Then and now: the Pub and the Rat
Read alumni memories—and share your own—about the for Phelps Pub and the Rat. Plus, a “Looking back” photo gallery of archival photos from both locations.
The Pub’s opening in November 1973 dramatically changed the social atmosphere of the College, recalled Allie Meehan ’75. “It gave students a place to hang out, have a beer, listen to music, and enjoy themselves” without having to drive off campus to do so, the former Pub employee said.
At first the Pub shared space with the Rhodora Theater, which was located in the original Phelps Hall. That theater, which opened in October 1971, featured a coffeehouse-type atmosphere and live entertainment for students. However the Pub quickly outgrew this space and moved across the hall to the Phelps snack bar area. The new location more than doubled the size of the old one, and offered an extended bar, a spacious dance floor, and better acoustics.
Bob Carr ’73, the longtime manager of the Pub and the Rat, recalled that Happy Hour on Wednesday afternoons always drew a crowd, and Friday and Saturday nights could get pretty busy. But Thursdays were the “party night” in those days, he said. Even non-TSC students knew that the Pub was the place to be on Thursdays, Carr said, explaining that people would come from as far away as Ft. Dix and try to get TSC students to sign them in just so they could party in the Pub.
“There’d be lines of people 50 yards long waiting to get in,” Carr remembered. A Signal article from the time reported that, while the Pub could comfortably seat about 450 people, attendance figures on Thursday nights were often “closer to 700 or 800.”
All in all, working at the Pub was “a lot of fun,” Carr said, and as he remembered it, the students were for the most part “well behaved.” But he did recall one night when things got a little crazy. Carr said he had the night off, and left a student manager in charge. That manager, along with the bartender and the doorman who were working, thought it would be a good idea to have a “male go-go night,” Carr said. While he wasn’t there to witness it, and had nothing to do with it occurring, Carr said he heard plenty about it from his boss the next day.
“I almost lost my job,” Carr said, before adding with a laugh, “Needless to say, the student manager lost his job. Somebody had to take the rap for it.”
In addition to being the only place on campus where you could (legally) buy a beer, the Pub also offered students the chance to listen to great music, Meehan recalled. There is one impromptu performance that sticks out in his mind above all the rest. In February 1974, he and some friends had just gotten back to campus from dinner and decided to stop in the Pub for a drink. Sitting at the Pub’s piano was none other than Billy Joel, who was scheduled to play a concert in Kendall Hall that night. Joel’s equipment van had gotten stuck in a snowstorm, and the “Piano Man” decided to rehearse for the show using the Pub’s piano, Meehan explained.
When the Rat opened in 1976, TSC students had two on-campus watering holes from which to choose. Rather than compete for business, the two establishments offered distinctly different vibes.
“The Rat had a calmer environment, whereas the Pub remained the party place,” remembered Lynn Braender ’82, a student manager of the Rat in the 1970s and 1980s who is now a professor in the School of Business.
Both locations thrived, and as Meehan explained, “They were the place to be on campus. Guys met their future wives there. Girls met their future husbands.”
But when the drinking age was raised to 21 in 1983, there weren’t enough students of legal drinking age to keep both establishments going. Since the Rat was the newer location and had more atmosphere and amenities to offer—“The Rat was built for something and served food; the Pub was just an old snack bar,” explained Meehan—the Pub closed for business in 1984. The Phelps location was occasionally used afterward for special events and concerts.
It wasn’t long before the long lines that once formed outside the Pub were forming outside the Rat. Delana Styres Fiadino ’88, a Rat waitress in her undergrad days, said one of the “perks” of her job was that she got to bypass those lines. Another perk: her student customers were great tippers.
“I’d serve them a $1 plate of fries and get a $1 tip on it,” she remembered.
But Styres Fiadino’s favorite memory of the Rat was meeting her husband, Dean ’86, there—in a roundabout way. Although Dean graduated a couple of years before Delana, he was often in the Rat due to his job as a Budweiser rep, Delana said. The two didn’t connect at the time, but Dean definitely caught Delana’s eye. “He stood out because he always wore suits, and no one wore suits in the Rat,” Delana said. Years later when a mutual friend introduced them, Delana remembered the handsome guy in the suit who she would always see when she worked in the Rat.
With its central location and cheap (but tasty) food, the Rat’s popularity continued to grow. By the late 1990s, if you stopped in on a Friday afternoon for that $1 plate of fries, “you’d probably have to wait an hour or so for it,” said Chris Bowman ’99, because the mealtime rushes often meant the Rat would be standing-room or to-go only. But “you didn’t find better food on campus for the money,” Bowman said. “The amount of food we went through some days was staggering,” he noted, adding that Patty’s Porker, “a heart-attack-inducing pork roll sandwich,” and the Chicken Club Gambler were perennial favorites with customers.
Bowman, who worked in the Rat from “1997 until well after graduation,” said Friday afternoon into evening was “hands down our busiest time.” Open Mic nights, which started during his tenure (and continue to this day) always brought a crowd, as did bands. (Bowman said he saw both “amazing student talent” and more well-known acts such as G. Love & Special Sauce, Jill Sobule, Less than Jake, and 12:01 play in the Rat.)
Another event that always drew a crowd was the semi-annual “Monday Massacre,” the unofficial name given to the day after the fall and spring sports seasons ended, when students converged on the Rat. “Needless to say, we went through many kegs on those kinds of days,” Bowman recalled.
Echoing Meehan’s earlier comments, Bowman said the Rat continued to be “the place to be” on campus well into this decade, but also added that, for him at least, the place was something more.
“It was home,” he said. “So much of my college life—and after—was spent either at the Rat or hanging out with people from the Rat. It’s something I will always treasure.”
Share your recollections of the Pub and the Rat below, or e-mail them to us at email@example.com and we will print a collection of them in the next magazine. Plus, click here to view a photo gallery of archival Pub and Rat photos.
Posted on May 27, 2010