Last Christmas Eve, the graduate students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology let out a collective cry of despair:
The venerable Muddy Charles pub has been MIT’s centrally-located campus bar since 1968. In a graduate scene where everything can seem a little stratified, the Muddy brings together the chemists and the math-heads, the Media Labbers and the Sloanies. The dark walls and carpet gave off a comfortably drab and unpretentious vibe. In a 2011 article in the MIT Technology Review, Kenrick Vazina put it succinctly: “On a campus dominated by cold concrete and hard science, the Muddy Charles pub exudes warmth.”
So the temporary closing of the Muddy was not only perturbing for temporary reasons (where would we get our $6 pitchers of High Life?)– the idea of a renovation threatened the tired charm of the place. A bright Muddy with a new floor would be, well, not muddy at all.
The new Muddy was unveiled at some point last week, to evidently little fanfare (“Last…Tuesday, I think?” says the bartender). Although the bartenders report high turnout despite the snow, its Facebook and Twitter accounts remain dormant. While a few super-secret email lists were abuzz with excitement at the reopening, few were discussing the renovation. To gauge the reactions of Muddy stalwarts and regulars, I decided to post up at the place for an afternoon with the ultimate peace offering: a pitcher of High Life.
The entrance to the renovated Muddy Charles pub.
When I arrived, I found a photographer snapping pictures of the bar, and the alliteratively-named Mike the (Muddy) Manager posing. I’d been scooped! Fortunately, I soon learned that it was for promo photos rather than another Tech article. The Muddy was indeed looking to promote, even if its social media implied otherwise. In the meantime, yet another hopeful message popped up on Twitter, from a student who was still unaware that it has been open: “Any update on this?”
Floor not included.
Two students were chatting over a beer and discussing chemistry (the science kind), but soon left. A few others arrived: some curiously asked whether it was officially open again and then left; others asked and then stayed; still others were friends of the bartender. At no point before 4pm were there more than 6 people present. Given the Muddy’s famous warmth, it was strangely cold.
Me in front of everyone’s two favorite words.
My “FREE BEER!” sign drew attention from Mike the Manager, who asked me to remove it because free beer is, apparently, illegal under Massachusetts state law. No appeals to “but I’m paying for it!” or “but those two words are beautiful together!” could sway him, and my strategy for enticing conversation was foiled. I’d also earned the ire of the manager, a potential source. Moreover, I had to drink this pitcher myself.
At 4pm the tables began to fill up. Some friends of the bartender came in, and we asked, “What do you think?”
“…I like the walls.”
“That was sincere.”
“No, I do like the walls! I’m just not sure about the floor.”
The reception to the new look was lukewarm. The maroon, yellow, and white walls were offputting to several, though one Muddy denizen appreciated the MIT shade of maroon. Still, another remarked “It’s not quite where I thought they would go. I expected something a little more dark.” A few people missed the dinginess.
“It looks like a Burger King,” muttered one friend who joined me.
Other reactions were more positive. One Muddy regular appreciated the light tones and the welcoming nature of the front foyer. “It’s easier to navigate the space,” she said. She also pointed out the new power outlets circling the space, which will give more afternoon regulars the chance to “study at the Muddy.”
The Muddy was almost not in this position to renovate in the first place. In 2010-11, MIT’s higher-ups considered a renovation of the Walker Memorial building, which houses the Muddy along with an event room, student clubs, and a top-floor gym. The plan was to turn it into a dedicated Music and Theatre Arts building, and it was unclear whether the Muddy would be invited to return. The Muddy could move, but its central location — in between the science and business hubs of MIT — is crucial to its identity and success, as attested to by Muddy fixture Joost Bonsen, who regularly holds “office hours” for his Media Ventures class at the pub, and turns his table into a serendipitous meet-and-greet for scientists and entrepreneurs.
Fortunately for the Muddy, the Walker renovation plans were postponed, and this Muddy renovation seems to signify that it’s here to stay, for the time being. Whatever your feelings on the renovation style, this is undoubtedly a reason to celebrate (with a pitcher of High Life).
Started, completed, and fueled by the Muddy Charles Pub, Tuesday, February 24, 2:15pm-6pm