Brooklyn College Last Call on Bar Culture

Storage area and former bar in basement of student center. / Paul Frangipane

The year is 1980, and Brooklyn College is having its first ever annual beer drinking contest, “Chugathon 1980,” and the winners get to face off for the CUNY title.

In the basement of the student center, there is a bar. It is stocked with cases of Heineken and Corona, next to coolers, classic silver mixers and wine openers. The white fluorescent-lit yellow walls don’t often see the outside world, as they are bound behind a silver locked gate.

“That basement is a relic of that ideal in the early ‘60s, where you didn’t really think of drinking as being a bad thing that was detrimental to your studies that could destroy young lives, which is the narrative that we get today,” Joe Fodor of the Brooklyn College Foundation said. “It was more a part of your college experience.”

The gated-off bar in the often-empty basement of the center holds beer and bar supplies for planned events for faculty and graduate students, that must be consumed within the confines of the student center.

Bar supplies in basement of student center. / Paul Frangipane

Back when the drinking age in New York was 19, the campus was flooded with around 35,000 students, nearly twice the amount of students on campus today. The alcohol and drug culture was a part of the campus life, with an open-minded outlook on bar culture, the students and faculty would often congregate at the corner of Campus Road and Avenue H, where the popular restaurant, Ovi’s Place operates today.

The Jolly Bull Pub replaced the Campus Cafe in the 1960s, and it became the big place to socialize and have a beer after (or before) class. It was eventually replaced by Ovi’s, which doesn’t even serve alcohol.

In 1962, the student center was built and funded by students, charging a fee in the 1950s from all students. At this time, the Jolly Bull Pub was coupled with Brooklyn College’s own bar right in the basement of SUBO.

“Chugathon 1980,” was sponsored by a beer company that was set up tournament-style across all of CUNY.

That was the culture; lots of hair, drinking, drugs, protests and graffiti, right on campus. This all came crumbling down in 1984 when Mothers Against Drunk Driving pressured the federal government to raise the drinking age.

Various cases of beers in storage of student center. / Paul Frangipane

States would lose 10 percent of their highway funds from the National Minimum Drinking Age Act if they didn’t raise the age to 21, which New York did on Dec. 1 of that same year.

“It was a health hazard, but we didn’t look at it as a health hazard back then,” Fodor said.

Now, the college is famed for being sober. In 2014, the Princeton Review published its “Top 10 Stone-Cold-Sober Schools” list with Brooklyn College clocking in at number 10.

The open drinking culture was confined, tossed and not to be publicized, throwing all the liquor, beer and wine into the student center, the only building on campus that holds the liquor license for the college, according to Mitzu Adams, the director of the student center.

The college’s thrown-away culture can be exemplified in its 1972 yearbook where pages showcase pot leafs and a mystery student smoking out of a pipe next to it. As Fodor reminisces on the time and looks at the yearbook he assures, “Back in the ‘70s, this place was nuts.”


1 Comment on "Brooklyn College Last Call on Bar Culture"

  1. President Boylan, Borough President Ingersoll, and President Roosevelt all had buildings on Brooklyn College’s campus named after them.

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