Last week I had my first beer from the Rathskeller, or as many people would say, my first “Rat beer.” For a lot of us upperclassmen, the ability to enjoy Rat beers is a sign of our seniority and also of the short time we have left at the College. There was once a time, however, when this was not the case — when almost every undergraduate student could legally go and have a beer on campus. These were the days of the Pub.
In the mid ’70s to early ’80s, the Pub was the place to be. When it opened it November 1973 in the original Phelps Hall (a student union building), it gave students a place to go and be social. Many photos in editions of The Seal (the College yearbook) from those years show that the place was frequently packed full and lines would form outside the door with students waiting for a spot inside. According to an article from The Signal during that time, the Pub was able to comfortably seat about 450 people, but often seated “closer to 700 or 800,” particularly on Thursday nights (the “going out” night).
The Pub was not a place for students to sit around drinking, however (well, it wasn’t just for that). There were performances as well, which weren’t limited to just students. Most of these consisted of small musical gigs, but others were of a different nature. For example, a young Billy Crystal once showcased his comedic talents at the Pub.
While there were other campus eating locations before the Pub (which, along with drinks, served food similar to that found in the Rat today), its true predecessor was the Hillwood Inn. According to “Ewing Township,” a history book by Jo Ann Tesauro, the Inn was purchased in 1928 as one of the original buildings on the campus’ current location. Located next to the lakes, it had a small boardwalk in addition to the sprawling restaurant and dance hall inside.
For almost 25 years, the Inn was the social hub on campus. Students went there to eat, drink and associate with others outside the classroom. Once it was replaced by Phelps in 1955, its loss was bemoaned by many, including the 1956 Seal editors who sadly wrote: “That atmosphere of friendliness once conveyed by its deep brown wood and rough brick fireplace is absent from our evening meals these days.”
Today we have multiple dining locations and campus social areas. Nevertheless, the Rathskeller remains the closest thing to the atmosphere once provided by the Pub and the Inn. Opening in 1976 (inside the recently constructed Brower Student Center) the Rat actually coexisted with the Pub for several years. During those years, however, many states were raising the drinking age. In 1983, New Jersey decided to join in, which drastically decreased the amount of students on campus who were legally able to purchase alcohol. As a result, the College could no longer afford to keep two campus bars open and running. The Pub was shut down the following year, and the original Phelps Hall has since been demolished.
Some of these past images can of course be compared to scenes that we see today with the Rat. On most afternoons around lunch time — or for many underclassmen, the bewitching “meal equiv” hour — the place is overly crowded with students clamoring to place orders. On certain nights, performances on the Rat stage still bring decent crowds.
So my classmates, keep the social spirit of the old days alive and take your friends to grab a meal or see a show at the Rat sometime before the inevitable day of graduation is upon you. Oh, and be sure to enjoy a Rat beer before you go.