Two weeks ago, I turned 21. An exciting age, for sure – some even say it’s the last one you look forward to. My uncle, Dennis Chapman ’69, wrote me the following e-mail: ”Happy #21!! I hope you have a good day. Aunt Anne and I want to buy you a legal drink; we can send you cash or some credit at your favorite watering hole in Billsville.” Hmm, I thought. Where would that be?
I directed him to the Red Herring, the one bar on Spring Street, and immediately took advantage of his kind offer with a delicious pint of Berkshire Brewing Company’s Steel Rail Ale. My uncle’s suggestion set me thinking about the depressing state of watering holes in Billsville more generally.
With the smoky demise of the Purple Pub, along with Subway and A Perfect Blend, (making last spring’s fire a triple tragedy for student life on Spring Street), 21-year-olds were left with the Herring and the new ’82 Grill. The Log, the former student-frequented, College-owned pub on Spring Street, is no longer open for regular use because of noise complaints and liability concerns. One trip to the Log and you can see what the over 21-year-olds have lost. The Log’s homey wooden walls are covered in Williamstown memorabilia, from old railway signs to reunion banners to a fascinating array of antique beer bottles. You can almost feel past generations of Williams students in the place.
The Log’s supposed replacement, the ’82 Grill in the basement of Paresky, has no such aura. In theory it should serve as a good substitute: enjoy a beer while your underage friends have a soda, feed multiple friends with a large pizza off of dinner points and pretend you’re off campus by settling into the den-like basement room of the student center.
Unfortunately, it very rarely works like that, and the problem is the design and decoration of the room. I have to admit that the pizza is quite delicious and that I’m impressed with the selection of beers on tap at reasonable prices. That said, it’s hard to enjoy even good pizza and beer in that sterile space.
The room is too stark. Though the brick walls work – they pull in the brick oven of the pizzeria and separate the room from the rest of the building – they’re noticeably and uncomfortably bare. The walls need posters, student artwork, WCMA posters, signs like those at the Log – anything that would break up the length of the wall, pull people toward the back of the room or inject some small references to tradition. As it now stands, there’s a dead space at the back of the room where people feel squeezed by the room’s elliptical shape and the end of the counter.
Another way to break up the length of the wall, make the space more private and improve the efficiency of the seating would be to replace the long bench opposite the bar with booths. In the snack bar, an extremely popular place to hang out and do work, the booths always get taken well before the rest of the room fills up. Big groups will even squeeze together in order to sit by the window and just hang out. I love sitting lengthwise on the bench and reading with my back against the wall. Booths would heighten the pizzeria/pub atmosphere and make the whole space much more cozy and inviting.
As a tour guide, I often have prospective students will ask me how I can possibly manage to live in this tiny town, away from “anything to do.” While I happen to disagree strongly that there’s nothing to do, the College should help make the question unnecessary by investing in making the ’82 Grill a more welcoming and enjoyable option for hanging out. At the very least, more options for enjoying traditional beverages – and especially an opportunity to do so where my underage friends can get in to sit with me – would improve the quality of student life. For a college community that laments the lack of casual socializing and dating, we should be working as hard as we can to provide those settings.
When you’re underage you often see your older friends clap someone else on the back and invite him out for a beer. Going out for my first pint last week and hanging out with a group of friends who might not otherwise have been together, I saw why sitting around and talking while nursing a beer is so important. The College should put some money into the ’82 Grill to make that a reality for everyone – give the older students another good option, and give everyone a new place to hang out. Whether they’re drinking beer or root beer, at least they’ll be together.
Jay Cox-Chapman ’09 is an American studies major from Hartford, Conn.