It’s hard to see why the Schwarzman Center is anything special. It’s home to Woolsey Hall, and if you didn’t know better, it’s Woolsey Hall. In fact, I had never set foot inside the building before because I thought it was another stuffy old building with the same cut and paste personality as all the buildings in Yale share. I also say this as someone who hates leaving boarding school for anything other than class, because why should I go out of my way to a library when I can just study from my room? Anyway, when I was selected by Wknd editors to review Yale’s new student dining options, The Ivy and the Elm, it was my first time at the Schwarzman Center. . The building prides itself on embodying the possibilities of a modern Yale, and that vision extends to their design and restoration options.
For strangers, getting to the metro, where the student bar and cafe are, is a totally different journey. The Schwarzman Center is a maze of undecorated beige walls and orb-shaped light fixtures, and there are no signs in sight. I was eventually pointed in the right direction by a member of staff who saw me spinning around. When I finally got to the cafe it was like I had entered another world. Gone are the elaborate chandeliers, indulgent brickwork, and antique furnishings of other Yale buildings. In its place was an ensemble of steel, wood panels, colored tiles, glass and granite floors. The elm and ivy are so uncharacteristic of typical Yale design that they seem to have been plucked from another college campus or an airport cafe. In fact, I used to take classes at the University of Texas at Arlington, and you could swap their cafeteria with the subway, and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It’s hard to overstate how shocking it is to step out of a world of Collegiate Gothic architecture and into a place that looks like any other cafeteria. The only reminders you’re still at Yale are the many TV screens prompting you to break bread and the little blue Y’s printed on the parchment paper their food is served on.
The Ivy’s food selection is limited to chicken bites tossed in your choice of sauce, fries, mini sliders and tacos. The menu is very much like a butter menu but professionally cooked and much more expensive. You can use your dining room swipes at the Ivy’s ATMs, but the Ivy’s open so late you can slip into residential college earlier in the day and then pay out of pocket later at night . The principle is simple: press to order, swipe your card, get your order number and go. I ordered the chicken bites mixed with Gochujang sauce and a side of fries. Together, without drink, it was $13, which would be nice if the portions were bigger. They gave me lots of fries but only six or seven small pieces of chicken. I admit that I was more careful to eat the chicken than to count it, but it was still very little chicken. For comparison, for five bucks more you could get a chicken tender combo at Haven Hot Chicken, or for three bucks more you could get a mushroom burger with fries and a large soda at Shake Shack.
Price aside, the food was good. Not too spectacular but not terrible. The fries were nice salty, thinly cut potato wedges similar to what you would get at a high end steakhouse. They came with a cup of ketchup and in a small metal serving tray. If you think they’re too simple for your taste, you can add some hot pepper to them…for an extra $4. If you don’t feel like spending $8 on chili fries, stick to the simple ones. The chicken was tasty, well seasoned and deliciously crispy. It came with ranch, pickle slices and a small wedge of lime, which I guess is about 25% of the cost of the plate. This wedge of lime must cost at least three dollars. All joking aside, the texture and taste of the chicken strongly resemble Yale Dining’s General Tso’s Chicken, but with a bit more heat. Personally, I prefer my chicken so hot it makes you cry. Nonetheless, Ivy’s Chicken should be spicy enough for most Yale students. The ranch, I believe, is really the pearl of the dish, and it’s just plain ranch with herbs. Ultimately, the Ivy is standard Yale Dining fare, but at a steep price.
I limited my exploration to food and didn’t try the Well, Yale’s first official student bar, for two main reasons. First, I don’t drink – I think it tastes disgusting, sorry. Second, the well is open at odd hours. Who wants to drink on a Thursday afternoon? Not me. I spotted the well behind locked doors and it looks like a nice place to hang out with friends who are of legal drinking age. I find the concept of the well so interesting. It’s an established place in Yale where you can buy and drink alcohol, and no one will give you a weird look. Having a drink at the Well will eventually become a coming-of-age ceremony at Yale. When freshmen turn twenty-one, they won’t have to sneak under the noses of their deans anymore. To enter the Well is to enter into adulthood.
Think of the subway as a mall food court designed to look like a hospital cafeteria. It’s cozy but not cozy enough that you want to stay there for a long time. Even the patterns of the woodwork, wave-shaped arches on the ceiling and herringbone on the walls, seem to dress the space with an air of urgency. This is the first place I’ve been to at Yale that seems to be designed to get people in and out, like a dining room covered in large tiles in neutral tones. The food may taste and look like it came from a dining hall, but eating it here is different. This place screams something that Yale is often hesitant to embrace: progress. Schwarzman Center is a bold step toward a newer, modernized Yale. From its automated clerks to its steel and wood interior, it’s clear that from within its stoic and intimidating facade, this place screams new, new, new! Whether or not you choose to give in to this burgeoning idea of what Yale could be, a place that is both prestigious but also as low-key as any other place, any other cafeteria or campus, is up to you. .