Drinking scene absent from ’82 Grill

Between 11:15 p.m. and 12:15 a.m. last Friday night, about 25 students entered and exited the Paresky Center’s ’82 Grill. A few stayed to chat over pizza in small groups, while most ordered their food and left as soon as their buzzers went off. All of these visitors had something in common, however. According to Dining Services’ records, not a single Grill patron ordered a beer or a glass of wine that evening.

For Mike Cutler, Paresky Center manager, such an evening is not terribly unusual at the Grill. Dining Services’ records show that the Grill has served a total of 460 glasses of beer and 187 glasses of wine since Sept. 1, 2007, an average of about 80 alcoholic drinks per month. These numbers, combined with the large number of empty tables visitors often observe in the space during the evening hours, seem to confirm a reality that many students have commented on for months: the Grill is not serving as a major campus social destination.

Cutler does not see this situation as a particular surprise, or as a significant problem. “We’ve always seen the Grill as another food offering in Paresky,” he said. “We just thought we’d put the beer in it for the nights to make it feel more like a pub atmosphere.” He noted the Grill’s impressive numbers as a dining outlet, selling over 12,000 lunchtime personal pizzas since the beginning of September, along with well over 6000 large pizzas in the evenings.

“Is it a success? Yes it is,” he said. “We’re doing very well with lunches, and our pizza program is very successful.”

Many students have taken a less rosy view of the Grill. While few argue with Cutler’s assessment that its pizzas have been well received, many express disappointment for what they see as the Grill’s failure to serve as a palatable social space, a waste of its potential.

“I only go to get cheap pizza and I usually don’t even stay to eat it,” said Joe Song ’08. Song noted that he had initially hoped the Grill would serve the community like “an actual pub” where students and community members would gather and socialize in an informal setting. “I was excited that it might be a really cool hangout, like food, drink, watch a football game, play darts,” he said, describing his one-word reaction as “disappointed.”

Elizabeth Kohout ’08 echoed Song’s idea that the Grill seemed great in theory but had disappointed in practice. “I love the idea of a pizza pub where of-age and underage students can mingle,” she said. “But as things stand right now, I’d probably just as soon order from Colonial’s and hang out in my common room.”

Kohout and a number of others cited the Grill’s atmosphere and setup as a major deterrent to its becoming a campus social hub. “While the food is good, the atmosphere isn’t –

That bench that runs along the back wall is awkward and the overall setup tends to make me feel exposed,” Kohout said.

“Too sterile, no atmosphere,” Jon Stone ’08 said, adding that “if the pub were completely redesigned to have some sort of cool ‘theme,’ like an Irish pub or if it had wooden booths that mimicked a real bar, then it might actually be a destination for students.”

“My main beef is that the space is soulless,” said Jay Cox-Chapman ’09, who wrote a Record op-ed on the subject last month. “The long brick wall on the left as you walk in is utterly barren. They should break up the monotony with art or old posters.”

Cox-Chapman added that he hadn’t been to the Grill for a drink since turning 21 because “no one thinks ‘Sweet, I’m turning 21, meet you at the ’82 Grill!’”

The student pub, on campus

A number of students cited the Log, located near the bottom of Spring Street, as an example of the cozy, comfortable atmosphere the Grill should aspire to if it’s to become a social destination. The Log served as the campus’s popular pub for College students, faculty, staff and alumni for many years.

While the Log has retained its liquor license and is still available for groups to reserve it for alcohol-serving events, the building no longer serves the campus as a pub. The transition in function from bar to just-another-space-to-book took place during the late 80s.

Alums from the 1970s and 80s often recall the Log as “the place to be” for socializing, though beer was the only alcoholic drink available. A 1977 poll by the Log Committee even revealed that only 13 percent of people who consumed alcohol at the Log bothered to frequent other town drinking establishments.

“In general it was the social place,” said Thomas Geilfuss ’74, who worked as a bouncer at the Log during the 1974-5 academic year. “Friends from different parts of the campus would meet there – it was central. People were willing to drink and enjoy the social time with friends. There were a few hardcore regulars. I don’t know if any of them passed their courses – I know a couple who didn’t – but we became close lifelong friends.”

Geilfuss noted that part of the reason for the Log’s centrality in the campus social fabric was the fact that nearly everyone enrolled at the College could get in, as the legal drinking age was eighteen. “I really only had to check the IDs of freshmen,” he said.

The situation changed considerably when Massachusetts raised that minimum to 21 in June 1985. After the switch, everyone’s IDs were checked carefully at the door to prevent students under the age of 21 from entering, cutting a large percentage of the pub’s patrons, and pitchers of beer were eliminated from the menu to help moderate drinking. In addition, the College appointed a full-time Dining Services employee to be the building’s primary manager. This was a change from years past, when the space had been managed by a recent Williams alum chosen by the Log Committee.

Incidentally, it was Cutler who took the Log manager job in the fall of 1985. He served in that role for four years, and remained closely involved with the building’s functioning until 1991. According to Cutler, the Log remained popular for a few of those years, seeing significant use for parties hosted by student groups and a cappella concerts.

“For awhile, if we did an event there it would always draw 100 people or more,” Cutler said. By the end of his tenure, however, “student involvement faded. Kids stopped showing up, stopped organizing events there – people started to say it was just too far away.”

In the years that followed, the Log still hosted some events, but wasn’t one of the College’s foremost social spaces. By the time Paresky opened, even many of-age students associated the building with nervous room draw nights above all else.

Cutler doesn’t aspire to recreate the old party-center Log in the Grill. “I don’t think the plan was ever to make it the replacement for the Log,” he said. “That’s not the purpose.”

However, he did indicate that he’d be open to changing aspects of the Grill’s decorating scheme if he saw enough student demand for it.
“This is a student building and it needs to reflect student interests,” he said, noting that ideas like adding a TV and booths had been discussed among Dining Services employees, though they hadn’t heard a big student push for them to this point.

Doug Schiazza, director of Campus Life, confirmed this conclusion. “I think Paresky would be very open to it [adding decorations to the Grill],” Schiazza said, adding that while students hadn’t made requests for such changes to his office yet, “maybe we could be better about sharing the possibility and opportunity to do that.”