The year is 1984. The legal drinking age in Iowa rises to 21. The state’s largest vendor of beer, according to legend, loses three-quarters of its customers. Two years later, the Grinnell College campus pub closes.
Over the past two years, students have worked with the College administration to reinstate a pub on campus. The College stipulated that such a place must be open to all members of the campus community, while diligently maintaining College policy and upholding the law. Leading into this year, a committee of students looked into the logistics of implementing these precepts, while the administration secured a space in the basement of the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center and began construction. Thanks to a cooperative administration and student leadership (not to blow my own bugle — but did I forget to mention I’m the manager?), our new and completely student-run pub opened in February 2008 with a mission to provide a safe, comfortable atmosphere for the campus community.
Inside the pub, exposed ceiling, globe lamps, and a section of cement wall create an industrial feel, contrasting with the neon fixtures and cool dark colors. We named it Lyle’s, after campus celebrity Lyle Bauman, a friendly dining hall manager known for his immense hospitality, which even extends to cookouts on his farm. A student-commissioned portrait of Lyle dominates the far wall, watching over the nightly activity like some amiable Big Brother. In the painting, Lyle wears his typical big smile as he leans against a backdrop of fresh lime-green tiles of the dining hall elevator.
Other decorations change with the times, but there’s currently an exhibit of student photographs on one wall, while quite a few boxes of chalk have been liberally put to use by patrons on the cement wall. “Join us, it’s bliss,” one piece opines, swimming in the midst of a few colorful, somewhat-amorphous fish and an octopus.
The chalk also finds its way to the bar, often with pretty interesting results. The counter is a slate surface that appears to be recycled sections of old lab tables that had probably seen 20 years of science experiments before moving into their surprisingly natural-looking new role. The rest of the bar seems to be similarly cobbled together from spare parts. Just beneath its slate surface, the bar features nice finished wood trim, while sheets of corrugated metal cover the frame under the counter. The bar’s brick base doubles as a footrest. In spite of this apparently random fabrication, the components of the bar fit well together aesthetically. And to a certain degree, its unconventional construction makes it original, augmented by the chalk scrawls, messages, and drawings that appear in the course of an evening.
Activities at the pub, however, include more than impromptu art sessions. The pub has hosted numerous concerts by both student and touring performance groups. Most notable would be our opening night pairing of a student klezmerpunk band with a student jam band. The pub hosted a trivial pursuit tournament between academic disciplines, as well as a weekly pub quiz game symbiotically run by the manager of Bob’s, the latenight student coffeehouse.
Even when there aren’t events going on at the pub, it’s great to have a small place on campus where I can always expect to see a few buddies. Whether I’m going in to get a little homework done, working behind the bar, just relaxing with friends, or picking up a half-finished crossword puzzle, the pub has a chill atmosphere where I can choose exactly how I want to spend my time.
While the pub is a nice, familiar spot, it’s also a focal point on campus where I can meet people whose paths I would never cross elsewhere. As an English major who got most of his time in Noyce out of the way early by pretending to be a physics major first year, there are a fair number of science junkies I had never met until we started running into each other in the pub. These sorts of run-ins can lead to a whole discussion where we map out mutual friends, professors, stomping grounds, and life philosophies. These kinds of experiences have shown me how even a fairly small, social space on campus can exhibit itself as a microcosm of the amazing diversity at this school.
And this diversity does not apply solely to the students; even professors come to the pub. After talks, meetings, class-days, and especially at the end of semesters, it’s great to have a central meeting spot where the dynamic is a little different.
Conor McGee '08 is an English major from Oshkosh, Wisconsin.