- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2003

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Aah, autumn in New England. Each year, the region’s flinty hills are crowded with visitors in search of crisp apples, spicy cider doughnuts, fields of pick-your-own pumpkins and colorful foliage, set off against white church steeples and brilliant blue skies.

As a native New Englander, I love the season and sop up as much of it as I can.

However, there’s only so much cider-sipping and leaf-peeping you can do before you start to wonder what else the New England autumn scene might offer.

How about tangy Malaysian food with vintage French wines, cutting-edge theater or dance-till-you-drop clubs? Or Colonial and black American history? Rare art from the British Isles? The purported birthplaces of pizza and hamburgers?

You get all that, and the colored leaves, too, in New Haven — about two hours from Boston, New York and the quaint towns of southern Vermont.

New Haven bills itself as Connecticut’s arts and culture capital. These bragging rights are impossible to verify, but the city does have three nationally renowned theaters, five museums, a symphony orchestra and other musical groups, galleries, festivals, monumental architecture and dozens of restaurants with global flavors.

For the traveler to Olde New England, the city also has loads of history. Its roots date from 1638, when a group of Puritans sailed into the harbor in search of land to build a Christian utopia.

They built their city in a grid of nine squares, with a central square called the green. New Haven’s design is the ancestor of planned cities from New York to Paris.

The green is still an open, public space today, and it has three churches in a row, two with the postcard-requisite white steeple. Center Church on the Green was built on part of the Colonial burying ground and has a not-to-miss crypt.

Colonial New Haven hosted three famous fugitives — the three judges who signed the death warrant for King Charles I of England. Two of them were hidden in a cave at the top of West Rock, an imposing geological formation that houses a state park.

Visitors still can see the cave and enjoy a glorious vantage point for fall foliage. A road through the park is open Thursdays through Sundays through leaf season; hikers can go in anytime.

For the blue-blooded and academically gifted, New Haven is synonymous with Yale University. The Yale campus hosts weekly tours, and many of its attractions, from student music recitals to lectures by world and business leaders, are open to the public.

For a self-guided tour, start at the oldest building, Connecticut Hall (1750), and see the statue of Nathan Hale, a Yale alumnus and hero of the American Revolution. Much of the campus was designed by James Gamble Rogers and built in the 1920s and 1930s.

Also see the secret society headquarters of Skull and Bones (1856, since expanded) on High Street, where President Bush and other Yale alums cavorted.

A textbook example of Egyptian Revival is the gate to the Grove Street Cemetery (1845) by Henry Austin with the message “The dead shall be raised.”

Another campus attraction is Hillhouse Avenue, which Charles Dickens once called “the most beautiful street in America.” At the time, the street showcased private mansions in Greek Revival, Italian villa, beaux-arts and Victorian styles. Today, most are Yale offices and classrooms, carefully preserved, including No. 37, where Pres-ident Bush lived as an infant while his father was a student at Yale.Modern masters also built on campus. The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (1961) by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill has marble panels instead of windows to filter the light to protect rare tomes, including a Gutenberg Bible.

Also see the Art and Architecture Building (1961), notable for its asymmetrical design by Paul Rudolph involving towers and slabs of striated concrete. Ingalls Rink (1957) by Eero Saarinen is known as the “Yale Whale” for its wavy roof.

For architectural gems off the Yale campus, check out the U.S. District Court (1913) on Church Street, designed by James Gamble Rogers. (The second-floor courtroom is a gilt-and-plaster fantasy with the golden word “Justice” behind the bench.) Next door is the high-Victorian elegance of City Hall (1861) by Henry Austin.

Also see the former Armstrong Rubber Co. building (1968) on Sargent Drive by Bauhaus master Marcel Breuer, an L-shaped structure in which the top block of the building is suspended on columns above the lower section; the Brutalism masterpiece (or eyesore, some say), Veterans Memorial Coliseum (1969) on George Street by Kevin Roche; and Oriental Gardens (1970) on Wintergreen Avenue by Paul Rudolph, a study in stylish affordable housing.

If this architecture tour makes you hungry, New Haven restaurants offer an array of tastes from around the globe. Notable ethnic restaurants are Bentara, a Malaysian spot with a huge wine list; Roomba, a Caribbean place specializing in seafood; Caffe Adulis, featuring Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes; and Istanbul Cafe, the place to get shish kebabs and other Turkish delights.

New Haven eateries also claim to be the birthplaces of two American favorites: pizza and hamburgers. I won’t get into the validity of these stories, but for a turn-of-the-20th-century hamburger experience, go to Louis’ Lunch on Crown Street, where the burgers are broiled vertically in gas-burning ovens and ketchup is forbidden.

The burgers make an excellent base in the stomach for some serious late-night partying along College Street. Bar makes its own beer, and Neat Lounge is a sophisticated spot. The Sci-Fi Cafe features life-size models from science-fiction movies and seriously weird drinks, and the street pulses with dance music from various nightclubs that seem to change names and themes constantly.

The pizza places are on Wooster Street. New Haven natives debate endlessly about whether Sally’s or Pepe’s makes the better pie, but at either place, prepare to wait in line for a table. The pizzas have wafer-thin crusts and do not come with mozzarella cheese unless you order it. Native purists prefer the pies with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese or order the white clam pizza, which has clams, garlic, Parmesan and no sauce.

If you want mozzarella and want to sound like a native, fake the local slang. It’s not “pizza,” its “a-peets,” and don’t say “mozzarella,” say “mutz.”

Whether you eat at Sally’s or Pepe’s, walk up Wooster Street to Libby’s, an Italian coffee shop and bakery where the homemade Italian ice comes in dozens of flavors. (At $1 for a heaping squeeze cup of Italian ice, Libby’s offers the best food deal in the city.)

For a fancy night out, try Union League Cafe. Its impeccable service and classic French food are popular with the theater crowd.

Did someone say something about theater? The Shubert Theater is known as the “birthplace of the nation’s greatest hits” for hosting pre-Broadway previews of “South Pacific,” “The Sound of Music” and other musicals.

The Long Wharf Theatre also is known for hosting premieres. Recent winners include the Pulitzer-winning “Wit.” The Yale Repertory Theatre has a history of providing cutting-edge drama along with tomorrow’s stars. Meryl Streep, Henry Winkler and Jodie Foster are among Yale’s drama alums.

New Haven’s museums also draw crowds. The Yale Center for British Art houses the largest collection of art from Britain and its colonies outside the United Kingdom.

Across the street, the Yale University Art Gallery has works from ancient artisans and modern masters.

The Peabody Museum of Natural History, also a Yale museum, houses some of the first dinosaur fossils to be excavated and classified, as well as exhibits on American Indian culture, birds of New England and other natural-history attractions.

The Knights of Columbus Museum has exhibits on the founding of the fraternal organization and the history of Roman Catholicism in the United States.

The New Haven Colony Historical Society houses a museum about New Haven history, including a milestone in the history of black Americans — the Amistad incident.

In 1839, a shipful of Africans bound for the Caribbean as slaves aboard the Spanish ship Amistad rebelled and took control of the ship. It landed in Connecticut, and a trial was held in New Haven to see whether the Africans were the property of the Spaniards or had been taken illegally from Africa and were free to return.

The New Haven judge sided with the Africans, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. The case was an important precursor to the abolition of American slavery.

A memorial to the Africans stands in front of City Hall, and a replica of the Amistad has its home port in the city’s Long Wharf section, although the ship currently is away from home, touring the country.

For outdoor fun, New Haven’s social event of the biennium occurs Nov. 22, when Yale plays Harvard in their annual Ivy League football game.

Besides enjoying tailgate parties and rousing choruses of “Boola Boola,” the Yale Bowl is a great place to see the last of the autumn leaves fall.

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