Cheap drinks and lively entertainment at the UMass Grad Lounge

By Kate Evans

The Graduate Lounge. You know, that place in the Campus Center that serves alcohol? Located directly across from the Blue Wall with a fairly small sign, this bar is somewhat of a hidden gem on campus.

Since reopening in the fall of 2005, the Grad Lounge has been serving beer and wine to the University of Massachusetts students, faculty and Amherst residents. Open Monday through Friday, the hangout spot has over 50 beer selections, wine by the glass, a pool table, and free entertainment Tuesday through Thursday evenings.

Manager David Majka, who graduated from UMass in 2001, has been running the lounge since last spring. Majka also manages Union Billiards and can often be seen bartending alongside an array of full-time student employees.

With a flat screen TV above the bar, free pool, and a courtyard for smokers, the Grad Lounge is a great spot to socialize. Drink specials include a “Black and Tan” for $3, which consists of Guinness and Narragansett. Another must-try is called Apple Pie, Harpoon Winter Warmer mixed with Harpoon Apple Cider.

Currently on tap are Guinness, Sam Adams seasonal, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Berkshire Brewing Company Steel Rail, Bud Light, and a rotating IPA.

Out of the bunch, Majka boasts, “We can pour a good Guinness.” He goes on to surmise that one of the most popular beers is PBR. At $2 a glass, how can students go wrong? As for wine, the house red is customers’ favorite.

After all, one of the business’ mottos is, “Not the best glass of wine you have ever had, but it is the best CHEAP glass of wine you have ever had.”

Alcohol aside, the Grad Lounge offers a variety of live entertainment. Comedy night on Tuesdays, Open Mic Night on Wednesdays, and Trivia Night on Thursdays attract big crowds.

Comedy Night takes place from 8-10 p.m., and starts out with card tricks. Roughly 8-10 comedians take the stage, each performing five to eight minute stand-up sets.

“We are looking for talent, we have walk-in room,” says the manager.

Open Mic Night runs from 6-9:30 p.m., and has previously included performances by acoustic musicians, violinists, and hip-hop artists.

Christian McCracken, a senior at UMass, works part time at the Grad Lounge and has performed at Open Mic night. McCracken bartends Wednesday evenings and is involved in setting up and even occasionally hosting the event.

Though McCracken is impressed with the level of talent at Open Mic night, he joked that “it’s not enough talent for people to be scared of coming up and performing.” He is the only hip-hop act that has performed so far, going by the moniker L.A.N.K. and collaborating with producer Jon Gogel, also known as Soul Controller.

“We just dropped an album last week called The Roughest Draft,” said the musician. The album is available online for download through datpiff.com or McCracken’s Facebook fan page.

The aspiring artist enjoys rapping at the Grad Lounge because he says it is a place to practice performing. McCracken suggested everybody check out the spot, dubbing it, “a rare commodity on campus.”

Trivia Night is the most popular night of events, running from 7-9 p.m., ending just in time for the start of the weekend. Student bartenders come up with the questions and prizes are awarded, including pizza, beer merchandise, and Union Billiards passes. Super Trivia, taking place this upcoming Thursday, will be “bigger and better than usual. More questions, better prizes, same time,” according to Majka.

If the event time slot doesn’t cooperate with your schedule, the Grad Lounge is busiest from 4-6 p.m., and not just with students either. Customers range from professors and staff to Campus Hotel guests, affirming the bar’s slogan, “Beer and wine, not just for grads.”

Although the popular establishment doesn’t currently serve food, Majka told would-be customers they can bring their own provisions.

“Bring in food from anywhere and we provide the beverage.”

He noted that food service is a possibility for the future.

The bartenders choose the music, but Majka says he’s allowed customers to use their iPods before. Most commonly, the beats are a mix of rock, hip-hop, and classic rock. The music, not too loud, ensures a relaxed environment.

The reason behind the bright red walls?

Even Majka doesn’t know, stating that “it feels like you’re in a brick.” He’s been in discussion with the graduate art department, trying to get them to either paint over the red or donate some artwork.

Majka’s overall goal in managing the Grad Lounge is to please students, quipping that “we’re trying to bring some fun to the Campus Center.”

He elaborated that everything is sold at “student price.” Majka also added that, “Whether someone likes it or not is up to them, but they should come check it out.”

To learn more about events and pricing, log on to the UMass Grad Lounge’s Facebook fan page.

On creating the page, Majka said, “I started it two weeks ago and we’re already at 600 [fans]. Somebody likes us.” See for yourself and drop by the lounge, open weekdays from 11a.m. until at least 10 p.m.

Kate Evans can be reached at [email protected]