From debates to drinks: a history of Pub Nite

We all know the drill: Thursday nights, we hastily finish (or don’t finish) our homework so that we can scrounge up four dollars, grab an empty plastic animal cracker tub to use as a pitcher, and head to Paces for Pub Nite. Pub Nite generally starts around 9 p.m., and the lucky groups of excited Swatties who get there promptly score a sticky table on which to play cards, pong, and the like. You may think that this brilliant tradition was always this way; but think again. Once upon a time, Tarble contained more than just a humid, crowded room meant for mindless fun, and the most exciting part of Pub Nite was not always swaying in a mass of sweaty people as ‘Closing Time’ informed us of the Nite’s midnight demise.

Pub Rounds, held in pre-Tarble Tarble before it burned down, became a hit in 1984. Guess what, folks — Pub means not an Olde English Bar but is short for Public, and the host of Pub Rounds was the Debate Society. Present at Pub Rounds were the Debate team, hoping to recruit new members, students there to watch, and without fail, Swarthmore faculty. That’s right — a sight that would now have us gasping in disbelief and horror, the sight of our professor wending her way between the tables in Paces, was once an integral part of a tradition that combined faculty and students in a night of carefree, but still intellectual, fun.

Reid Neureiter ’87 recollects that as a freshman, he attended his first Pub Rounds, which made “quite an impression.” He soon signed up for the Debate Society (recruiting mission accomplished). Little did he know that he would go on to become team of the year for the American Parliamentary Debate Association with his debate partner Josh Davis ’87 — and, more importantly, stabilize the tradition of Pub Rounds at Swarthmore.

The premise of Pub Rounds was simple: a senior Debate Team member stood up on the stage and debated a Swarthmore faculty member on an absurd topic that was taken absolutely seriously. It became “a sort of extended stand-up comedy routine,” according to Neureiter. Topics ranged from passionate arguments that nobody should ever have grades again to long to drawn out discussions about grizzlies at Yellowstone National Park (the relevance of the latter topic to Swarthmore is unclear). After the debate ended, anyone could take the floor and defend a side, either of which would be “equally hilarious,” according to Neureiter. Once, the president of Swarthmore himself (David W. Fraser at the time) debated at Pub Rounds.

But wait a minute: Pub Rounds had nothing to do with partying at all? It was simply a hilarious comedy session between impassioned senior debaters and the professors they had longed to tell off since day one? Not quite: clandestine kegs were not a rare occurrence, although advertising alcoholic beverages was risky. In fact, Neureiter recalls getting in trouble with the school for advertising “free beverages,” using huge lettering on the initial BE and ER, and tiny, nearly illegible lettering for the rest of the word. The advertisement was misleading, as the debate society had nothing alcoholic to serve to the audience.

Pub Nite today bears little to no resemblance to the Pub Rounds of many years past. The most heated debate at Pub Nite is probably over the spot next to the fervently opened window in the damply hot room, and the sight of Rebecca Chopp strolling into Paces to hang out would probably elicit more than a few stopped hearts. Pub Rounds was simply a different form of entertainment: as Neureiter put it, Pub Rounds “wasn’t a party or anything, but I think people looked forward to it. It always drew a big crowd.”

In 1995, Pub Nite became the party night that it is today. Intended to be an event at which people could actually socialize and talk, Paces café began to charge students money and serve beer on Thursday nights, and voilà: Pub Nite was born. This decade-later version of entertainment is closer to our Pub Nite of today: the room was smoky, and ’90s college kids were “freestyle rappin’” in the back, according to a 1996 blog entry of a Swat student at the time. We may or may not still have freestyle rappin’ going on in the back, but a smoky, four-dollar entry sure sounds familiar to me.

Maybe it warms your heart to imagine that Swarthmore social events once had substance and brain activity required of them; and maybe you want nothing better than to party with your professors. However, those of the wild Paces nights can rest assured that Pub Nite is probably never going to morph back into a debate fest. In fact, we can safely assume that Pub no longer stands for Public: what you see is what you get. Happy Pub Nite!