Web Exclusives:

Inky Dinky Do

a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary

September 13, 2000:

Spirits in the night
Modeling responsible drinking at Frist

by Hugh O'Bleary

You can't see the new Frist Campus Center from the Dinky tracks, but I look anyway, as the train clatters down the tracks toward the Junction. I like knowing that it's there. I like the idea of a student center. Long ago, when I was in school (at another northeastern university, one which - I am reminded constantly by Princeton T-shirts - sucks), we didn't have a student center. Or, rather, we didn't have a single every-student student center. There were various ethnic and religious and interest-oriented centers. My residential college even had something called a "buttery," a dark, wood-paneled and indeed oleaginous dispensary of cheeseburgers and bad folk music that purported to be our student center but would have been more at home at Hogwarts. So many centers cannot hold.

Thus I am delighted with this new institution at Princeton, this Frist first, if you will. Sure, The Street will surely continue to hold sway, but this seems like a valuable addition. It will not, I am certain, prove a replacement. Can one imagine a tuxedoed F. Scott Fitzgerald dashing off on a wild moonlight revel to ... the student center? I think not. Call it the other side of paradise.

The most intriguing feature of the Frist, however, I first heard about - as about so many things - from Smitty, my sometime traveling companion on the train. I call him Smitty of the Dinky. A hawk-nosed little lawyer of boundless cynicism, he takes the train every day to his office in the city, but seems to feel that his real mission in life is to fill his fellow riders in on the "true" scam behind whatever happens to be in the news.

"You know how they made that Elian Gonzalez picture, don't you?" was one of his typical opening gambits. Smitty likes to start every conversation with a question. It doesn't matter if you know the answer. One way or another, he's going to tell you.

This was his Frist take: "You know what they're going to have at that new student center, don't you?" he said one morning, peering over his Times.

"I don't know," I said. "Students?"

Yeah, right." He folded his paper. "They're going to have a 'Beverage Lab'." He gave me the Smitty smirk. "Why don't they just call it a bar? Hell, when I was in college, a beverage lab was my roommate Shanley seeing how many types of booze he could mix in the blender without blowing it up. I mean, picture Marty Feldman in a bartender's jacket: More bourbon, Maaaahster?" He rolled his eyes. "No, actually, Shanley had a beverage lab. It was a big golden lab named Budweiser that he let drink beer out of his water dish."

Ordinarily Smitty's, er, unique take on the news rolls off my back (I never bought into his Janet-Reno-had-Elian-cloned theory, for instance). But I was intrigued by this Beverage Lab news. Being an occasionally working journalist, I made a call.

It turns out that the Beverage Lab is a small, late-night gathering place at the Frist Center that serves alcohol, among other beverages. "We came up with the name as a way to echo the old Palmer Hall physics labs," says Paul Breitman, the director of the Frist Center. "We didn't want a 'pub'."

Breitman, who before coming to Princeton served for 18 years as a dean at Rutgers, where he ran three student center facilities, is clearly, well, a bright man. He knows very well that the "lab" in Beverage Lab ultimately refers less to its pseudoscientific setting than to its experimental approach to responsible drinking. The Beverage Lab seats some 40-50 people and will be open to patrons of all ages, not just those over 21. Those of age can drink wine or beer; others can choose from coffees, fruit drinks and smoothies, according to Breitman. "The whole concept," he explains, "is to treat people as adults." Radical science, indeed.

Breitman also knows that drinking at Princeton, as at almost every college, is a - pardon the expression - loaded issue. "I had to oversee the closing of the Rutgers Pub in 1985 because of a lot of irresponsible behavior," he says. "I've been there, done that. But I think the time is ripe for a place like this, an alternative to alcohol-centered socializing where, as it happens, you can get,

say, a glass of wine or a mug of beer but focus on other things."

You know what Smitty would say, don't you? He'd say, Don't let Shanley in!

Hugh O'Bleary commutes to New York City from Princeton. He revels in his daily sojourn across campus to catch the Dinky. You can reach Hugh O'Bleary by writing him c/o paw@princeton.edu