Sorry, Simon, no hard feelings…
by Jack Archambault and David Kennedy
It’s the tail end of the 1980s in New Haven, Connecticut, and Daniel Morse’s 4th grade teacher gives his class an assignment: create a business. Make it as creative and colorful as you want. That’s how Dan came to craft Captain Dan’s, the finest restaurant and bar in the Connecticut public school system — a creation that also carried a certain precognition.
30 years later, Dan – now 42 and better known as Suits – finds himself working at Mugz’s, a bar on the corner of Arthur Avenue and 189th Street. It’s a rainy Thursday night in October, and Mugz’s is unnaturally tranquil. As a pair of bartenders sit at the counter, Suits stands over the jukebox in the corner, scrolling through music. He’s drinking water. It used to be a Jack and Coke, but he kicked those out of his diet a while ago for his health. Having spent the last 20 years watching the door at Mugz’s, Suits has done more than just endear himself to Fordham students and make a name as the premier figure in the university’s bar scene. He has made Mugz’s his home, a word that means just a little more to someone who didn’t always have one.
“I had a rough childhood. My stepfather and I didn’t really see eye-to-eye. We had a huge fight on New Year’s. I lost my job, and he got mad … we got into a fistfight and he threw me out of the house in the middle of a snowstorm in Connecticut.”
Just 18 at the time, he ended up making it through the snow to a Connecticut dance club, where the owner offered to help him out. He started working there the next day. Dan spent a few years working at the dance club and a series of gas stations, which is when he “caught the acting bug.”
“Someone gave me the idea that I should try New York, so I moved to New York.”
The Big Apple welcomed the aspiring actor the only way it knew how.
“I got robbed when I came to New York…”
Left without much money or a place to live, Dan took a pair of jobs at Rigoletto’s on Arthur Avenue and as a messenger in Manhattan, all while doing auditions around the city to advance his acting career. But he was still Dan. Just Dan. Until he was gifted a set of suits.
“…I worked for Rigoletto’s, and the owner says, ‘I got some suits, would you like them? Y’know you’re going into acting I thought maybe you needed some suits.’ So I said, ‘I’ll take them off your hands, no problem.’ I started wearing them. … So I was doing an audition, in a suit, came back and I noticed [Bobby Zamboli, original owner of Mugz’s] was getting jumped by a bunch of kids. And I ran out with my suit, and started … wailing on ‘em, throwing ‘em left and right. And then all of a sudden, I’d just been walking around in my suits, nobody knew who I was, everybody was curious. And they just started calling me Suits, and the name stuck.”
That was in 1998. In his 20 years as Suits, he has seen the area around Fordham grow and change.
“The neighborhood’s actually gotten quieter. Everybody’s getting along, not too many kids getting robbed, beat up … I guess you lose something … You gotta lose the bad things to get the good things.”
The bars have also undergone several eras of change.
“When I first got here it was only Mugz’s, Howl, then there was University. And there was Clark’s … there was Gorman’s, Tinker’s … So, there were a lot more bars actually back then than there are now.”
But despite all of the change Suits has seen from the front door of Mugz’s, there is one constant: college nights can be unpredictable. Case in point: Spring Weekend 2004.
“In 2004, they had Busta Rhymes for Spring Weekend, and after the show, kids were outside drinking and there was Busta Rhymes’ guys, and they were yelling … and a beer bottle came flying and hit a cop … and things just went crazy, [the officer] called, got every police car in New York down here … tanks, SWAT teams swarming the whole frickin’ place … had the helicopters flying around, shining the searchlights down … just crazy.”
While we could not verify the presence of tanks on Arthur Avenue that night, 2004 was a seminal year at Mugz’s. A native Connecticutian, Suits has straddled the line between Boston and New York his whole life, bravely representing the Red Sox and Patriots in the heart of enemy territory. When the Red Sox beat the Yankees in 2004 and later went on to win their first World Series since 1918, Suits was around to lead the celebration.
“…every Red Sox fan came out … I’m going crazy, I’m running around. I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to do with my hands!’ … a Yankee fan comes in: ‘Fuck all of you! Fuck you! Fuck you too!’ I picked him up, threw him out, and everybody started partying again.”
And while being in New York has caused Suits more than his share of grief from opposing fans, it has also provided the opportunity for celebrity run-ins.
“I had Chazz Palminteri … Some of the cast of A Bronx Tale actually came into Mugz’s. … and the biggest name to have in Mugz’s in 2005 was Natalie Portman.”
Portman, fresh off of filming V for Vendetta, was visiting a friend who went to Fordham.
“…everybody was like, ‘Suits do you know who you just let in? Natalie Portman.’ So I’m like, ‘Who’s that?’ So Queen Amidala. This and that and she’s filming a movie called V, and I’m like, ‘So that’s her. Oh shit.’ I said, ‘Listen, she’s human just like you guys. Let her be.’ But I have to tell this story: So I’m at the front door, and I’m not paying attention to her, and I get a tap on my shoulder and its Natalie Portman. She goes, ‘Excuse me. There’s a boy over there running around with a dildo and hitting me in the head can you tell him to stop?’”
So he did. In two decades on the corner of Arthur and 189th, Suits has seen a community grow and change. But through it all, he has one message for Fordham students:
“I’m gonna be here a long time, but I care about them. Make sure they go home safe. … Suits cares for them.”
No one can question that. Suits forever.