Popular club Toad’s Place releases book on its history “The Legendary Toad’s Place,” a book about the iconic concert venue’s history, was published last Friday. Joaquin Fernandez-Duque reports. Photos courtesy of Tim Tai, Vaibhav Sharma and Brian Phelps.

On Oct. 8, Toad’s Place — a local concert venue popular for its Yale-only ‘Woads’ dance on Wednesday — released a book titled “The Legendary Toad’s Place” about its over 40 year-long history.

Toad’s Place has been a staple of the New Haven music scene for 45 years. Brian Phelps, Toad’s Place owner, and Randall Beach, former New Haven Register reporter, authored the book. In the initial chapters, Phelps and Beach detail the origins of Toad’s Place as a French restaurant on York Street and continue to outline the concert venue’s transformation into a popular New Haven club for both famous and local artists in subsequent chapters.

Vaibhav Sharma Photo

“Up until now this story has never been told,” Beach said. “The public can now learn how Toad's got started, the challenges it faced through the years, including preventing Yale from buying it, and the hard work required to keep it going as the music scene kept changing.”

Phelps said Toad’s Place attendees can relive old memories and discover behind the scenes information about their favorite acts with the book. He added that younger audiences, such as current Yale undergraduate students, can also learn about the history of the venue that so many of them often attend.

One chapter, titled “The Yale Connection,” details the history of Toad’s relationship with Yale’s administration and student body. The chapter covers a confrontation between the University and concert venue in 1986, which arose when both were trying to purchase the property. That year, the owners of the property, who had been leasing it to Toad’s Place, chose to sell the property. Yale offered $1.3 million, $300,000 higher than the appraised value, which they believed Toad’s wouldn’t be able to match. However, after combining their saved funds with “the bank’s help,” Toad’s matched the price. Yale was not able to legally raise its bid, and Toad’s Place has remained in local hands since.

Meatloaf on stage at Toads

Phelps and Beach worked together to compile a full account of Toad’s Place’s history. Although they had known each other professionally for years, Beach did not officially become a part of the process until September of 2019, when Phelps contacted him in search of photos to include with the book. When Phelps reached out, Beach suggested working together on the book. Shortly after, Beach was looking through Phelps’ extensive journal of memories from Toad’s.

“We had lunch at Mory's [Association on York Street] and he gave me a copy of his 100-page journal covering his memories through the years,” Beach said. “I realized we had a strong foundation with which to get started.”

Photos courtesy of Brian Phelps.

The book includes information about prominent figures in Toad’s Place history. Among these figures is Michael Spoerndle, the original owner of Toad’s Place, who brought Phelps into the business. According to Beach, Spoerndle used his charisma to build the venue’s reputation, but he struggled with drug addiction and passed away at 59.

“The Toad's journey is about how Mike [Spoerndle] took young Brian [Phelps] under his wing, how they then became successful partners and how Brian had to carry on after Mike was unable to continue,” Beach said. “They were a great partnership: the fun-lover who kept the bands happy and the nuts-and-bolts guy who kept everything running smoothly.”

Photo courtesy of Brian Phelps.

Since its inception, Toad’s Place has been tied to the Yale community — given its location on campus. It has been frequented by Yale students since its early years, with some of them feeling a special connection with Toad’s. Justin King ’95 shared his connection with the News.

“Being an offensive lineman on the football team, I had a special relationship with Toad's,” King wrote in an email to the News. “The O-Line [offensive line] back then (not sure about now) was referred to as ‘The Toads.’”

This nickname is also mentioned in the book, followed by an anecdote about Spoerndle giving the team free shirts and concert tickets.

Photo courtesy of Brian Phelps.

In a follow-up email with the News, King wrote, “You asking these questions had me reaching out to my old college friends to remember good times that absolutely included spending ear-splitting times at Toad's Place!”

Randall and Beach hope that “The Legendary Toad’s Place” will prompt this type of recollection among its older audience. Preservation of Toad’s history is another objective for the book, according to Phelps.

“The Legendary Toad’s Place” had nearly 4,000 orders during presale, according to Phelps.

Photo courtesy of Brian Phelps.