Fueled by the civil rights and anti-war movements, student activism spread across the nation in the late 1960s. In 1968, students at Columbia University rose up in protest and took over several school buildings. Following this occurrence, in fear of a similar incident, a University of Miami committee engaged in a conversation that eventually led to the creation of the Rathskeller.
The dialogue involved administrators, faculty and students. The students, led by former Student Government President Michael I. Abrams, issued a list of demands to the administrators. Within the list was a request for a lounge where students could gather freely.
The objective of establishing a gathering place was to initiate traditions at UM.
“The university was one of a handful of colleges created after 1900,” explained William Butler, former vice president for student affairs from 1965 to 1997. “The university was hard-pressed to have traditions.”
Tom Rebel, the treasurer in Abrams’ SG administration, became the chairman of the Rathskeller planning and design committee from 1968 to 1971.
“The thought behind the Rathskeller was it was a place where students and faculty could come and share stories and talk about life and academics,” Rebel said.
Joe Pineda, the first manager of the Rathskeller, traveled to universities across the nation to examinine similar facilities. Pineda decided that the Rathskeller should be a freestanding building since bars at other colleges that were part of student unions appeared to have too much administrator oversight.
Plans for the Rat were drawn by Richard Schuster, a UM architecture student who was chosen through a campus-wide contest. He was eventually employed by a local architecture firm that oversaw the construction of the Rathskeller.
Fred Lewis, dean of the University of Miami Law School (http://www.law.miami.edu/) from 1965 to 1974, came to Butler shortly before construction began with a new idea.
Lewis wanted to add a room for law students at the Rat. He was inspired by his time at a bar on the edge of the University of Illinois’ campus, which is where he attended law school. At this bar, students and faculty gathered to discuss law, and when Illinois instituted a law bar exam, they convinced a long-time bartender to take the exam. After all, he had been around their legal discussions for years. He passed and became a lawyer.
“[Lewis’] point was the Rathskeller could be more than just a bar,” Butler said.
This new room, eventually named the Fred Lewis Room, was added to the plans and later used to host Lewis’ final ethics exams.
The Rathskeller had a soft opening in December of 1972. The opening transformed traditional notions of teacher and student hangouts.
“The faculty had the faculty club and the students had the student center,” Pineda said. “This was a place where students and faculty could feel at home and talk to each other.”
When the Rat first opened, students brought by their teachers ate for free.
After July of 1973, when the drinking age was lowered to 18, crowds swarmed to the Rat.
On the first Friday of the fall term, the Rathskeller went through 6,300 ounces of beer in two hours. At the time, a 10-ounce beer cost just 25 cents.
The Rat soon became a fixture on campus and the place for conversations.
“The campus was different in the ’80s,” said Dennis Ferraro, a former night manager at the Rathskeller from 1982 to 1986. “The Rat was the place to socialize; there was not much else on campus.”
Now, in 2010, the conversation has changed.
In order to make room for the new Student Activity Center (SAC), the building that houses the Rathskeller will be knocked down. The Rat will no longer be a freestanding building but rather part of the SAC. It will, however, have an independent entrance and loading zone, according to Dan Westbrook, director of the Whitten University Center.
“The Rat is now established,” Westbrook said. “It does not need arbitrary airspace to guarantee independence.”
Site preparation for the construction of the SAC will start no sooner than Spring 2011.
The Rathskeller has already undergone change. The Fred Lewis Room is no longer exclusively used by law students but is open to the entire university community. Gliders have been added to the outside dining area and Sports Illustrated (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/) pictures highlighting UM’s football dynasty now decorate the interior.
“When we talk to students about the new Student Activity Center, we talk about the new meeting rooms, the offices and all the good things this building will have,” Westbrook said. “But the number one issue students bring up is the Rathskeller.”
So the Rat is once again a topic of discussion between administrators and students. Despite the changes ahead, one thing is for sure: the conversations will continue, and the traditions will never end.
Famous People That Have Been to the Rathskeller:
Antonio Banderas, Carrot Top, Chris Rock, Cynthia Nixon, Daniel Tosh, Danny Glover, Daryl Hannah, Donnell Rawlings, Emeril Finesse Mitchell, George Stephanopoulos, Gil Scott-Heron, John Kerry, Johnny Depp, Lissette Gonzalez, Ludacris, Margaret Cho, Marisa Tomei, Nicole Henry, Steve Smith, Steve-O, Suzy Kolber, Third Eye Blind, Al Lubel, Bobby Slayton, Eddie Driscoll, IKO IKO, Jackie Flynn, Jim Belushi, John Valby, Livingston Taylor, Sam Jankovich, Saundra Santiago, Sylvia Bennett, The Fabulous Rhodes Brothers, Tom DeLuca, and Dwayne Johnson