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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Students collaborate to reopen Bob’s Underground Cafe, fulfill campaign promises

Saketan Anand ’21 campaigned for his new SGA executive role with an emphasis on opening Bob’s with more regularity. Negotiations with the College are not proving very fruitful, though. Photo by Eva Hill.
Saketan Anand ’21 campaigned for his new SGA executive role with an emphasis on opening Bob’s with more regularity. Negotiations with the College are not proving very fruitful, though. Photo by Eva Hill.

Bob’s Underground resides in the basement of Main Lounge, through a side door of Gardner Lounge that leads to a tunnel painted with slogans, band names, and full-size murals. At the end of the tunnel is Bob’s, a room filled with mismatched and seemingly indiscriminately placed sofas, tables and straight-backed wooden chairs. Booths line two of the walls, a small kitchen takes over one corner and a small raised platform serves as a stage in the focal center of the space. Odd items dot the floor chaotically — a piano, a retro-looking piece of hard-to-identify metal equipment and a few footstools. The most striking decorations, though, are the wall-to-wall paintings, poems, and other pieces of overlapping art that cover nearly every inch of the room. It looks like an eccentric combination of a coffee shop, a late-night small-city burger place and an underground concert venue.

Previously a student-operated campus food-service establishment and fixture of the Grinnell campus community, Bob’s Underground closed down at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. Bob’s was continually unable to break even, causing the College administration to have to bail it out, and it was decided that keeping it running was no longer a financially viable option. Bob’s was mostly closed for the 2017-2018 school year, other than during certain events, but has now reopened as a public space with limited hours on certain days, thanks to the hard work of a small group of students and administrators.

Vice President-Elect of Student Affairs Saketan Anand ’21 placed high priority on reopening Bob’s in his campaign platform earlier this semester. Now, he and Sriyash Kadiyala ’21, Tess Kerkhof ’21 and Ashton Aveling ’22 are working with Student Affairs administrators Nancy Guinane and Michael Sims to bring Bob’s back to its former place in Grinnell’s array of late-night study haunts.

Of the students working on the project, Anand said, “Our individual hopes translate into a common goal, and I think everybody is extremely supportive of each other. For me, it was important not to be doing this on my own.”

No student in the group was at Grinnell while Bob’s was in its original state. Regarding this, Kerkhof said, “I think it really helps having some people on campus who have the memory of what Bob’s used to be, … but it’s also really valuable to have the fresh take of not having a lot of preconceived notions about the space.”

Kadiyala added the opportunity to redefine Bobs with the help of the campus community is an exciting one.

“At some point, we as a group have had to keep ourselves in check to not completely replicate what it used to be, because the campus is vibrant and dynamic, and the events that Bob’s has the potential to hold are also changing.”

“We’re not deeply attached to an idea of what this has to be. We’re open to making it whatever it needs to be to fit the campus community and to make it actually relevant,” Aveling said.

However, the road towards bringing food service and student workers back to Bob’s is unlikely to be an easy one. Guinane and Sims wrote in an email to The S&B, “running a business takes a great deal of time, of which students do not really have, especially in an academic environment like Grinnell,” going on to explain that the most successful times in the establishment’s history occurred when student workers put in time outside of their work hours. In addition, the Humanities and Social Sciences Complex is intended to house a coffee shop, adding yet another space in need of student workers.

Bob’s Underground is now open to the public on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Mondays and Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Students can also reserve Bob’s for events on Wednesdays and Thursdays. To request a reservation, contact Nancy Guinane at

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