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The evolution of Toad’s is written all over the walls and it is much more than a Saturday night dance party. It is full of culture, history and most of all, it is where the legends play.
Every Saturday night, without missing a beat, Quinnipiac University students get dressed up, get on the New Haven shuttle and wait in a line to pay ten dollars for a night at Toad’s Place.
This popular club has been a Quinnipiac staple for years, but it has not always been seen as just a night club.
Originally, a French restaurant occupied the space. When the owners realized a restaurant was not bringing in enough revenue, they brought in some bluegrass music at night. The dinners eventually faded out and the night club atmosphere started to develop more.
The original owner, Michael “Big Mike” Spoerndle, opened Toad’s Place in 1975. It was coined one of the premier music halls in Connecticut.
Spoerndle later partnered with Brian Phelps, who is the current and sole owner of Toad’s Place now.
Toad’s Place hosted countless worldwide musical legends including headliners such as Bruce Springsteen in 1979,
The Rolling Stones in 1989, Bob Dylan in 1990 and David Bowie in 1991.
Phelps said that it was harder for Toad’s to bring in bigger headliners because there was competition in the area.
“I have to compete with College Street (Music Hall),” he said. “Some acts that they could get I could never get at all because (big bands) want to do theaters and they want to have that 2000 capacity. They are double our size.”
It was a huge accomplishment for Toad’s Place when The Rolling Stones performed at the small, 1,000 capacity venue.
Phelps said that hosting The Rolling Stones was like hitting the lottery. More acts came to Toad’s because they wanted to play on the same stage as The Rolling Ston’es.
In between these acts, other bands such as The Pretenders and Muddy Waters performed. Despite their great musical reputations, these bands and other local acts were not making enough money for the club.
Once Toad’s started making a name for itself, students from Yale and Southern Connecticut State University were drawn to the dance parties and disco style music that Toad’s provided.
Not only did students enjoy the atmosphere at Toads but locals frequented the club every weekend as well. For convenience,
there used to be a large parking lot down the street that attracted more people from New Haven to come for both concerts and the night club.
Toad’s used to be exclusively 21 years of age and older. It wasn’t until 1989 that the club became 18 years of age and older.
Toad’s adjusted to this change by implementing the wristband to clubbers who are 21 and older. Phelps also said that the walls at each bar were built around this time to differentiate the spaces for each age group.
Quinnipiac students did not really latch on to the Toad’s trend until around 2002, but once they did, there was no going back.
Now, about 2,000 students come in and out of Toad’s on a typical Saturday night. A majority of those 2,000 are Quinnipiac students, according to Phelps.
In addition to those coveted Saturday night dance parties, Toad’s still holds concerts regularly. Some of the more recent headliners include Dirty Heads and Lupe Fiasco in 2016 and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness in 2017.
Phelps said his favorite part of owning the club is when he sees a lot of people during a concert or dance party and when people are
screaming and loving it and having a great time.
“The song hits a certain note or a band hits the end of a song and everybody just screams at that one point in time,” Phelps said. “Just everyone is unified in that one moment, and it’s really a good feeling,” Phelps said.
They currently have a couple of dance nights a week, one being on Wednesdays and the other on Saturdays. The dance parties on Wednesday’s are predominantly Yale students, whereas Saturday’s are mostly Quinnipiac students with a few Yale students that come in later at night.
Safety is very important to Phelps. There are about 65 employees and a majority of them work on Saturdays and the big concerts. On Saturday nights, there are 25 security guards, three police officers and a fire marshall working just for safety. In addition, there are about a dozen bartenders working, half a dozen barbacks and then the utility people that are in charge of the lights and DJs.
Not only does Toad’s have their own DJs, but a few of Quinnipiac’s DJs perform on Saturday nights as well.
“Its great bringing people that know what the students want,” Phelps said.
Saturday nights are lucrative for Toad’s Place, but there are expenses that come with that. First the barbacks start the cleaning and then the maintenance crew comes in. Once the maintenance crew leaves, some of the employees do some extra cleaning and mop up the floor more. The floor gets another coat of soap when it gets mopped again on Monday to get the remaining stickiness off.
Once the party season is over, a majority of the broken things will get fixed or new pieces of furniture to replace what has been broken. Over the summer, rugs will be changed and the walls will have a fresh coat of paint in order to fix the place up.
Another feature that Toad’s is working on is increasing the level of attractiveness by opening a rooftop area. The plans have been set back due to some zoning requirements, but the idea is still in play.
“I didn’t have a chance to look at it further and get more architectural drawings done but it is still in the works,” Phelps said. “We are still looking at it and if I could get it done at a reasonable amount of money then I’ll do it but I don’t want to have to spend some insane amount of money to get that done.”
After 41 years of making Toad’s the place we have all come to know, Phelps has come to a point in time to think about a semi-retirement plan where he doesn’t have to come into work most days. This allows him to keep Toad’s Place one where the legends come to play and to relax after decades of hard work.
“In the next couple of years, I’m going to want to get to a semi-retirement type thing,” Phelps said. “I don’t want to get rid of the place, I want to just keep it here because I have staff and stuff too that want it to keep going and I think that we can keep things rolling. Overall with our knowledge and history, I think that we can keep going for a while longer.”