The Twisted History of Beer 'n Loafing

Beer and Loafing probably started in 1983 or no earlier than 1982. We are now in the third decade of BnL. Quite an accomplishment of persistence! Or thirst...

Tim Bawden believes that the first Beer n Loafings took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. On Friday afternoons, grad students would go get a few cases of Huber and bring them back to Science Hall. Someone would show slides from the field or from a recent trip. Apart from the presentations, there was already a bit of a tradition of starting Friday at noon when grad students and some faculty would head to a place called Taco Grande on Francis Street for beer, food and pool. That little tradition became known as "going to Tacos."

Tom Klack, a graduate student, gave the Beer and Loafing that initiated the "moose" call tradition. This is instigated by a slide of an animal, preferably large, being shown with audience competition to be the first one to holler, "Moose!" The "Klackman" started in the graduate program in 1980 and his Beer and Loafing focused on a summer road trip sometime after he had been here for a while.

Yi-Fu Tuan came to Science Hall in 1984 and started "Coffee and Coping" to run parallel with the already-established tradition of Beer and Loafing.

Tom Vale recalls a particularly rowdy Beer and Loafing when a new Ph.D. student named Judy Meyer gave one in Room 201 (where they were held in the early days). She started in the program about 1984. Beer and Loafing was already established, but Judy was pretty new when she performed.

The Wisconsin drinking age changed to 19 in 1984 and to 21 in 1985 or 1986. Then (because of Beer and Loafing?) rules concerning alcohol consumption in university buildings were changed and Beer n Loafing had to hit the road. Now, Taco Grande had become the Black Bear Lounge in the mid-to late-1980s. It was a "townie" bar upstairs and a biker bar downstairs. So when Beer and Loafing had to leave Science Hall that was a natural place to take it.

The Black Bear Lounge had a nice space upstairs that they would let us use, and they only charged us two or three bucks for a pitcher for beer. Everyone paid Beer n Loafing dues at the beginning of the year and when the money ran out they collected more. The Black Bear was a good venue for us, but apparently it was even a better venue for the Isthmus cocaine trade and the place was shut down in 1991. Tim Bawden remembers signing a petition in which they said they sponsored university events to keep the Black Bear open. He thinks we were about the only people from the university that ever stepped foot in there.

The "early Golden Age" of Beer n Loafing was beginning to fade by 1992, and the "Dark Ages" soon followed, lasting for several years. It was a period of fragmentation and disarray. Beer and Loafing moved to the Latin Club on Johnson Street but they had no good place to show slides, we did not have our own space, and it was too well lit. The food was good but apparently not good enough because they, too, were shut down a couple of years later. The Latin Club apparently attracted a crowd that the cops did not want to deal with. One time someone came in firing a pistol and there were occasional fights, no more than any frat bar, though.

The next stop was a short interlude at the Union up in the conference rooms. BnL reached its nadir during this time because people were getting too serious: serious about their talks and taking offense to heckling. It followed that beer consumption plummeted. Attendance did, too.

BnL then moved to the basement of a place called Bw3 in 1994. It was better than the Union, but even though they loved our business and reserved the space down there for us, we still had to compete with people playing pool in the back. Plus, it stunk. We hung in there with Bw3 until about 1996 or 1997.

Finally, we brought BnL back to the Union, and did our best to make sure that its home would be in the Paul Bunyan Room within meters of its humble origins. Since about 1999, therefore, we have witnessed The Renaissance of Beer n Loafing. Perhaps a Modern, and eventually Postmodern, period will follow?

As of 2005, we are still in the Paul Bunyan Room in the Union and usually meet at 4:30 pm on Friday. Posters go up in the halls for advertisement, and we have a webpage on the department website. The slide shows still cover almost every aspect fo student life--trips, classes, recreation, conferneces--with a fine witty flavor, but are now on laptops and PowerPoint presentations, sometimes supplemented with music, annoying sound effects, or video clips. Each semester, two grads volunteer to be the Beer and Loafing coordinators, alternating between begging and bullying for presenters to get on the program.

For example, here is a classic recruitment email from Rob Rose on 21 November 2006:

After starting the season with two really great Beer & Loafings, it is a shame that we have not been able to fit another one in yet.  Seems like the faculty decided it would be more important for us to hear a lot of professional talks this semester.  Whatever.

So in an effort to return to our roots, the B&L Committee would like to schedule a B&L for Friday December 1st.  While there is another professional talk that afternoon, we will plan on starting around 5:00.  A perfect way to clear your mind of all those facts, figures and ideas you may have accidentally absorbed at the Yi Fu Tuan lecture.

The only problem is we need someone to actually present a B&L.  So who is gonna step up?  Who is gonna show the rest of us what you are made of.  The gumption that brought you here in the first place.  The fight in the dog if you will.  Somebody?  Anybody?  How about one of you new students.  You have been pretty quiet so far...

Your B&L Committee.

A short history of BnL is still presented at the beginning of each semester. Heckling is vigorous, and the victims of slow presentations or rambling explanations call out "Next!" until they get a slide change. The "moose" call whenever an large animal of any type (cow, bear) is in the slide is still a tradition although a stuffed moose head that was a fixture of BnL for a while has disappeared. A favorite presentation for two years now has been "Loafer Wars" in which tiny snippets of Science Hall geography are shown, like a door, and teams have to guess the floor and location of the picture. Many presentations finish up with a contest and, depending on the amount of beer drunk before the contest, one side wins a questionable "prize" while the other side loudly protests the obviously-biased judging.

Some recent traditions include the awarding of a plaque made out of a Science Hall shingle and a penny loafer shoe for the most memorable/funny/shocking presentation of the semester.

Contributors to this history include Tim Bawden, Tom Vale, Michelle Schenck, Melanie McCalmont, Woody Wallace, and--gratefully--all the graduate students of Science Hall. Please forward your recollections to add to the story!

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