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Pub expected to reopen Nov. 1 with masks, reduced capacity

Sandy Wu / Thresher

By Prayag Gordy     10/26/21 11:44pm

Willy’s Pub has scheduled its reopening for Nov. 1, according to General Manager Elizabeth Groenewold. Pub’s doors have been closed since early March 2020 following an alleged hazing incident and the later imposition of Rice’s COVID-19 rules.

Pub’s capacity will be 100 students on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and will increase to 150 students on Thursday for Pub Night, according to Groenewold, a Will Rice College senior. Masks will be required unless actively eating or drinking. Pub’s pre-COVID capacity was 299.

Groenewold said that Pub will continue to host themed nights and will follow its regular operating hours from before COVID.

“We’re going to try and make [Pub] as normal as possible,” Groenewold said. “We’re still going to have events, we’re still going to have Pub night, we’re still going to have trivia. It’s just [that] not as many people can come.”

Karen Lu, a sophomore at Sid Richardson College, said that she looks forward to going to Pub after hearing upperclassmen share their experiences there.

“I’m really excited about Pub reopening,” Lu said. “I’ve heard a lot of upperclassmen talk about going after classes on Thursdays and just hanging out with their friends, and I can’t help but feel like that was a part of Rice that I missed out on freshman year.”

McMurtry College sophomore Eric Liu said he is keen to have his first Pub experience.

“I’m glad that it’s reopening [since] I feel like I’ve missed out on a big part of Rice’s culture during freshman year, and that I’ve gradually been exposed to more of it this year,” Liu said. “I’ll check it out when it opens, and if I enjoy it then I definitely see myself going back.”

Pub’s reopening date of Nov. 1 remains tentative because Rice administrators need to approve the business’s proposed COVID protocols, and Pub needs to pass a health inspection, according to Groenewold. Additionally, Groenewold said Pub has taken time to train their staff, as only four of the 36 bartenders and managers have worked at Pub before.

“When I have met with people from admin about Pub reopening, they kind of told me, ‘We want to see what Pub thinks would be fair,’” Groenewold said. “We have to make sure that the [COVID] protocol gets approved.”

Key aspects of the protocol include mask rules and capacity limits, Groenewold said. On Thursday nights, when Pub hopes to increase their capacity to 150 people, the rules will be more rigid, according to Groenewold.

“On Thursdays, it’s going to be stricter,” Groenewold said. “The policy will be unless you’re taking your mask off to take a sip, keep your mask on. If you’re holding a drink in your hand, you can’t just be unmasked the whole time.”

Additionally, Groenewold said Pub will limit their Thursday line to 30 people.

“If someone comes and the line is already at 30 people, it doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to wait, they just can’t wait in line,” Groenewold said. “They have to wait somewhere else within the [Rice Memorial Center].”

These rules are in part due to Pub’s nature as a cross-college alcohol event, according to Groenewold. She said she advocated against restricting certain nights to individual colleges as she said Pub is supposed to facilitate cross-college interaction.

“The whole point of Pub is that it’s supposed to be a place where everyone from every college is able to feel comfortable and come and hang out here, and you’re supposed to be able to meet new people you usually wouldn’t see,” Groenewold said.

Isaiah Hwang, a Wiess College junior, said he always looked forward to Thursday Pub Nights.

“It was a great way to meet a diverse group of people from all across campus in a lively environment,” Hwang said. “I personally [remember] the memories of going out to Pub with friends to enjoy music, meet new people, and have a great time.”

Rice administrators in return asked for mask and capacity rules, according to Groenewold.

“I think admin really respects … the culture of Pub that we’re trying to keep,” Groenewold said. “Since they’re allowing us to break that cross-college alcohol rule, the capacity limit is the other side of the coin.”

Pub’s last semester of service came with its own series of closures. At the end of the 2019 fall semester, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission investigated Pub and found multiple violations; Pub remained shut through the first few weeks of the following spring semester. About a month after its reopening, allegations of hazing prompted another closure shortly before COVID-19 emptied Rice’s campus.

Now, Pub is strengthening its policies against underage drinking and hazing, according to Groenewold.

“We have ID scanners now and new systems in place to make sure that underage drinking doesn’t occur,” Groenewold said. “To be honest, it wasn’t that strict before, like if someone showed you an ID, you accepted it typically if it looked real. Now it’s taught to the bartenders that if you know that person, or you know of them, and you know they’re not of age, you cannot serve them.”

Pub is taking measures to ensure compliance with both underage drinking laws and Pub’s mask requirement, Groenewold said.

“We have two [bartenders] in the crowd called rovers, and they’ll now be in charge of enforcing no underage drinking along with the masking policy,” she said.

The March 2020 hazing shutdown occurred after a video spread of the then-newly elected Wiess College chief justice chugging liquid and vomiting. According to Groenewold, one of the involved students was a manager at Pub and decided to host Wiess’ turnover event there. Now, unsponsored college events cannot be hosted at Pub.

“It's already Pub policy that we are not allowed to over-serve someone, you're not allowed to play drinking games, you're not allowed to allow anyone to binge drink,” Groenewold said. “If you are hosting something, it is not allowed to be after-hours anymore, so there will always be bartenders and managers on shift.”

Pub anticipates closing again in mid-April when the demolition of the Rice Memorial Center is scheduled to begin, according to Groenewold, and will reopen in an undetermined temporary location next year during the new RMC’s construction.

“For April and May I think we just won't be open,” Groenewold said. “We're going to try and stay open as long as we can until then … As of now we do have a couple ideas for where we're going to be for that year when the RMC is being rebuilt, but none of them are finalized yet.”

When it is built, Pub’s new space will not hold the decades of memories attached to the RMC’s basement, Groenewold said. Rice has agreed to store some of Pub’s memorabilia, including old neon signs and a manager’s T-shirt from 1977, according to Groenewold.

“Pub space is Pub space and we love it and it sucks that we're going to have to operate out of something new,” Groenewold said. “All the Thresher stuff, half of these [wall] signs are from so long ago, it just sucks that we're going to be losing it. I've been talking with the RMC rebuild committee, and they agreed to store any things of significance that we wanted them to.”

Groenewold said she considers Pub an important and safe aspect of Rice’s reentry to a wet campus.

“Essentially, the whole point of Pub is to have a safe, on-campus place for students to drink and have fun and mingle,” Groenewold said. “Especially in COVID times, Rice is our bubble. It's supposed to be our bubble. The safest place we can be, in my opinion, is Rice's campus. I think it's good to try and keep students here and offer them a place where they can drink and have fun on campus.”

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