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September 28, 2012 11:00 AM College Bars Are Dying, Says Someone Who Seems Not to Understand How Bars Work

By Daniel Luzer

What’s happening to college bars? According an article in the New York Times, social media might be totally destroying the institution that was the collegiate watering hole.

A closer look, however, reveals this is a really bad explanation of what’s probably going on. Courtney Rubin writes that bars are dying because of technology:

Bar owners in the Collegetown neighborhood of Ithaca recently convened a worried summit about just this topic. Once upon a time, in the Pleistocene epoch before cellphones and social media, students used bars as meeting places, heading there after class to find friends and to plot evenings over beer.
These days text messaging, Facebook and Foursquare make it possible to see if a bar is worth the trip (translation: who is there) without leaving the dorm. Meanwhile, location-based mobile apps like Grindr, which point to the nearest available candidates looking for sex or not-quite-sex, are helping dethrone college bars from their place as meat markets.
“Students don’t need bars to create a community the way they used to,” said Stephani Robson, a senior lecturer in the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell who specializes in restaurant psychology.

One wonders how they dealt with the cell phone back when that was novel.

Rubin writes that this is a real trend because “it’s not just [in Ithaca] but in college towns across America like Iowa City, where at least four bars have closed since 2011.”

This is not at all real. In fact, bars in college towns close open and close all the time. It’s true that social media may play a part in bars closing, but only by accelerating an existing trend; people want to avoid bad bars. Facebook and Foursquare might “make it possible to see if a bar is worth the trip” because people can tell who’s in the bar but come on. If no one’s in the bar that’s because the bar sucks. It’s not Facebook’s fault if no one’s showing up.

Also, as Andy Moore explains at BroBible:

What was her sample size here again? Cornell? The same school that is severely cracking down on underage drinking after a kid died last year? You think that might be a not-so-hot place to look at broader trends pertaining to the overall health of college bars? Here are other randomly selected college towns showing healthy late night scenes: Here are the owners of Ann Arbor’s Good Time Charley’s opening another club near Michigan’s campus. Here’s Illinois, chalking up its recent addition on the Princeton Review’s Top Party School list to a thriving bar scene. Plenty of other examples exist.

The article makes use of some interviews that, while entertaining, don’t don’t address meaningful trends. Rubin interviews Lenny Leonardo, the former owner of the Royal Palms, the Ithaca bar that closed earlier this year:

“These kids today won’t pay even $2 for a drink,” said the former owner, Lenny Leonardo, as he cruised down a highway in Florida, where he retired in August. “They buy a bottle of Southern Comfort and show up in time to try to get laid. But they just end up throwing up in my men’s room, and I get reprimanded because it looks like I’m the one who let them get this drunk.”

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All of these things are true, but they are not a reflection of how college students now function due to social media; they are, in fact, a reflection of how students have operated for the last 20 years with regard to Leonardo’s terrible bar (above).

The Palms, for those of you who’ve never had an opportunity to hang out in Ithaca, New York, was disgusting. The reason people “buy a bottle of Southern Comfort and show up in time to try to get laid” is because they didn’t want to spend any more time and money than they had to in a place where the seats were sticky, the ceilings were low, and the walls were last painted during the Reagan administration.

Also, perhaps more importantly, the Leonardos had owned and operated the Palms for 71 years and were able to sell the property to a developer for three times its assessed value. That’s why the bar really closed; because the owners could make more money by retiring than by keeping the bar open.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Mary A. on September 28, 2012 2:02 PM:

    Fantastic. This is hilarious and true.