On a languid Friday evening in early June, the West Village street where Marianne Moore once penned modernist poems and Theodore Dreiser scribbled his novels was hushed and serene, like the setting for an E.M. Forster adaptation. (And, in fact, the British novelist stayed there for a time in 1947.) Dewy young couples ambled amorously down the block, while the occasional dog-walker paraded past an elegant row of Italianate townhouses. Gingko trees rustled, a wind chime jingled lazily. And, of course, people slept, secure in the knowledge that their high rents and million-dollar mortgages were worth it for a place on Leroy Street.
Shortly before midnight, however, a loud syncopated noise began wafting from the third- and fourth-floor windows of No. 57, a faded 1890’s walk-up that is home to New York University’s chapter of the Delta Phi fraternity. Bursts of laughter exploded from the building, followed by a spirited round of “Happy Birthday.” There were a few cheers, some barbaric yawps and then, above it all, an unintelligible chanting that grew louder and louder until the words finally materialized into that time-honored hymn of fraternal bonding: ” Go-go-go-go-go-go-go: Drrrrriiiiiiink!!!!!”
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 57 Leroy Street-home of the West Village’s own Animal House!
Throughout the past year, a band of 12 wild-and-crazy Delta Phi’s have been living the party life at what they call the “Leroy Mansion,” binging on beer, chanting in togas, and generally engaging in the kind of hormones-on-steroids rituals that seem to define so much of modern frat-boy life. (It should be noted, however, that the D-Phi’s do not engage in panty raids, because at N.Y.U. “you have to get past guard men and doormen,” one brother said.) Crammed into their two-floor frat’s nest, they have taken over nearly half the building-and become the scourge of many of their neighbors.
Seni, a shaggy-haired frat brother with a slow surfer drawl, described the recent Friday-evening fracas as he lounged in the Delta Phi lair two days later.
“We were having a party,” he said. “We chant a lot-you know, just get up in the spirit of the moment and, like, whatever. If someone starts something, everyone just kind of hops on the boat.”
“Yeah,” added a frat brother nicknamed Hesh. “‘Puking makes you cool.’ That’s one of our favorites.”
Never mind that the Delta Phi’s aren’t nearly as bad as the meathead Pike boys (Pi Kappa Alphas), or that they’re more apt to have a “C.E.O.’s and Tennis Girls” party than, say, a K-Y jelly wrestling match (it’s all relative, folks). In a neighborhood of aging bohemians and nouveau yuppies, where “frat boy” is one of the worst insults a guy can hurl at his neighbor, the Delta Phi’s have exploded like a bad prank.
“It’s been hell, pure hell, because I think I get most of the noise out of anyone,” said Steve Sidoruk, a gray-haired waiter who lives on the second floor of the tenement, directly below the Delta brothers’ romping grounds. “They have parties, and they come in and out all night long, screaming in the middle of the night, chanting whatever their fraternity chants are. I constantly call the police.”
“I call 311 all the time and issue noise complaints,” added Abby Corcoran, a 25-year-old Dartmouth grad who also lives below the frat. “We swear for a while they had a bowling alley above us, because we can’t think of anything else that sounds like it. It was like bowling and then pins falling.
“Sometimes,” she continued, “I’ve gone up there and said, ‘Can you shut up?’ And they’ve been like, ‘What’s your phone number?’ I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me!”
Well, maybe. But if there’s one thing the Delta Phi’s take seriously, it’s girls. And while the brothers may not be the most sensitive guys on Leroy Street, they’re not completely oblivious to the havoc they’ve heaped on their neighbors, either.
“Yeah, they hate us,” said Hesh, smirking sheepishly beneath his blue Yankees cap. “But it’s like we pay rent, too. If you’ve got 12 guys living in your building, you’re making $120,000 a year just off us. That gives us some right to this space.”
It was shortly before 9 on a steamy Sunday evening, and Hesh was holding court from a ratty blue sofa that had been jacked onto a box spring and pushed to the back of a dark den that looked like it had been mauled by a pack of voracious rats. There was a “Fraternity Row” sign on the wall and everywhere the Masonic-voodoo stamp of the Delta Phi insignia. The whole place reeked vaguely of something, but if Hesh smelled it, it didn’t seem to bother him or the three other D-Phi’s who had gathered to talk about life in the country’s oldest continuing social fraternity. (“We’ve been around for like 160 years; we have like a history in this city,” said one brother, rattling off the names of alumni like John Jacob Astor and “the guy that started the YMCA.”)
“There’s been concessions made on both ends,” said Hesh, who graduated in May and will soon move from the frat, resuming his exegesis on intra-building relations. “We’ve put carpet down and we really try to have parties on like Fridays and Saturdays when people expect them.”
Seni, who was sitting on a nearby couch, looked at his flip-flops and laughed nervously. “I don’t know-it’s a tough situation,” he said, shaking his head. “I mean, if I looked at it from their point of view, if I was like 40 or something and had to deal with all that, I would probably be about as pissed as they are.”
A bleary voice shot out from the darkness. “I’d go upstairs and party with them,” said the voice, which turned out to belong to a groggy-looking sophomore named Mike. “If I was 40, I would make friends with the frat. I would be like a big loser and hang out with teenagers all day.”
The room splintered into laughter.
Rats, Fights and Tears
The story of how a rowdy frat-pack like Delta Phi wound up living in the heart of Old Bohemia-on a coveted block between Hudson Street and Seventh Avenue-begins roughly six years ago, when N.Y.U. booted the college’s five biggest fraternities, including D-Phi, from their longtime headquarters at 3-5 Washington Place. The move was part of a larger N.Y.U. demolition-and-expansion plan, but some conspiracy-minded Greeks saw it as evidence of a broader project to clamp down on Hellenic life. “Basically, [fraternities] are not on their most-favorite list,” said Seni. “They have like a 10-year plan to get rid of everybody or something.”
N.Y.U. has denied this, but when it decided to move the Greeks to a dorm on the cusp of Chinatown-after shuffling them from one temporary site to another for several years-the D-Phi’s decided to strike out on their own. They contacted their local alumni foundation, which was only too happy to set up a special Delta Phi housing corporation to act as a conduit for the young brothers’ rent. And in June 2004, the happy Deltas moved into 57 Leroy Street, becoming the only undergraduate fraternity with an off-campus crash pad. The price of this little piece of heaven: $11,000 per brother per year.
“Basically, none of us really wanted to deal with being in Chinatown, and we’re not that [into] the Greek system to begin with, so we were just like ‘Whatever’ and got our own place,” explained Seni, who studies marketing and international business when he’s not in frat-bro mode. “Plus, you’re kind of outside the jurisdiction of the school, so you have more freedom.”
And indeed, the Delta Phi’s have sucked the marrow out of that freedom. Once known as the ” Star Trek frat” by some of their more macho Greek peers, they have managed to parlay their off-campus digs into a new reputation as the “diverse,” “decent-guy” frat that also happens to throw raging parties. (“The frat house is supposed to be amazing,” cooed one sophomore girl who had clearly never visited the Leroy Mansion.) To this day, young N.Y.U.’ers still twitter about the nonstop “Welcome Week” party that the Delta dudes held at the beginning of the last school year. And by the second semester, the mansion had generated enough buzz that the D-Phi’s turned out one of the largest spring-rush classes of all the fraternities, Seni said. (A sample of the spring-rush activities? Hooters Night and an “Old Men and School Girls” theme party.)
But if off-campus living has been a boon for the D-Phi’s and their social life, it’s wreaked hell on their neighbors’ slumbers. True, a few residents of 57 Leroy said the situation improved after the euphoria of rush week ended, while others said the noise was nothing a good pair of earplugs couldn’t fix. But a hefty handful gnashed their teeth at the mere mention of the boys upstairs. Even neighbors from adjoining buildings said they have lost sleep.
“Their window is always open, so it really is like living in a dorm with them, practically,” said a young woman who shares an airshaft with the brothers and asked not to be identified, because she feared they might egg her door in retaliation. “It’s not just music, but the whole chanting of ‘Drink-drink-drink!’ And there’s always a girl who’s drunk and crying about her boyfriend, and there’s always a testosterone-drunken fight at like 3 or 4 in the morning.”
But weeping girlfriends and brawling frat brothers are really only the beginning of the neighbors’ woes. During the last 10 months, the residents of 57 Leroy Street have racked up a whole keg full of complaints, from loose garbage to rancid odors to rat sightings in the Dumpster outside the building. (They have been spared lice and boils, however.)
And then there have been the floods. Of the nine non-frat apartments in the building, at least three have been deluged by massive leaks caused by everything from an overflowing washing machine to, yes, an overflowing toilet. These tenants have reported waking up to streams of water gushing down the walls of their kitchen or bathroom, followed by peeling paint and ceilings “dipped in brown” (don’t ask). In two instances, the ceilings have actually fallen in.
“There was this huge crash, and the entire ceiling in the bathroom just fell from the sheetrock,” recalled one hapless downstairs neighbor, Stuart Jennings. “So I went upstairs, and this dude answers the door and was like, ‘Oh, yeah, the toilet gets stuck sometimes, and somebody let it get stuck before we went to bed, so it overflowed all night.'”
Still, for all this, the landlord, Dave Vadehra, doesn’t seem inclined to bring his foot down on the Delta Phi’s. While some neighbors said they’ve complained a number of times, Mr. Vadehra insisted that life at 57 Leroy has been all happiness and harmony of late. “What is the problem with fraternities, by the way?” he asked, sounding genuinely perplexed. “My daughter said the same thing. When I rented it, she said, ‘You’ll have a problem with these kids.’ I don’t even understand why my daughter said that.”
The local Delta Phi alumni foundation president, Jay Tall, was equally eager to back up his boys. “It’s very easy to scapegoat fraternities,” he said, noting that the apartment’s previous tenants-a group of college grads turned Wall Street jocks-had garnered their own share of complaints during their stay on Leroy Street. He also said that the only leak that he’d heard of came from a plumbing problem in another apartment, not from the brothers.
“We’re an easy target for people who are unhappy … but being in a fraternity is not about partying, it’s about keeping up the tradition,” Mr. Tall continued. “Our graduates go on to do things: We have doctors and lawyers and people in the federal government, so we expect a certain standard from them.”
Of course, N.Y.U. also expects a certain standard from its young charges, said Bob Butler, the director of N.Y.U.’s Office of Student Affairs. It expects them to be good citizens, to be good scholars and, yes, to be good neighbors. And when they’re not, the university responds by-well, Mr. Butler wasn’t entirely certain.
“In terms of a fraternity living off-campus, this would be a new situation for us,” he said, after confessing that his office had only recently learned that the fraternity had opened an off-campus frat pad. “Because we’ve never had this situation, we will be looking at this scenario and seeing if there are any additional policies or procedures we would need to implement to be able to address this in the future.”
Mr. Butler tried again: “Now that this is coming to light, and particularly in light of the neighbors, we will look at what steps we need to take to make sure they are good neighbors.”
If these aren’t exactly the kind of words a group of freedom-loving frat boys dreams of hearing, the D-Phi’s shouldn’t worry too much. After all, as they’ve said, they value their neighbors just as much as any other college co-ed.
“If they have a problem, they let us know, and we try to do everything we can,” said Hesh as he gazed earnestly across the Leroy Mansion living room. “We want to peacefully co-exist, because we plan on staying.”