Drawing of two people drinking at a bar, one is saying "Bar Night!" and the other is saying "Socials!"By Will Savino ’14

Volume XXXVI, Issue 1, October 4, 2013

Confession: One time I peed on the floor in the basement of one of the socials. Like, not even in a bathroom. Just at the bottom of the stairs. There wasn’t even a line for the bathroom. I just thought it would be a funny thing to do. I wasn’t particularly intoxicated, but everyone else seemed to be, and I chose to join in on the fun in the least appropriate way possible.

I think the crucial detail in that anecdote is that it took place in the socials. While urinating on the floor is always unacceptable, it certainly seemed less deplorable given the state of my peers and surroundings.

A few weeks ago, I attended senior bar night: the first of the year and my first ever. I’ve been to bars before, but I had never risked using a fake ID in Massachusetts. As a fully qualified 21-year old, I could finally enjoy an authentic tavern atmosphere while surrounded by the same people I see all day everyday. For the sake of this article—and because I enjoy consuming alcohol—I have attended every bar night since.

If you’ve never been to bar night and if you’re anything like I was, you have no idea what actually happens at senior bar night. I’d heard stories before, but they were always too vague. “Oh yeah, man, everyone was there.” “Pretty chill. Lot of cute girls I’d never met.” “Uhh, it was pretty casual, but you know what McMurph’s is like.” No. I had no idea what “McMurph’s” was like.

So for all of you who are curious, let me demystify bar night. The first one took place at High Horse, right across from Antonio’s. I showed up around 11:45 p.m., which was fairly late given the official 10 p.m. start time. I handed the doorman my driver’s license, and my stomach naturally dropped before I remembered that I actually am a legal adult and no longer afeloniously drunken child. It’s hard to describe what I saw inside in purely Amherst terms. The closest I can come is saying it’s like what you see immediately outside the socials on nights that get too hot, too loud, or too debauched for the average partygoer. There were people standing very close to each other, many of whom were holding drinks, and all of whom were having what some adults refer to as “conversations.” There was music, and it was played at a reasonable volume. No one had their head on a swivel searching for cops. No one was worrying about his friend getting ACEMS’d. Best of all, if you’re involved in a conversation that you’d rather exit, all you have do is say “I’m gonna grab another beer” or “I have to take a piss.”

On the first and subsequent bar nights, I met seniors I hadn’t before, shot the shit with friends, and took part in the imperfect dance ofnegotiating who pays for each round of drinks. I can pregame the event as much or as little as I choose and reach a comfortable level of intoxication regardless. I can stay for three hours or ten minutes. Were I single, I couldn’t imagine a better place to engage a romantic interest in conversation—or at the very least, get introduced to Amherst’s illustrious bachelorettes.

Okay, let’s pause a second and review: healthy drinking, friendly conversation,minimal risk, tolerant environment, variety of alcohols, and flexibility of drunkenness. Why the hell doesn’t this exist at Amherst College? My point is not that we should drop the legal drinking age. I don’t need to preach to the choir. I’d like to posit something maybe a bit more contentious: I don’t believe freshmen are immature. Yes, some may still be learning their limits. But I think the “sloppy freshmen” trope is more a result of the environment than of their inherent behavioral tendencies.

Some of you might remember that I wrote an article last year (“Why I Drink,” Volume XXXIV, Issue 3) in which I lamented the Amherst dating scene and attributed it largely to our dysfunctional drinking culture. Well I’m happy to say I’ve found a solution. It’s just a shame that you have to wait until you’re so old that you probably know everyone you want to know in your class anyway. Try to imagine an Amherst in which first-years have a place they can go to drink safely (or not drink!) without fear of police, RC, or administrative interference. And what if this place had a mature environment that clearly indicated from the outset that excessive intoxication would be frowned upon? I feel bad for today’s first-years, especially those who are just starting to drink. What are the socials telling them about acceptable drinking behavior?

I never intended for this article to be preachy, and don’t get me wrong—I love acting like a drunken idiot from time to time. I’m not saying we should all throw on baroque records, wear suits, and sit in our parlor every Friday evening. There’s a role in our culture for the socials to play, but why do we have to wait until senior year to have a casual alternative? It’s been discussed to death by now, but I feel the need to reiterate it with the new year: Our backwards drinking culture is a symptom of our social environment, not vice versa. Senior bar night is proof that if you take the student out of the socials, you can also take the socials out of the student.