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The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

Pio Pub: Most equipped but least attended than ever

Students attending Senior Send-Off in Pioneer Pub in the Fall 2023 semester. /Photo: Eleanor Berkhoudt

The Strebel Student Center is a hub of activity for students on campus equipped with bean bag chairs, a ping pong table, a gaming console and speakers broadcasting WPNR. Students can be found there at all hours, engrossed in activity, but the Pio Pub, a place which used to be central for interaction and socializing isn’t as busy as it was in its prime.


Located in Strebel, the pub was a place where students and professors met to grab a beer and socialize after class regularly, or even met there as a class, Dean of Students Emeritus Robert Woods said. 


The Pioneer Pub, as it was unofficially called, had regular operating hours and served beers to a smaller campus and younger students since the 1960s. Through the decades, the pub evolved with the times to meet the needs of the campus community. 


In 1984 when the drinking age changed from 18 to 21, attendance at the campus watering hole took a hit. The new law was a “blow to the idea of having faculty and students interact on a social basis,” Woods said. 


The drinking age change motivated shifting the pub from a social drinking environment to “Itza Pizza” in 1985. Pub nights continued centered around student or club activities like fundraisers, karaoke nights and athletic events, but not as regularly as before and weren’t as well-attended.


“A lot of people took classes in the evening after class at 10 p.m. so it was common for professors to go over to the pub and have a beer with students,” Woods said.


Mark Kovacs served as Director of Resident Life in 1989 and said he remembers it as a big space full of half broken furniture with a bar on wheels stored in the closet, and served beer from kegs to students, faculty and staff. A yearbook from 1980 shows a photo of a Pub Governing Board and Bartenders, all of which were students.


The first remodel of the Pio Cafe was during the late 1990’s (about ’97) and had an “Adirondack” theme to it, and included all new furniture.


“It was a push to have fun but the participation just wasn’t really there… because the change in the drinking age ‘kind of changed everything,’” Kovacs said. 


According to Kovacs, the focus of the pub was drinking and socializing, and students learned to drink responsibly at the college because their professors or friends would tell them if they should slow down or if they’ve had one too many beers. The change in the drinking age caused a missed educational opportunity, Kovacs said.


“In that setting, someone can help educate you rather than it becoming illegal and going behind closed doors,” Kovacs said. “I would rather have someone learn how to drink responsibly while they’re in college than when they are 21 and ready to enter the workforce.” 


The Pub had a full remodel in the summer of 2011 during President Todd Hutton’s tenure. It was remodeled into the curved L-shaped bar tucked into the back corner of the space that it is now and was formally named Pio Pub. 


Sodexo General Manager Damian Boehlert was instructed to open the pub from Thursdays to Saturdays. 


“Thursday was the only day we ever did anything decent [in sales],” but said “it was never really successful,” probably due to the drinking age splitting up friend groups and the majority of seniors of drinking age living off campus. 


After COVID, the pub closed and opens only for special occasions. Boehlert said clubs, teams and groups can still hold events at the pub but have to organize with him beforehand to arrange for a bartender, staff to make food and security officers.

A student grabbing some food at the Senior Send-Off Event. /Photo: Diana Sidorevich
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Diana Sidorevich
Diana Sidorevich, Managing Editor

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