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The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Students revitalize Bob’s Underground as space for creativity

Various open-mic and painting events have been hosted at Bob’s Underground in recent weeks. Photo by Alex Fontana.

On a close-knit campus like Grinnell, there are only so many places you can go to relax. Bob’s Underground Café, the historic space for creativity, community, and campus life, was one of these spaces. In 2017, the café closed, and since the pandemic, the space has not been used or upkept as it once was. This spring, the Friends of Bob’s Underground group is working to restore Bob’s to its former glory and has hosted multiple events in the past few weeks, including an open mic night and a painting study break.

“It’s nice to just have a dedicated creative space where people aren’t necessarily like, forced to do schoolwork,” said Alyson Won `25. “I see this part of institutional memory, institutional culture that’s getting reshaped in a creative way.”

In March, the Friends of Bob’s Underground was created to gather student thoughts about the future of this space. This group is currently overseen by SGA Vice President of Academic Affairs Ashton Aveling `22, but the goal is for younger students to take over the revival of this space to create a lasting environment. With the revival of Bob’s comes the revival of traditions such as open mic nights, where students come to share poetry, music, comedy and more.

“I think that in the first meeting with the like 13 or 14 of us that were there, it was kind of hard to see it [Bob’s] as like a dynamic creative space, but seeing during open mic night, there was essentially like standing room only,” Won said. “Having a student space on campus where you have the ability to express yourself in creative ways, like outside of like academics, it just feels really special and it feels like for a while that’s what the campus culture was missing.”

Since its reopening this semester, Bob’s has been the home of PubQuiz’s weekly trivia competition on Wednesday nights. Average attendance at PubQuiz is around 40 to 50 students, competing in teams of six. One week the event had 19 teams show up, around 80 students. Before reopening Bob’s, they met in the HSSC multipurpose room this year.

“It [Bob’s] feels very Grinnell, just everything about it. The multipurpose room is fine, but it’s too nice. All the tables are the same. All the chairs are the same,” said PubQuiz leader Isaac Throndson `23. “The opportunity to be in a space but see it differently every time is something that’s really cool.”

Standup comedy has traditionally been a part of open mic nights, and the comedy club student leader EJ Schwartz `23 says Bob’s has been an important space for the group.

“Bob’s is just the best performance space there is, you know, for students. I use Bob’s because it’s the best for standup comedy, it’s the best intimate performance space,” said Schwartz.

The walls and furniture of Bob’s are covered in student art spanning decades. When the space reopened, some of the walls had been painted over by FM. In addition to reviving the space with student life, the Friends of Bob’s are reviving the space with new art by hosting student painting events, the next of which will happen on Wednesday April 27.

The walls, tables and even ceilings of Bob’s Underground have been painted, written and drawn on by visitors over the years. Photo by Alex Fontana.

Other renovations and purchases are in the works, but getting budget approval is a slow process. The group wants to reintroduce food and drinks but buying the appliances and materials necessary may take time. Since Bob’s is designated as a substance free space, one of Won’s ideas in the works is serving mocktails, or non-alcoholic cocktails.

“[Bob’s] was just another space other than the Grill where there was food and creative things happening,” said Won. “It was a cafe where people have an espresso machine for coffee, avocado toast and smoothies and stuff. So, things that people like to consume.”

Students appreciate Bob’s for being a space other than the academic buildings or the JRC where students can go to relax or be creative. In the past Bob’s held workshops on various topics. PubQuiz leaders Evan Schultheis `23 and Tara Rawlings `23 recall a BDSM workshop held in Bob’s during their first year during the cross-campus Sex Week event in the spring semester.

“I feel like we need to bring back food to Bob’s and to bring back workshops,” said Schultheis. “It shouldn’t just be another place for students to study because I feel like that’s just so boring.”

PubQuiz in past years was held in Lyle’s Pub, which is in the basement of the JRC and is another former student space that is not in use by students now.

“Everywhere you could go and hang out as a student is kind of gone,” said Rawlings. “So, it’d be nice to have this [Bob’s] back and running again.”

The future of Bob’s Underground is up to the students of Grinnell, and the Friends of Bob’s are looking for creative ideas for reimagining the space. Bob’s may still be a part of the Grinnell campus, but students have creative freedom in that space that they do not in spaces like the HSSC.

It’s nice to just have a dedicated creative space where people aren’t necessarily like, forced to do schoolwork. – Alyson Won `25

“We are always accepting more feedback and especially now, students can have a voice in what happens to [Bob’s],” said Won. “I think it’s important for people to have a say in what happens with their environment.”

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