The Well is Dry


I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that I found myself at Yale’s new on-campus bar, The Well, on its opening night. Every day since September, I’ve glanced through those porthole windows when passing beneath the Schwarzman Center, awaiting the day that the bar would finally open. The Well soon came to occupy a rotunda-shaped space in my psyche; my hopes were high for the day I could experience what it was like to get plastered at a Yale-sanctioned bar. So, when I happened to pass by Schwarzman on The Well’s opening night, I was admittedly eager to stop in.

I presented my driver’s license to the bouncer with a polite nod towards the police officer who kept him company. The bouncer placed my ID on a tabletop scanner, then flipped it over to scan the other side. Both scans flashed on his screen alongside a third blacklight scan. Finally, after over a minute, I was cleared for entry. Another machine spat out a yellow paper wristband, onto which were printed my name, date of birth, and driver’s license number. (If the implication isn’t clear, I strongly advise that you do not attempt to enter The Well with anything other than legitimate, of-age identification.)

Band secured around my wrist, I entered The Well at long last. It was around 10 p.m. and there were approximately 12 other patrons inside, all of whom looked more like archetypal “twenty-somethings” than they did college students. 

I sat at the bar, choosing to forego the gaudy orange tables and chairs all too familiar to those who frequent Schwarzman. Considering how the garishly whimsical furnishings contrast with the Target-chic decor lining the bar’s shelves, The Well’s aesthetic lands somewhere between a simulated bistro and a postmodern funhouse. Perhaps the latter is more apt because, as it turns out, The Well doesn’t serve spirits of any kind—only beer and wine ranging from $5 to $13 per drink. (And no, they don’t accept meal swipes. The bouncer made this joke just before I could get the chance to make it myself.) I glanced back at the cop prowling near the door, then turned to order the cheapest beer on tap.

I also ordered the grilled cheese listed under the “Small Bites” menu. And “small bites” they were. On seeing the sandwich, a meager square of maybe five inches across, I thought it was a joke—an offensive one, given its $9 price tag. I washed the greasy sandwich down with my watery beer, feeling as though I had been conned out of $15.

Though I found The Well’s food and drink generally disappointing, talking with the bar staff was by and far the highlight of the experience. The bartenders were personable and attentive; they checked in on how I was enjoying my drink, they offered me a glass of water, and they even gave me personalized beverage recommendations. I hoped to leave a tip to express my gratitude when paying, although there was no such line on the receipt and no tip jar on the counter. On my way out, I asked when the bar’s operating hours would be.

“Thursday through Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.,” I was told. And then, as if compelled to explain, the employee followed up: “We like to think of it as a great place to start your night.”

In the days since drinking from The Well, I’ve been wondering: why does Yale need to operate a bar on campus, especially one that underwhelms so sorely? Does our administration really believe that The Well will markedly improve campus life?

I find it hard to believe that The Well will ever come to supplant more organic student traditions, like packing into Toad’s on Wednesdays or lining up outside Frat Row on the weekends. Maybe students will stop by the bar to “start their night” there according to its intended purpose. Given its excessive security and its proximity to formal educational spaces, though, I suspect that most undergrads will stick to private gatherings and off-campus establishments. 

Maybe it’s presumptuous to assume that The Well aims in any way to satisfy the demands of my specific cultural milieu. After all, the Schwarzman Center’s website describes The Well as a “pub” where one can “enjoy friends and conversation.” This advertisement appeals to a gentler crowd, one that isn’t preoccupied with tracking down pre-games and sneaking past bouncers. I can imagine Yale’s graduate students unofficially claiming The Well, as its stringent ID-scanning keeps away those under legal drinking age. But even then, there are so many great bars in New Haven—so many places with more character, with better food and drinks at better prices. 

To me, The Well signifies Yale’s disconnect from the wants and needs of its constituents (or, as Yale is known to call them, customers). The university’s administration seems single-mindedly bent on folding our institution inwards, gating off every courtyard and shutting out the city around us. This necessitates condensing campus culture into spaces over which Yale has total authoritative control, to erode the impulse to venture outside of Yale’s domain. As donors continue buying into the current trajectory, Yale will continue providing its affiliates with a bulldog-themed solution to every imaginable need.

I think, more than anything, The Well is another attempt by Yale to expand the offerings of its brand. The Well is but one of countless shiny amenities that captivate prospective admits—and prospective donors—as their tour guides whisk them by Cross Campus and up Science Hill. The Schwarzman Center alone has a convenience store, a coffee shop, a meditation space, a late-night grubbery—and now, a bar. If we take the aphorism “Don’t shit where you eat” at face value, then the building of The Well amounts to installing a toilet in the kitchen.

But I shouldn’t judge so harshly, especially not after only one beer. Perhaps I’m just not Yale’s target audience, and thus The Well was not dug with the intention of living up to my unrealistic standards. I’m sure The Well will settle into its niche within campus culture soon enough—either legitimately, or as the object of our collective derision (sorry, Bow Wow). If you happen to see me there, though, on my second round by 5:30, you can rest assured that it’s most certainly with the latter purpose in mind.

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