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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Where everybody knows your name

You might not pick a university based on the college bar, but a welcoming one can help break through the anonymity of large campuses

By Ingrid Peritz
The Globe and Mail

There are undoubtedly many professors who would envy the attendance figures enjoyed by the Laval University campus pub.


On many occasions, enthusiastic students line up 200 deep for a chance to get in the door. Each seat in the house - there are 1,000 of them if you count the outdoor terrace - are filled to capacity. Some students show up as early as “happy hour,” when they quaff discounted beer on tap while they discuss their courses, no doubt.


The professors might also be a tad jealous of the pub's performance reviews. In the University Report Card survey, students at Laval in Quebec City were the most satisfied when it came to their pub.


A campus watering hole isn't likely to sway anyone on the choice of a university. However, a good campus pub goes a long way to making students break through the anonymity of big-city campuses; they can also create a cozy and convivial meeting place among fellow students.


That's why Laval's pub - known universally as “Le Pub” among devotees - scores so high. “It's THE meeting place for students, so it gives you a sense of belonging,” said Eric Tremblay, a 22-year-old education student at Laval University. “The ambience is super young, dynamic and hyper-social. When I go to the pub, it feels like my living room, but with more people.”


One way to measure student appreciation of their university pub is to hear from those who have none. The University of Waterloo's two pubs shut down for part of the last school term in a dispute between the student government and the university administration (they have reopened this year).


In polling, numerous students voiced their frustration over the disappearance of their gathering spots. “The closure of our on-campus bars definitely takes a toll on the social aspect of school,” said one Waterloo respondent to the survey. “The on-campus bars provided us an opportunity to gather with our fellow students. I think it's an important aspect of campus life.”


The University of Toronto has no on-campus pubs, to the chagrin of some students. Although they can repair to bars near campus, they say they lack the familial atmosphere of a student-only hangout.


Students do consider socializing and nightlife a core part of university life. And it's one reason Montreal's McGill University scores well among many out-of-town students.


Montreal is renowned as a city with great, abundant - and inexpensive - options for nightlife. Perhaps partly as a result, McGill's on-campus pub ranked 27th in the survey. The pub, Gert's, seems to face too much stiff competition.


The student government at Laval University, which runs the campus pub, says it made huge efforts to create a bar suited to the students. Prices are kept reasonable; draft beer this year is $3.25. The waiters and other staff are all students - about 200 are hired each year - and their schedules are adapted to their studies.


Student staff vote on matters such as menu changes. Students also know that surpluses from the pub ($80,000 last year) are reinvested in student services ranging from engineering competitions to art exhibits.


“Our goal isn't to make money. It's to offer the lowest prices possible,” said Mathieu Lachance, spokesman for the Laval undergraduate student union. “If people find the Pub so cool, it's because it was set up by the students, and it's a pub in their image.”


The Pub's spiffy décor could easily match that of a downtown bar; there are also pool tables and a dance floor, which are often busy until the 2 a.m. closing.


And at lunchtime, the premises are often filled with professors. They're certainly drawn by the inexpensive prices - or maybe they're picking up tips on the competition.



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