Unearthing Bob’s Underground


Sofiia Zaruchenko

The attendees of the Sept. 5 open mic filled the couches of Bob’s Underground and spilled onto the floor.

George Kosinski, Staff Writer

On Monday Sept. 5, The Friends of Bob’s hosted their first open mic of the semester at Bob’s Underground (Bob’s). This event is planned to be the first of many this year as the organization hopes to renew interest among returning students and make newcomers aware of the venue, building upon the numerous successes of last school year when Bob’s was reopened for regular use.

Bob’s Underground — in the basement of Main Hall and accessible via the Gardner Lounge — has historically been a vibrant part of student life at Grinnell. A student-run café in the space once sold coffee and snacks, and there was a small stage set up for live music and other performances.

Students fought to reopen the venue after the College closed it in 2017; in the spring of 2022, then- SGA Vice President of Academic Affairs Ashton Aveling `22 created the Friends of Bob’s organization with the goal of returning Bob’s Underground to its past eminence.

Last spring, the Friends of Bob’s reopened the space and started hosting regular events, highlighted by open mics every other week.

“It really hasn’t been that long since we’ve started working, but in that very short time we were able to get Bob’s back to being a place where people can host things, people can have fun, people can study,” said Alyson Won `25, a “bestie,” as the Friends of Bob’s refer to themselves.

“Our goal,” Won added, “is to give students a space where they can be themselves and not have to focus on just schoolwork or work. Given that goal, I think we are succeeding with the open mics and hopefully more events in the future.”

This semester, the organization aims to solidify the gains it made last year by increasing student engagement. A large part of that will be hosting open mics at Bob’s every other Monday, from 9 to 11 p.m., with the help of Freesound, the student music organization housed adjacent to Bob’s, which lends its audio equipment.

“By this point open mics are pretty smooth for us,” said Won. “We’ve been doing them for a while, and that was one of the first things we brought back here last spring. There are definitely a lot of creatives on this campus looking for a space to be able to display their creativity.”

“We have a number of people who will write their own songs and play their originals at our open mics, which is a really cool experience,” added Friends of Bob’s treasurer Megan Szalay `25. I’m glad we can provide a space where people feel comfortable sharing brand new stuff that they haven’t tested out yet.”

The event on Monday had a high turnout with attendees filling the booths and couches, spilling onto the floor and standing at the back of the room. Art on the walls made by past and present Grinnellians echoed the creative spirit of the evening as performers sang, recited poetry, played piano or played guitar. Nearly all the time slots for the evening were filled, and the audience was supportive and engaged throughout the event.

“I’ve performed at open mics since I was a first year,” said Gavin Felker `23, who played guitar and sang on Mondays. “I really enjoy playing at Bob’s. It’s a wonderful venue and I just enjoy the atmosphere that it has. Everyone is so supportive as well. There will be times where people may mess up or stumble a little bit, but almost without fail you’ll have someone cheer from the audience just to let them know that it’s all in good fun. It’s one of my favorite places to perform.”

The event also gave students who are newer to campus a chance to appreciate Bob’s for the first time. Hana Leonard `25 said, “this was my first open mic at Grinnell. I heard about it on Instagram. It was a great way to spend my evening and a great opportunity for people to let loose and get some practice performing. I liked how the audience was overwhelmingly supportive.”

Clare Newman `23, who recited several poems, noted, “you can tell there were a lot of first-years in the audience. People seemed afraid to laugh.” Her response to the event on the whole was largely positive, however. “People have been trying to bring back Bob’s since I was a first- year, and now being able to book the space for stuff and have open mics here is really awesome.”

Besides regularly scheduled open mics, the Friends of Bob’s are also planning other uses for the venue. “We have to be creative, because we’re not allowed to use it as a café,” said Szalay. This has meant many different things so far — Bob’s has hosted birthday parties, study breaks, Pub Quiz and a Grinnell Underground Magazine (GUM) release party since reopening.

“In the short term, we’re hoping to get people back in here and make it a space where they feel comfortable,” said Won. Szalay echoed that, saying, “Right now I just want people to know where Bob’s is, for it to become an established space on campus so we don’t always have to advertise our location.”

Looking at the big picture, Szalay said that she hopes future renovations to Main Hall will make Bob’s viable as a café once again, while Won said, “I hope the changes we make are lasting. I want to make sure that once Bob’s is open, it’s open for a long time, not just while we’re here at Grinnell. I hope the impact that Bob’s has is something that’s more than just us.”