Colin Caplan wears many hats: architect, historian, author, foodie and entrepreneur. The common theme underpinning nearly all of them? His unwavering love for New Haven.
Born and raised in the Elm City, Caplan, who is 40, returned here after graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans with a Master’s Degree in Architecture and has no plans to leave any time soon. The city, he says, has been a huge influence on his life and career.
“I don’t like working in offices,” he says with a laugh, reflecting on his growing roster of endeavors.
Caplan is owner of Magrisso Forte LLC, a contracting company where he does architectural design and historic building consultation, and offers genealogical services. He also has written several books focused on New Haven and its history, and runs Taste of New Haven, which offers culinary tours, classes and “culinary entertaining.” In 2017, he launched Elm City Party Bike, a pedal-powered bar and sightseeing tour, and earlier this year, he started a limo cycle business and food tour in Sanford, Fla.
Over an espresso at Manjares Restaurant & Fine Pastries in Westville, he recently shared some of his local favorites.
Q: What are some local hidden gems you wish more people knew?
A: One of my favorite places to hike is behind Yale Golf Course. There’s a wonderful natural area there. It’s about 700 acres of woodland, [with] old cart paths, native trails, tons of deer and different kinds of terrain. It’s neat. There’s even an area behind Stop & Shop [in Westville] that has this giant, erratic boulder, so that’s one of my favorite spots to get to and look around and kind of contemplate the world. Also, Lyric Hall. It’s an unbelievable, old, vintage vaudeville silent-film theater, now re-established as a cabaret theater. It’s an unbelievable, antique experience.
Q: What person, place or event in New Haven’s history has fascinated you the most?
A: I think it’s William Lanson. He was a runaway slave who ran away in 1799, [and] came to New Haven. He showed up in history as a contractor and was the only guy to convince the city that he could build Long Wharf out into the deep mudflats. He expanded Long Wharf into the longest wharf in the country; he crafted a way to get rock from the base of East Rock to the mudflats and create a more solid wharf. He built the Tomlinson Bridge and a lot of other projects. He built a community called New Liberia that was a mix of Irish and African-American, in the present-day Mill River district.
Q: What are some must-see places you take visiting out-of-town friends or family?
A: I take them to Sally’s, Pepe’s or Modern – in that order. I order a plain pizza with garlic.
Q: What’s your favorite way to spend a day in New Haven?
A: With my wife, April. We like kayaking; we head out from City Point sometimes. We like to hang out in our backyard, do gardening. We like to bop around downtown and socialize, enjoy the amazing restaurant and bar scene. We love the concerts on the Green.
Q: What’s the best thing to do in or around New Haven in the fall?
A: We love going to the Whitlock’s Book Barn in Bethany, because it means that we also get to go to Sperry Falls Park in Woodbridge and there’s hiking all around there. [Whitlock’s] is this fun, kind of rustic experience – and we both love old books. And we love going apple picking. Bishop’s Orchard is a favorite spot; it’s just a nice
Q: How have you seen New Haven change over the years?
A: I’ve seen downtown blossom into a major restaurant district. I’ve seen neighborhoods stabilize; I’ve seen neighborhoods destabilize. In a general way, the city has tried to rebuild itself and its infrastructure in a way that supports its people, getting back to nature, etc.
Q: What was it like getting married in Amalfi, Italy – New Haven’s sister city – in 2015?
A: It was a dream come true. We did it just with each other and wanted that to be the experience. We had an “adopted” family and had just an unbelievable community and experience, just the way we wanted it. It was breathtaking. That was our first trip to that area, and April’s first trip to Europe. It was on our radar [that Amalfi was New Haven’s sister city]. The original reason I was going to go to Italy was to study pizza for one of my books. Then it became a romantic trip, and then we eloped there, in a way. It was amazing.
Photography by STAN GODLEWSKI