Requiem for a Pizza Joint

Requiem for a Pizza Joint

Dark wooden tables carved with decades of initials, doodles and sports allegiances. Cinnamon toast. Pizza slices. A seemingly perpetual stream of ’80s power ballads on a tinny radio. A voice on a loudspeaker, more recently buzzing pagers, announcing that your food was ready. Office hours. Union meetings. All these things and so many more coalesced at Wall Street Pizza, a stalwart citizen at the intersection of College and Wall Street downtown and, in many ways, a keeper of the intersections of Yale itself. Beloved by graduate students and construction workers alike, the institution shuttered its doors after 52 years of pizza service—first as Naples Pizza, then as Wall Street—on October 25.

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Located at 90 Wall for all but one of those years, the business was a constant at the heart of an ever-changing campus, right next to the single set of stops that nearly every Yale shuttle line uses. Its dark and democratic climes welcomed undergrads, professors, staff and pre-show crowds for any of the screenings, concerts, recitals and lectures to be found nearby at the Whitney Humanities Center or Sprague Hall or undergraduate residential colleges. It lay at the nexus of New Haven labor relations as well, just down the block from UNITE HERE’s union hall at 425 College Street, and was a sustaining force for both leadership and rank and file.

For many, Wall Street Pizza crossed the line from restaurant to second home. Sarah Prown reminisces about “its calm darkness and carved-up wood,” noting that Wall Street Pizza was “our family go-to spot for pizza, salad and beverages before catching a movie or concert. The food was up and down, but it was often empty and a pleasant place to hang out.” She later added in an email, “I’m sad to see it join the list of defunct quirky dives like the Copper Kitchen, Educated Burgher, the Anchor, and the Doodle.”

Yale Physics PhD student Evan Zalys-Geller remembers his fondness for the restaurant’s bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches and accompanying Peach Tea Snapple as he confronted many personal struggles at one of the carved tables. “I used to eat with my jacket still on and rub my fingers over the wood and wonder what those before me were thinking about when they sat there.” He felt comforted by the tables, knowing he had a connection with those who’d already left their mark.

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Professor of Italian Millicent Marcus (cobb salad with no bacon, water no ice, extra balsamic dressing) misses Wall Street most of all for its extreme proximity to the Yale Italian Department, which sits three floors above the former restaurant. “When I was a graduate student at Yale”—Marcus received her PhD from Yale in 1974—“it was a place where faculty and students really came together, where we ate pizza and drank beer and talked about literature. It felt like an extension of the seminar.” Marcus noted that she still thinks of Wall Street Pizza as Naples Pizza, which speaks to the restaurant’s status as an institution for the block. “It was a place we counted on having there—just part of the whole scene that was important to us. I loved the fact that I knew the staff by name and they knew me by name—and what I ordered! It was very personal.” As someone who passed by the space every day on the way to her department, she says she was shocked when it closed.

Yale School of Music professor Martin Bresnick, nicknamed “The Prince of Naples,” certainly feels the loss of Wall Street Pizza. The space had been a presence in his life since he arrived at Yale in 1976. He can still name some of the original employees—Edgar, who left shortly after the advent of Naples Pizza, and Eddie, who stayed until the early 2000s by Bresnick’s estimation. “It was a very old-school lunch counter. Someone would stand toward the front and yell at you, and you learned things. Some of these counter people were very much of the old school and would shout ‘Adam and Eve on a raft’—that’s ‘sunnyside up on toast.’ You learned things.” Even when the ownership changed in late 2007—followed by the name in early 2008—Bresnick still frequented the restaurant. “When I celebrated my 70th birthday, Celso and Marilda ”—the new owners—“closed the place for me on the evening of my birthday and allowed me to throw a party.” Bresnick, who’s such a superfan that he had his professional headshots taken in the interior of the restaurant, also remembers rubbing shoulders with top-tier intellectuals from the African American Studies department across the street. “It made for a lively time— “Skip” Gates, Cornel West, Anthony Appiah, all hanging around and talking for hours.” Bresnick taught many composition lessons inside Wall Street Pizza, where he says he also taught the kitchen to make his favorite dish—Spaghetti Amatriciana—just the way he likes it.

Everyone interviewed wants to know the same thing: What’s next for the Yale-owned property? In an emailed reply to the question, Karen Peart, Yale’s media relations director, said the university has “had discussion with other restaurant operators, and we will continue to evaluate the options of future use.” There was no comment as to the fate of the restaurant’s tables and other artifacts, which, as of this writing, you can still see through the windows. Among them are the hefty gold letters, now in a jumble on the tiled floor, that so recently declared from the top of the facade, “Wall Street Pizza & Restaurant.”

Whatever happens to them, the memories, at least, will stick around awhile.

Wall Street Pizza & Restaurant (closed)
90 Wall St, New Haven (map)

Written and photographed by Allison Hadley.

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