In order to obtain a drink one must either discreetly sip Jack and Coke from a Diversity Celebrations Committee Nalgene in a locked dorm room or plod through ice and snow to the bars of Northfield.
We at the Messenger often prefer the latter option. But after spending so much time being afraid that the sound of opening a can of PBR in your dorm will attract a prowling R.A., the freedom of turning 21 is a welcome relief. Students flood down into downtown Northfield and overtake the bars, but often lack any knowledge of how to behave once they arrive.
We decided that someone had to take the hit for the campus. Someone had to take it upon himself to go out, investigate and report back to the rest of the student body and that someone was us. Too many students have made fools of themselves by using a night at the bar to get too wasted, by inciting the ire of the bartender by their lack of gratuity and offending the regulars by their callous swarming.
We decided to start our journey at one of the least Ole-frequented bars in Northfield, The Tavern Lounge. Every student is aware of The Tavern as a restaurant, but few students this side of the river know that this establishment even exists. Little did we know that our journey would end here as well.
The Tavern Lounge, sometimes referred to as The Upper Room, is probably the smallest bar in Northfield and it is definitely the most difficult to find.
In our attempt to reach it from the riverside back entrance of The Tavern, we wandered around the labyrinthine of random office spaces and restaurant storage closets. Trust us. We opened almost all the doors.
After finally asking directions from a server at The Tavern Restaurant, we wound our way up some stairs and through the bowels of The Archer House to finally reach our destination. The Tavern Lounge is a small bar, especially in the winter. The adjoining deck is, in fact, larger than the inside space and is generally full of patrons in the warmer months. Due to our recent return to winter however, we were stuck inside.
The interior of the Lounge, though small, is quaint and old-timey. There are two antique-looking pianos in the back end, and an ancient cash register sitting on the bar; even the phone ring sounds like it belongs to a time long ago. Everything is made of thick, ancient, wood, from the walls to the tables. The bar, also wooden, was ornately carved and among the most elaborate in Northfield.
We found our own table, which was not hard considering the lack of clientele and ordered two Summit Maibocks straight from the tap. The bartender said, That'll be six bucks. We paused; for a second we were not sure if he meant total or each. At three dollars a beer, the lounge would be among the cheapest bars in town, at six, the most expensive. Incredibly, it was only three dollars; we found an oasis largely undiscovered by Oles and, at least on Tuesday nights, largely uninhabited.
We arrived at around 7:30 p.m. and sipped our beers at a leisurely pace. Like Jane Goodall on her first venture into the wild, we sat quietly as the regulars began slinking onto their home stools around the bar the song-writer, the man with pierced cheeks, the townie. They all knew each other and had nicknames for one another. We decided to move in closer and sit at the bar as well. After about an hour and a half of laughing at their jokes from a distance, making small talk and looking non-threatening we were finally assimilated into their group.
A local and regular of the bar, who wished to be referred to only as Jeff, was especially eager to share his knowledge of bar life and life in general with us.
People come to The Tavern to have an intellectual conversation, Jeff said.
He felt that college students, especially students from St. Olaf too often come to Northfield bars just to get drunk.
When you go to the Rueb, you are going to get all your local drunks and college kids go there just to get plowed, Jeff said.
Jeff, who works as a bartender on weekends, said that students, so eager to get their drinks, have completely forgotten about good old-fashioned gratuity. It is common courtesy to round up to the nearest dollar when paying for a drink or giving around a dollar per drink.
I used to make $140 on busy nights, Jeff said. Now I'm lucky if I come away with $40.
Money spent on gratuity is not wasted cash. The change supports the bartender but also pays for a valuable service, especially on busy nights.
If I'm serving people and there is a line around the bar five people deep, I'm going to go to the people who have treated me well, Jeff said. We agreed and in an act of sheer altruism, Jeff bought the next round.
After finishing our conversation and drinks we purchased Jeff a beer in return for his camaraderie and made our way across the downtown river front and back to campus to reflect on our experience. This is what we learned.
Lesson One: Tip the bartender. Not only do the bartenders depend on tips to make enough to support themselves, it can only enhance your future bar experiences. Lesson Two: Don't show up to a bar completely bombed. Bars are required by law to not serve someone who is visibly intoxicated, they are even required to display a sign on the wall that says the same thing. Lesson Three: The bar is a bar all week, not just the one day when they have college specials. There is a lot that can be gained from an experience that is not crowded with the people you see everyday.
There are many stories shared and created between the walls of a bar. Sometimes the richest experiences happen on quiet week nights.