In the countdown of events to Commencement, the senior class celebrated its final Lerner Pub this Thursday. This celebration was very different from the ones that have happened in the past, and that’s understandable—Lerner Pub today is vastly different from its predecessors.
Lerner Pub is a fantastic idea, but it pales in comparison to the Columbia-sanctioned social venues that once characterized Columbia’s social atmosphere. In many ways, its shortcomings, especially in relation to the proud Columbia traditions that came before it, are no fault of the student councils. But there are some steps we could take short-term improvements that would go a long way.
In 1939, University President Nicholas Murray Butler inaugurated a student bar in the basement of John Jay Hall called the Lion’s Den. In 1960, the Lion’s Den moved into the new student center, Ferris Booth Hall, with bowling lanes and a penny arcade, open to frequent student bookings and school-organized events. In 1993, an alumnus established an additional student sports bar in Ferris Booth Hall called the Pluck. These venues were hallmarks of campus social life, offering comfortable spaces for students to responsibly consume alcohol with minimal regulation.
In Ferris Booth’s twilight years, Furnald Pub became the new campus-sanctioned watering hole for seniors. After Furnald was remodeled in 1996, Furnald Pub events became “no more than two fold-away tables” and three cans of Budweiser per senior—still more than is served at today’s Lerner Pub. With the transformation of Furnald into a first-year dorm in 2000, Furnald Pub closed its doors altogether, with a weekly Lerner Pub proposed that same year—now it’s only monthly.
During this period, other campus spaces for drinking were policed. In the ’80s and early ’90s, drinking on the Steps and lawns was prohibited, a policy strictly enforced in accordance with New York City laws on public drinking and the new drinking age. The early 2000s also saw the collapse of the West End (now occupied by Havana Central), a legendary Columbia bar frequented by fabled alumni from Jack Kerouac to Barack Obama, CC ’83. Real tailgating was banned in 2005, replaced with a policy that alcohol could only be consumed in an awkwardly placed and carefully policed enclosure near the football stadium.
What made these historic social landmarks—the Lion’s Den, Ferris Booth Hall, and the Steps (as they once were)—so special? They allowed Columbia students to bond together and have a good time while encouraging safety. Today’s Lerner Pub plays music so loudly, so early in the evening, that it’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation with your peers. Much of the time is spent frustrated, standing in lines in order to have two IDs carefully inspected for admission and to get flat beer. The two-drink maximum—mandated by Columbia—is low. The event space is so large and so few people actually attend, that friend groups tend to form disparate clusters instead of meeting new people.
By revamping Lerner Pub, Columbia can match its once-great commitment to student social life. A look at recent history shows that young alumni enjoyed campus-sanctioned sports bars and pubs, arcades and bowling alleys, tailgates and storied Columbia venues. We may not have The West End or a winning football team, but Lerner Pub can fill that void. Students should have a shared social space to look forward to senior year and look back on after graduation. Because, let’s be real—whether it’s in Lerner Party Space or 1020, Columbians are sure to hold fast to the spirits of youth.
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