The best of bars, the worst of bars

By Nicole McPhee

It was a genteel event. Those attending were dressed up and there were no sneakers or jeans in sight. The crowd behaved themselves, no drinks were spilled and there was barely a soul on the dance floor. It was a polite reception on the evening of Aug. 18, and it was the opening of the new student pub.

The University of Calgary Students’ Union now owns the Den after purchasing the rights to the name when the Dinnie’s Den closed last year. The use of the original name got mixed reactions from patrons of the new bar.

"If you want to think of it as a new Max’s then they got it right, but if you want to think of it as a new Den they got it wrong," said Gareth Bane, a recent graduate from the Faculty of Fine Arts.

There are only a few reminders left of the old Den and Black Lounge: the old Den bar is now located upstairs, the fireplace from the Black Lounge remains a centrepiece, and DJ Walter remains. The Den is split up into sections with a dance floor area, a games area, a drinking area, and the "Red room" which can be booked for private functions while the Den remains open to the public. Upstairs, the Black Lounge also features an eating and drinking area, plus an outdoor patio. Other design features included the use of stainless steel and slip-proof floors in the washrooms, a larger kitchen, greater wheelchair accessibility and two feet of cement between the Black Lounge floor and the Den ceiling so that different styles of music can be played at the same time.

Irene Enyedy is one student who welcomed the changes.

"The Den was stuck in the ’70s, and now it looks more futuristic," she said. "It’s the new millenium so it’s time to move forward."

The opening of the new Den was long awaited by many thirsty students who had no place to drink on campus for the entire month of August. The public opening on Aug. 30 was crowded as many current and former students came to see the new Den and compare it with the old one. Drinks were spilled, students dressed very casually and people were being mischievous. The campus pub came alive. By the end of the night the dance floor was packed and there was a great mixture of giddiness and rowdiness, which climaxed when the Den anthem "Home for a Rest" was played.

Students who were old enough to attend the original Den lamented some changes, mostly about the lost atmosphere.

"The atmosphere is definitely gone because nothing can beat the old Den," said fourth-year Political Science Student Jason Wolcott. "You know, generation after generation there were people that went to school whose fathers had been to the Den, and whose mothers went to the Den before they did. The Den was an institution and they got rid of it, and this is the new Den, and it’s nothing like the old Den."

Others who attended the old Den faithfully every Thursday night echoed these thoughts. Students felt there was a group experience in the past, and that the new Den couldn’t replicate the old environment. Attendees on opening night said they missed the seedy side of the old joint: the dark corners, the awful carpet and the casual atmosphere.

"The smell added stench and character to the joint," said fourth-year student Clayton Winslade. "I haven’t noticed a smell tonight, but that could be because my senses have been damaged from going here for too long."

There were problems and complaints during the night, as is expected in any new establishment. Some were bigger than others. Melinda Stevenson, a U of C graduate and current Alberta College of Art and Design student, says she knows how hard it is for students.

"They need a drink special night here because students could just go to nearby Moose Maguire’s or Kilkenny’s instead," she pointed out.

SU President Barb Wright agreed with the students.

"I’m not happy with the prices and they are being looked at," she said. "The bar needs to be able to make money to pay for the renovations but the prices aren’t firm. We’d like to have the prices finalized by winter semester, but things could be changing all year and even longer."

Other minor issues included the still exposed wires in at least one bathroom stall, and the tampon dispensers that were for decorative purposes only.

It will take time for the pristine look to wear off, and maybe the Den will develop its own atmosphere in the future, thought not everyone feels this is crucial to its success.

"It’s not the same place," said third-year student Lisa Wells. "But it’s the same people, and it’s the people that make a place."

Winslade agreed.

"The Den is still a cesspool of human degradation," he said. "Nothing can change this, the locale and renovations will be affected within a year, I guarantee it."

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