empty, and I bought two routine IPAs uninterruptedly. In hindsight, perhaps, I could have sensed in the strangeness of that near-empty bar that it would not be there when we returned. The pints were celebratory; my best friend and I were both giddy from having finished the semester. He claimed to have done poorly on his econ exam, but he didn’t seem to care much. So long as the sources of meaning in our lives are not subject to market forces, I will have that quiet afternoon in Anchor forever.

But I fear the next generation won’t have any such opportunity. To John Pollard, who said it would be “totally inappropriate” to solicit someone to continue the Anchor (adding that Yale University Properties would have to “let the market dictate that”), the very idea of playing an activist role in shaping the commercial landscape of New Haven is offensive. I will never cease to be amused by the neoliberal rhetoric. ‘Totally offensive!’ Like laughing at a funeral.

2 Responses

  1. Sadforanchor says:

    Great piece, William!

  2. pouroneout says:

    This is really excellent writing! love it love it love it

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