E ccentric? Ecstatic.
Staying at the Duncan is surprising. Classical and character-laden, this Chapel Street staple has been around for more than a century. From hand-painted lettering to the seemingly improvised neon lit sign, these are just the first indications that this will be a hotel visit unlike any other, though it’s only once you’re inside that the Duncan’s real secrets begin to reveal themselves.
A majestic entryway and a lobby filled with old-fashioned comfy furniture remind you of a time when men and women wore hats and offered each other drinks in the morning. The gentleman behind the desk refused to give us his name but kindly handed us a real key to our room (unlike those newfangled plastic cards with magnetic stripes).
Want more nostalgia? The Duncan boasts the oldest elevator in Connecticut. Hand-operated, riding up with the bellhop, I felt as if I’d not only traveled to New Haven, but also back in time, too. Not nearly so fast as 88 mph, it gave me a rush to imagine myself brushing shoulders with ladies and gents of a bygone era. Our somewhat cheerful elevator operator threw back the switch and gave us the rundown on its history, and
1151 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT | 203-787-1273
$69/night for single, $92/night for double
recommended dining at the speakeasy-like Thai restaurant below the Duncan.
Arriving at the top floor – which is to say, the fifth floor – the gate slid aside and I was taken aback by the old-timey look and feel. True-to-form, the Duncan’s boarding house roots were showing. Formerly shared bathrooms and the last of the steps greeted us on our journey to our room, which was clean, reasonably sized, and functioned perfectly well as a place to sleep and shower (though we got some indication that rooms varied greatly).
True, the décor is dated, but it’s charming and nothing is affected; genuine history is the name of the game at the Duncan. It is what it is, so take it or leave it. The hallways have an eerie quality, but it’s more remarkable than scary. At the end, a view of New Haven compensates for any shred of hesitation or thoughts wandering towards “haunted.” A bright blue cloudless sky made for a perfect backdrop to a few photographs as I captured the beautiful buildings and soaked up some sunshine at
the same time. Making my way down the stairs, these too impressed me with their antiquated but attractive banisters.
Despite its deserved reputation for oddness (just do a Google search or look at their definition of a website), the Duncan is downtown, surrounded by arts, entertainment, and lively happenings just steps from its entrance. Think restaurants, bars, galleries, boutiques, theater, and Yale University. The area really has it all, and within walking distance. No matter your pleasure, it’s probably a hop, skip and a jump away.
For travelers looking to be pampered and fawned over, this quaint, quiet and quirky old timer may not be the best bet for you. Room service is a foreign notion; so too are spa amenities and valet parking. But, for those seeking something a little out of the ordinary with an appreciation for, shall I say, basic accommodations and a keep-to-yourself stay, the Duncan is perhaps the key to your ye olde Yale visit. Plus, with all the green you’ll save by foregoing the predictable chains, you’ll more readily be able to take advantage of the plethora of gems nearby. There’s so much you won’t want to miss, so why not give it a shot? The investment is worth the risk and, if it doesn’t suit, the “loss” is negligible. You can always check into somewhere more luxurious, (like, say, The Study at Yale next door) but be prepared to drop more dough.
But for the right kind of traveler, you’re not just getting a bargain hotel. You’re getting a story. What that story will be depends almost entirely on your expectations, outlook, and, well, your spirit of adventure.
Written by Nell Alk.