So, it was not long after arriving on campus just a few months ago (Aug ’11), before I had been a part of several conversations about how great it would be if there was a pub on-campus. There were stories that there used to be something of the sort in the basement of the refectory, but whatever traces remained of it (I believe it was shut down about a decade ago) were entirely gone in the wake of the re-modelling that took place there the previous spring. Some of the returning students had been brain-storming possible locations for a future pub, but nothing had come to any fruition. But then one fateful morning, I was sitting with Dr. Klukas (Dean of admissions, wife of Fr. Klukas, professor), who, when I brought up something about a pub on campus, off-handedly mentioned that there used to be one in the basement of the Fort (one of the old, large houses on campus, called “The Fort” because of its fortess-like lime-stone construction).
Thrilled that there might be something still down there – right there under our noses but unknown to anyone – we left the refectory immediately to go check it out. What we found was a mixed bag: Very little remained of what once might have been there: only a pool table, and a few pictures and paintings on the walls. There was no furniture, no bar, just a dirty, boarded-up basement with a bunch of garbage in a pile in the middle, and about 1/8” of dust covering everything. There was, however, beneath the garbage, a ‘U’ shaped piece of wood with a support screwed into the back – the old bar-top! And – there were these sconces on the pillars, still with candles in them, and above them were painted several diocesan crests. It was this vestige of an old pub that gave us the ‘vision’ for what the space could be oncemore. That is – there was just enough for us to catch a vision of what the place could be. Someone mentioned the “Prancing Pony” from Lord of the Rings and we were hooked. We tried to to deduce when exactly the ‘Pub’ became extinct – the longest professor here (Kucharski) has no memory of it (and he’s been here 20 years), but then there is the banner by the fire-place that reads ‘Class of 2006’. However, the diocesan-crests painted on the pillars have a sort of 70’s styling. Our best guess is that it was a pub in the 70s, and then faded into obscurity (or was shut-down), and then in the early 2000s a small group of students used the space for cards or something – but it wasn’t a full-blown pub at that time.
And so, the task of resurrecting it:
Lars Skoglund, Aaron Zook, Evan Simington and myself emerged and came together as being ones who wanted to do the work of re-establishing the place, and so we set to work: cleaning up mountains of dirt, dust and cobwebs, moving out all the trash, then designing and building a bar (we used the original ‘U’-top beneath the ‘J’ design that we came up with), then salvaging furniture from various attics and basments on campus (including sweet c. 1960’s Dept. of Defense drinking water barrels – in case of nuclear fall out – which we set up as stools). I started a “Founders Club” so that we could get funds to continue with the project (since, we had already spent about $200 at Home Depot) – that is – anyone who wanted to see a Pub get realized on campus: give me $30 and you’ll get a mug with your name on it once its open.
The support was overwhelming – I collected more than $900 (of which we spent all but $20). Another major boost in our morale that we might actually pull this off was when a board-member who was on campus for convocation (Fr. Koehler), when we told him about the idea, immediately volunteered to buy the ‘kegerator’ (the fridge/tap unit that keeps and pours the beer) for us – a purchase that was going to cost us hundreds of dollars, and we didn’t know if we could afford. But when that arrived, we knew we hadto make it work. And so – neglecting sleep and studies during the week that followed convocation, Lars, Zook, myself, and a handful of other generous souls here and there put our noses to the grindstone.
After dozens of hours putting on finishing touches (painting the A/C ducts brown to look like wood-beams, staining and finishing the bar, sanding off the finish and re-doing it all (turns out – lacquer can’t go on top of Polyurethane – who knew?), mopping, building shelves, hanging pictures and buying glasses, and finally – going out and buying our first two half-barrels of beer. We had promised to the community to open that weekend, and we managed to pull it off – and had a big opening-night hoop-la, which, in true Nashotah House fashion, included a procession from the chapel with a full Litany (including all the patron saints of brewing – there are 14! again, who knew?!)
and then a blessing of the space followed by, yup, you guessed it – lots of beer! And pool, and pizza, and laughing and pats on the back. The Cellar was (and is!) open! For all to enjoy – like a student union (which space was lacking on campus prior), or one of the pubs the various Oxbridge colleges have.
As for the name – we tried several things on – but the simplicity of ‘The Cellar’ took quickly, and then it was Fr. Peay, who also had long-time been wanting to see a pub around these parts, who suggested Gambrinus, who was a medieval king and patron of beer-brewing as a patron. Voila!