Instead of going down with the Titanic, Claire Danes went to Yale. Now, like a seasoned Shopgirl, she sells us on the virtues of New Haven, Connecticut.
Claire Danes walks into the lobby of the Soho Grand Hotel like she's stepping out of a shower. Hair wet, dress clinging, she's a downtown New York girl meeting an out-of-town guy for a six p.m. drink. "I've been dancing," she tells me. Which makes sense, for Danes is someone you can imagine dancing away the afternoon, sort of a blond everygirl whom you feel you know before you've met her. "Usually it's kind of quiet here," she says of the lobby bar. "That's why I picked it, but … " She doesn't need to finish. The music blasts loud enough for more dancing.
But Danes is capable of being heard above the roar. She always has been. She became a household name as Angela Chase in the 1994 TV series My So-Called Life, then starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in 1996's Romeo + Juliet. Danes could have teamed with DiCaprio again, but she reportedly turned down the role that went to Kate Winslet in Titanic. She had a good reason. She was landlocked in the city she's come to discuss: New Haven, Connecticut, home of her alma mater, Yale University. (She graduated in 2002.)
This month, she stars in Shopgirl. It's the film version of Steve Martin's novella, in which Martin plays Ray Porter, a rich Angeleno who falls in lust with a beautiful shopgirl (played by Danes) who works behind the glove counter at an upscale Beverly Hills department store. I can imagine Claire Danes selling gloves. Actually, I can imagine Claire Danes selling anything - especially New Haven, which holds a special place in her family. I'll let her - and a surprise guest - explain.
So what do you like best about Connecticut?
I spent two years in New Haven while I went to Yale and was most impressed by the food. Amazing, amazing places to eat. New Haven's famous, actually, for its pizza. There are two rival restaurants that are adjacent to each other. They're equally great. There's Pepe's and Sally's, and I guess I frequented Pepe's more. But no disrespect to Sally's. Apparently, the oven is responsible for producing this amazing flavor. The crust is thin, and it's really worth a trip. There is always a line. I've waited for over an hour to get a table, and I've never regretted it.
My other favorite restaurant is Louis' Lunch. It's tiny, but it's been there for a long time. I think they claim that they invented the burger. That's outrageous, totally absurd, but really ambitious. They refuse to let anyone use ketchup on their burgers, which concerned me greatly when I first went there, because ketchup is not just a condiment but a food group for me. Again, it's the way the burger is made, just like it's the oven with the pizza. It's how the burger is grilled. I don't know exactly, but it's the juiciest thing I've ever tasted. It's just toasted with white bread. They put tomato on there, and onions and cheese …
What happens if you get caught?
Smuggling ketchup? I wouldn't try it - the place is tiny. They've got wooden tables that everybody's engraved their initials into over the years, and it just feels really cozy and tough at once. They're so adamant about how burgers should be eaten, so it's a funny contradiction. There is also an Ethiopian restaurant called Caffé Adulis. I never really knew much about Ethiopian food until I started going to school. I would treat myself when I had finished a really hard paper or an exam by going to Caffé Adulis and indulging in a huge meal.