A fundamental concession anyone who opts to attend a college in a town of 7500 implicitly makes is that his or her nightlife options will prove rather limited. Alas, this trade-off is highlighted by the bar scene found on the one-street downtown section of Williamstown, Spring Street. Whereas the Log has come to serve as more of a watering hole for well-to-do alums and their local equivalents, as highlighted by signature mocktails and expensive beer selection (see “Splitting the Log: an identity crisis,” Nov. 11, 2015) and the Purple Pub has coexisting functions as a family-friendly atmosphere and outlet for a reasonably priced Coors Lite, another purveyor of spirits has proudly picked up the mantle of the college bar: the Red Herring.
With students from the College serving as 90 percent of the establishment’s clientele, according to the Herring management, many Ephs past and present have dotted their tenures at the College with anecdotes from between the brick walls of the bar. For the past eight years, the first sight for patrons looking to imbibe and have a quality night was an intimidating yet friendly figure who prevented the underage and the overly inebriated alike from causing a ruckus within his establishment. That man was Cory Spencer, the Herring’s esteemed bouncer, who has officially given management notice that with the graduation of the Class of 2016 will come his departure from the bar.
Spencer, a native of neighboring North Adams, never quite anticipated he would be taking on a prominent role within the College community when he first came on as a bouncer. “I’ve been here eight years. This was my first attempt [to work as a bouncer] and I kind of just stayed here,” Spencer said. “[Interacting with students] is interesting. You need a break after a while, you really do. It’s good to have the separation over the course of the summer.”
Spencer’s job at the Herring has been part-time the whole way through, working Friday and Saturday nights and, until recently, Thursday nights as well. Spencer, accompanied by a coffee with four sugars from Dunkin’ Donuts upon arriving for his late shift, works during the week as a plumber’s apprentice: “I just dropped Thursdays [at the bar] because I’m actually going to start traveling down to New Haven, Conn. I’m spending two weeks down there, and then I’m in Worcester, Mass. for a couple weeks and Pittsfield for the time remaining after that until that job is done.”
In his night gig, Spencer has come to foster a sincere and lasting appreciation for the students he has come to know at College. “I know my regulars,” he proclaims proudly. Spencer is Facebook friends with a handful of both former and current student patrons and is always eager to bump into friendly faces at Homecoming and spring day-parties like Sensation Hoxsey and Pig Roast.
“People that don’t know the students and don’t know the actual facts about how many are on scholarships and stuff like that just think, ‘Oh, [you go to a] $60,000+ school, you’re privileged, you grew up [with] a silver spoon.’ And not everybody is like that,” Spencer said. “There are a few, of course, you get your one-percenters that come through without a doubt, but not every Williams student is a one-percenter.”
Nevertheless, Spencer concedes that, before coming to work at the bar, he thought similarly about the people who populate the College. “Absolutely, [my perception] has changed,” Spencer said. “I was kind of like, ‘Oh, these guys, they’re frickin’ ritzy-titzy little snob-bites. And now that I’ve been here eight years, I’ve really gotten to know that they’re not all like that.”
Above all else, what Spencer is most grateful for about the students with whom he interacts is the loyalty he senses from them. “I know they’ve got my back,” Spencer states confidently. “There was one time when we had a party upstairs with a DJ and stuff like that, and these guys from Pittsfield came in and just got a little belligerent at the end of the night. I had to raise my voice to them and tell them they had to roll, and I looked behind me and I saw three quarters of the bar standing in a circle [around me] like, ‘All right, we’ve got your back.’ So that was kind of cool to see that… We’re the college bar, simple as that. We have our clientele. They’re loyal. We’re loyal to them.”
These positive memories leave Spencer with some mixed feelings about departing from the bar, but the bouncer leaves with good reason, citing the travel he must do for his plumbing job and a desire to spend more time with his girlfriend and nine-year-old son. “Because of the travel and everything like that, I’ll be away from my family for a week at a time, and I kind of just want to be home with the family,” Spencer said. “There’ll still be Saturdays, I’ll come in at night and have a beer with the guys, stuff like that. Absolutely… I might be back. There might be a chance that I come back for quite a while, so we’ll see how it works out.”
As for what his beverage of choice may prove during these return visits to the Red Herring? “[Beer of choice] that we serve? It’s Guinness,” Spencer offered with no hesitation. Beyond that preference, Spencer declared that “I’m a cider guy, as far as malted beverages [go]… Liquors, that depends on my mood.”
And the greatest lessons he has extracted from his time at the Red Herring? First, “you show respect, you get respect – simple as that.” Second, “I try to get along with everybody. If you can’t get along with your coworkers then that causes a hostile environment and nobody wants to work there.”