Significant changes to Willy’s Pub took place over the course of the spring semester, including the removal of sake and 40-ounce bottles of Mickey’s malt liquor from the menu, as well as the institution of a Rice University Police Department officer on Thursday nights and prohibition of underage attendance at Wednesday trivia nights. In a Facebook post, Pub said it hopes they will not need a 21-plus night in the coming Fall semester.
Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said he and the board of Valhalla and Willy’s Permits, Inc., a nonprofit holding corporation which ensures Pub’s compliance with federal and state regulations, recommended these changes after incidents linked to overserving alcohol and serving underage students.
Pub General Manager Michael Dyer and V&W board adviser Philip Tarpley (Brown ’12) said these incidents included an alleged sexual assault, the Berlin Wall vandalism and the need for assistance from emergency medical services for a student.
Due to the confidential nature of these cases, Hutchinson said he could not comment on the details of any specific incidents.
“I can say that the behavioral issues are sufficiently serious as to cause health and safety concerns for the campus,” Hutchinson said. “I think steps the board and management have taken [in response] have been the right steps.”
At the request of the V&W board, Pub removed 40-ounce Mickey’s and sake from the drinks menu and enforced the two-drink maximum per person policy more strictly. In addition, Pub had a RUPD officer present every Thursday night last semester, and a 21-plus night every Wednesday when trivia is held.
“The board actually asked for the changes,” V&W board President Frank Rodriguez said. “All menu changes are supposed to go through an approval process from the board and apparently this did not happen with some of our past management staff at Willy's and so we asked that these items be taken off the menu.”
According to Dyer, who became general manager in December, Pub has been selling 40-ounce Mickey’s for several years and had it listed on its website, while sake was added in September. Pub sold sake, which is 15 percent alcohol by volume, in 720-mL bottles for sharing as well as in 1.5-ounce sake “bombs.”
Both the Mickey’s and the sake were permitted under Rice’s alcohol policy, which generally mandates that alcoholic beverages must be under 22 percent ABV.
Dyer, a Brown College senior, said student management did not seek permission from the V&W board before adding sake to the menu, although they discussed the change.
“The management team talked about whether [sake] would be a bad idea,” Dyer said. “We decided sake is fully within our rights to sell as long as we weren't serving more than two drinks at a time, as long as we weren't serving anything that was too strong or too big. We were under the impression that we would have full autonomy as long as we weren't breaking any Rice rules.”
Dyer said Pub only served Mickey’s when the buyer’s intent was to share, the same policy used with full bottles of wine and champagne.
“[The V&W board] thought it was a bad idea to have people taking 40 ounces of alcohol at a time, which is double our normal draft beer size,” Dyer said. “I don’t think it makes any sense to cut our menu items because those haven't really been proven to cause any issues yet.”
Brown sophomore Hannah Kim said she understands the administration’s concerns, but disagrees with the new policies.
“I would argue that Pub is probably the safest place for students to drink, as it prevents students from consuming large amounts, due to financial restrictions, and the general vibe of Pub doesn't call for being wasted,” Kim said. “If the administration has concerns about students, they shouldn't be cracking down on Pub policies but rather what the students have been drinking before they arrive. It hardly seems fair to the other students who drink a rational amount and go to Pub for the purpose of having a laid-back fun time.”
Dyer said he supported the institution of a police officer on Thursdays, which he said was Hutchinson’s idea. Pub and Hutchinson’s office evenly split the $1,468.90 semesterly cost of the RUPD officer.
"A lot of managers really love having [RUPD officers] around,” Dyer said. “They make our jobs a lot easier, when we need to take drinks away from people who are underage or kick people out. It's nice to have them."
Pub instituted the RUPD officer in late February, while the change to Wednesday nights came in mid-April. Tarpley recommended a 21-plus night after the RUPD officer witnessed students of age buying alcohol for underage students.
“My policy is, not only do we need to fix the problem, but we need to do one better,” Tarpley said. “We need to show a good faith effort of, [the administration is] right, let's fix the problem and let's make it even better than before."
Rodriguez said a call from Hutchinson prompted a closer look at Pub’s operations.
“Several incidents over the past year documented by RUPD showed an uptick in various situations where inebriated students were involved, some of which were underage, alleging Willy's as their original stop,” Rodriguez said.
According to Tarpley, while Pub often experiences small issues, the events this year have been more serious due to the alleged actions of inebriated students who said they went to Pub.
"It's one thing if it's just underage drinking by itself,” Tarpley said. “When you add in allegations of sexual assault, allegations and actual occurrence of graffiti and violence, that makes it all the more serious.”
Dyer said he recognizes that Pub is a liability as an establishment that caters to underclassmen.
“I 100 percent get where the administration is coming from because they're freaked out,” Dyer said. “It's hard to fault them for that, because they do penalize these kids, but there's not so much they can do after that besides cut their liabilities as much as possible.”
According to Dyer and Pub operations manager Kat Iverson, one particular incident that occurred at Latin Pub night in January resulted in a student nearly requiring a medical transport from EMS. However, Iverson said the student likely consumed alcohol prior to arriving at Pub.
“She was not served at Pub,” Iverson, a Martel College senior, said. “But she did have a wristband.”
Pub and Valhalla operate under a license issued by the Texas Alcohol Board Commission and must follow its stipulations. According to Dyer, TABC trains Pub bartenders to caregive when patrons are overly intoxicated, but doing so can be difficult when Pub is unexpectedly short-staffed.
Head bartender Katie Mackall said Pub student management had staff on site based on the attendance at last year’s Latin Pub night, but the volume of students this year was unexpectedly higher.
“In reality, [it] is a little bit trickier because our bartenders aren't necessarily able to, on a busy night, identify every single drunk person,” Mackall, a McMurtry College junior, said. “They don't always have the time to take care of someone who is really drunk, shows up at the bar for five seconds, and then disappears into a crowd. It's hard to track them down.”
Although front-door bartenders are not supposed to allow people who are too intoxicated inside, according to Mackall, it can be difficult to tell the level of someone’s intoxication in a short span of time while checking ID. Iverson said this is a Texas state policy that Pub needs to get better at enforcing.
Dyer said he believes patrons who are overly intoxicated rarely drink at pub, or only have a single beer.
“The problem has been people showing up five, 10 shots deep,” Dyer said. “But what happens is they disappear — we barely see them, we barely know that they're there. And then all of a sudden, they're gone, and they're getting in trouble, and they're getting traced back to Pub."
Dyer said he heard the administration seriously considered shutting Pub down and only did not do so because of their proactive policy changes. He declined to name the source of that information.
"All that I can really focus on is making sure that we comply with administration,” Dyer said. “As much as we are in control with whatever we want to be, they are in control of whether or not Pub exists."
Hutchinson denied that such talks occurred, saying that only TABC could pull Pub’s license. He said this would only be a plausible situation if there was serious malfeasance on the part of Pub management.
“Don't seek alcohol underage, don't overconsume,” Hutchinson said. “In this particular context, anybody who wants to have Pub be a viable entity on campus, and I put myself in [this group], should cooperate with helping Pub to meet the expectations of their license. It behooves all of us to make sure Pub is in compliance with the expectations of the permit."
According to Dyer, Pub follows the alcohol policy but suffers the consequences when others do not.
“We need the student body to be on our side when it comes to this, because we’re also on their side,” Mackall said.
Former Managing Editor Anita Alem (Martel ’17) contributed to this report.