Step aside, frat guys and perky partiers: on Fridays the real cool kids go to the New Haven Night Market. Last week, on a whim, that’s exactly where my suitemates and I went, strolling past the New Haven Green through the balmy fall air to the intersection of Orange and Crown.
The street was jubilant. People ambled down the gritty, rainbow-painted asphalt (Pride, baby!) flanked by white tents under which vendors sold tchotchkes ranging from luminescent ghost earrings to peach-scented organic soy candles. Above, criss-crossing fairy lights set a warm mood against the night sky, reflecting the radiant buzz of the cityfolk below.
Our first stop was the MakeHaven booth; a crafty, do-it-yourself space where we made personalised buttons for free. As the volunteer helped me affix my scribble to the plastic and pin, he enthused that just down Chapel exists a space that enables invention, providing access to technology that aids creativity. Here, squished together in front of the Night Market booth, my suitemates went wild: Jen(the creative one) made a floral masterpiece in mere minutes, while Kristen immortalised us in ink with a group portrait on her button, bleached hair, cheesy catchphrases and all.
A few stalls down, we were greeted by the neon-pink glow and welcoming hubbub of Elm City Games. It’s hard to miss: the storefront is stacked floor to ceiling with every board game imaginable, brightly lit in fuschia splendor. Games range from zany iterations of the classics (think Cluedo and Battleship) to the likes of an indie card game about Surrealist painters illustrated with a whimsical hand. In other words, the spot is a game nerd’s dream.
That night, we were amongst the excited horde, eager to try out some of the board games being loaned out. We got our hands on Team, a collaborative puzzler, which was created by Matt, the New Haven local who owns the store. This was just one of many games that he has designed in the two years since Elm City Games’ opening. We thoroughly enjoyed our effort at solving the puzzles. As one of the employees, Greg, told me, the shop was opened for people in New Haven to “play games and have a good time”—that’s exactly what we did.
Another standout booth was The Pulp Girls, a small business selling all things vintage run by Brianna and Cailia from Cheshire, Connecticut. The pair started their business ten years ago on eBay, selling second-hand and eventually their own designs. Their store was packed with people enraptured by gummy bear earrings and witchy T-shirts that enchanted us with their flourish and fancy. I was struck by the care and effort they’d invested into their business; Brianna proudly proclaimed to me that “[They’ve] been to pretty much every [New Haven] night market there has been.”
Before we knew it, it was 9 p.m., and we were ravenous. Phil and Jen chowed down on some Garden Catering chicken nuggets (gluten-free ones, no less!), a Connecticut-based brand that boasts no antibiotics in their chicken. Meanwhile, Kristen and I visited the booth occupied by Havenly, a community cafe that donates 100% of its profits to refugee women and runs a biannual fellowship for immigrants in New Haven. I rated their hibiscus tea a solid eight, which was bumped up to a nine while drunk outdoors with friends, listening to live music played by a man completely in the zone, rhythmic and lilting as he belted his heart out. I’d say the child in the Champion hoodie and blue floral skirt, who was dancing next to me, would agree with me that the vibes were immaculate.
Finally, we stopped by a hipster’s dream haunt, the indoor plant nursery Bark & Vine, started by New Haven locals who were passionate about all things vegetal. Since its inception a few years back, the store has specialized in tropical plants. I was tempted by the Night Market discount to get a plant native to Southeast Asia, a verdant reminder of home. Whether it survives the New Haven winter remains to be seen, but I was amongst many in the store enticed by the myriad flora inside, lush and green and alive.
The people of New Haven were out in full force, and they brought their pooches with them. The highlights included a dog in a blinking LED hot dog fit and Apollo, an over-excited dog who stole the show in a blanket covered with googly cartoon eyes. All eyes were, indeed, on him. Finally, after what seemed like a month of Phil calling every dog she saw ‘Handsome Dan,’ we met the Yale pup in the flesh. We even copped some cute stickers from his handler. Did I mention that all the cool kids went to the Night Market?
I’ve been in New Haven just over a month, but I can already feel that the picture-perfect, insular Yale bubble is real—it is so easy to stay within the university’s hallowed gothic architectural boundaries and forget that Yale exists within and as part of the city around it. It was nice, even in an admittedly curated environment, to step out and see what the rest of New Haven had to offer. There remains so much more I’d love to explore and learn about in this city. Altogether, this was a successful jaunt, passionate and vibrant in all its lovely shades. See you next year, New Haven Night Market!