November 3, 2022

KEMPFF | We Need More College Bars

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As the line wraps down Eddy Street, you might mistake it for a hot Manhattan nightclub. The kids are dressed in designer clothes, eager to spend daddy’s AMEX on the most well-known cocktail in Ithaca. It’s Fishbowl night at Level B, named after the infamous multicolored bowl proudly served every Wednesday night. Underclassmen make the long journey from North Campus to taste the delicate flavors of a red solo cup full of vodka mix. 

Avoiding Fishbowl Wednesdays is a point of pride among upperclassmen. It’s disappointing, however, that Fishbowls are often among the few experiences that undergraduates will have with Ithaca bars. 

Cornell stands out for its lack of college bar culture. Although it may sound counterproductive, rebuilding a Collegetown bar scene should be promoted as a way to foster a better community at Cornell. 

Those who live in Collegetown know that there are three main bars: Hideaway, Loco and Level B. Hideaway and Loco generally skew toward the older crowd, while younger students frequent Level B. Occasionally, students might be drawn to adventure, such as heading down to the commons to visit Moonies (which most of us associate with Ithaca College). 

There was a time when things were different. Alumni like to remember a time back when Collegetown wasn’t filled with luxury apartments and bars lined the blocks of College Avenue. Back then, when the drinking age was a little looser and pre-games weren’t the dominant way to drink, bars used to be the center of social life. Establishments such as the Palms are faintly remembered, long since torn down and replaced by high rises. 

But it’s not like this in every Collegetown. Not long ago, I found myself visiting a close friend of mine at a BIG 10 state school campus. I was shocked to learn that much of their college life revolves around the bar scene. And the benefits seemed clear to me. 

The bars are a communal place to go out, one where students can leave the social hierarchies to be on the same playing field. The exclusiveness of fraternity parties and the cliqueness of Greek Life means much less in a bar. 

Bars, to my friends in the BIG 10, are a safer way to socialize. They’re well-monitored and staffed by professionals, leading to them feeling safer than at, say, a frat party. 

Bars bring much of the excitement back to college. A big part of college is the opportunity to make new friends. It’s easy, however, to fall into the same social ruts. You hang out with the same people in your Greek organization or social group every night. On the off chance, such as a short planned dinner or a quick chat in the library, you might be able to catch up with your freshmen year friends.

The benefit of bars is that they foster these connections. They’re fun, built for dancing, talking or doing whatever you want without the social pressures often found at college mixers. 

Many people see the rebirth of Collegetown bars as extremely difficult. Tighter restrictions on the drinking age have likely hurt the potential bar market. But my investigation at other colleges’ bars found a way around this. 

One potential strategy is to identify underage students by some type of marking or wristband when entering the bar. This would allow these students to socialize with upperclassmen without being able to purchase drinks. I believe this would foster a better sense of community by allowing multiple class years to socialize with one another.

Collegetown feels filled by the ghosts of the bars that once were there. When we see the crowd lining up at Level B, the upperclassmen like to laugh. But the sheer lack of bar events speaks to the poor bar culture that exists here in Ithaca. To help foster a better Cornell community, let’s focus on the bars. 

Brendan Kempff is a senior in the Hotel School. He can be reached at [email protected] Slope Side runs every other Thursday this semester.