"It was time."
Those were the words of University of Calgary Director of Ancillary Services Peter Fraser, on why Aug. 26, 2000 was the date chosen for the Den to permanently close its doors. After more than 30 years, the Den had become almost an institution at the U of C. However, Friday morning the Den was transferred out of the university administration’s hands into the outstretched arms of the Students’ Union. Friday morning, the locks were changed and signs were posted notifying thirsty patrons of its closure.
"It’s a piece of history, it’s a piece of my school career lost," said Social Anthropology graduate and former Den employee Jason Corall. "You can go to the richest business downtown and [someone there will] have had a beer at the Den in 1979."
Corall is proud but saddened that he and Den Manager Bob Donald were the last two people in the Den the night before it closed. Like most people on campus, its sudden closure caught Corall by surprise.
"We thought the Slurpee Cup was supposed to happen that Saturday," said Corall. "We thought closing would be the Monday after."
"Yes, the closing date was chosen very quickly after things fell together," said Fraser. "Under [no] circumstance were we going to announce a final closing date. Places like the Republik, when they closed, it was awful. It was bad enough when Maple Leaf Gardens closed; people were taking souvenirs and they didn’t care.
"I was really proud of the staff over there; none of the staff knew," added Fraser. "They ran a great operation right to the very end, and didn’t let things get out of control."
For students, Max’s will be the remaining watering hole for this upcoming academic year. According to SU President Toby White, renovations to the Den are to start later this month, with a prospective completion date of next spring. Upon completion, Max’s will be closed and a new bar will open in the present Den location.
"It’s going to be a fairly large bar," said White. "It’s going to be able to be sectioned off, so we’re hoping it can deal with some of the students’ concerns of only having one bar on campus."
For Fraser, selling the Den was one of the hardest decisions he’s had to make. However, he said the Den was becoming rundown and the renovation costs it would have been staggering. Also, a clear trend at campuses across Canada is to get out of the alcohol-selling business.
"While [a campus bar] is a good way to generate revenue, I was beginning to feel like a dinosaur," said Fraser.
"It was more of a space-transfer agreement," said White. "[The University] wanted to have some space in the food court [upstairs] to get some more kiosks.
"We’re going to try and keep as much from the Den that we can," continued White. "We purchased a lot of the equipment, like the bar."
White hopes that the same crowd that patronized the Den will take to the new bar the SU is planning.
"The Den’s a pretty big tradition on campus," he said. "We’re going to keep as much of that going as possible."
But patrons and former employees feel that duplicating the Den and its famous atmosphere will not be an easy task. Tables, carpets and chairs can be recycled. Drink specials on Thursday nights can be promoted. Even the Den name has been sold to the new owners. But many people are doubtful that a remodeled bar can capture the essence of the Den.
"It’s been a stalwart on campus for so many years," said Corall. "It’s hard to describe… a dark dingy bar, the music was an odd mix of punk, rock, retro and independent that you cannot find anywhere else in the city. [The SU has] got a huge hole to fill. I don’t think you can mimic what the Den was."
"I’ll hire you, if you can tell me how to recreate that ambience," declared Fraser. "It is the grimiest, smelliest, ugliest, [most] rundown-looking place–even with nobody in it–you can imagine. You’d think that you were in the slums of L.A. It was just the [staff]."
"Will a lot of people [from] the Den come back?" continued Fraser. "I doubt it. A lot of people won’t set foot in the new Molson Centre. Or they cancelled their season tickets."
Whether the SU’s as-yet unnamed bar becomes as popular as the Den was will not be known for a while. The SU is open to suggestions from students on anything from a name to the interior design. And the Den’s former employees also have their own suggestions.
"I’m glad I could work there," said Corall. "I hope the students remember us. I also hope they start their own traditions."
"It was time."