By ROBYN GIANNINI
The University Underground, a phrase perhaps foreign to underclassmen but well-remembered by senior students, was once a legendary hang-out for students providing coffee and evening entertainment and activities in the basement of Lee Hall before it closed in Spring 2006.
After undergoing renovations this summer, the Underground will reopen in Fall 2009.
“The Underground was a nice small venue that hosted anything from Rocky Horror Screenings to bands to a poetry slam,” said alumnus Clifford Hamaker, ‘08. “When they weren’t hosting an event, then it was a quieter atmosphere filled with chatting and coffee.”
Senior Alyssa Lee stated that she went to the underground at least once a week, describing the atmosphere of the Underground as “very relaxed.”
“The darker lighting helped give it a very small lounge-type feel,” she said.
Senior Katie Robinson also commented on the versatility of the events and activates that were offered by the former University Underground.
“I went to a gay film festival when it was there, I went to Salsa Dancing, [and] I also when to Bhangra night,” Robinson said. “I loved the Underground as a venue because it was more intimate than Seaco or the Nest…it was like all of a sudden we weren’t necessarily on campus but in a dark, intimate, lounge venue with funky entertainment…it was a little beatnik.”
Alumna Emma Klemt, ‘08, who was employed at the Underground, said that she frequented the Underground often because it was, “a good place to hang out and just chill.”
“It was also much cheaper than the Nest for a cup of coffee or some snacks,” Klemt said. “It was also much quieter than most dorms, and not as boring as the library. Honestly, I got more work done there than I did anywhere else, because it was a great place to have a study group.”
Steven Thomas, the assistant director in charge of the plans for the new Underground, hopes to capture the same sort of essence and purpose the old Underground served on the Mary Washington campus. The UMW website describes the plans for the new Underground as, “a lively venue offering food and beverage service and a place to relax or socialize” and “a gathering place for students in the evening with regularly scheduled entertainment and activities.”
Thomas said the new Underground will have five-to -even nights of weekly programming, which will include things such as acoustic acts, small bands, and comics. Thomas also said that Cheap Seats has signed on to host a movie in the Underground every Wednesday night.
When questioned how the new Underground will differ from the former Underground, Thomas described the change as “a facelift.”
“From what I understand the stage has moved positions, and now there’s actually food in there; it used to be more of a coffee shop,” he said.
Thomas also said that the food will be quite different from that which is served at the nest, stating that it will be more like what one might find at a “Panini, sandwich type location.” Students will be able to spend EagleOne money to buy food and drinks.
Thomas has been able to give several students previews of the new Underground, and has recieved positive feedback.
“One senior tech told me that [in the old Underground] they had to put boards on the ground because there was a hole in the middle of the floor that would collect rain,” Thomas said. “When she saw the new building, she said, ‘wow, this is amazing, the sound equipment is better, the lighting is better, everything is a lot better than what it used to be.’”
However, some students who remember the former Underground are worried that the essential character that made the former Underground unique will be lost in the transition.
Klemt in particular is extremely skeptical of the plans for the new Underground.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the same at all,” she said. “I have a feeling that it’s going to be the same as the Nest, just in a different place.”
Other students, however, are more hopeful.
“The renovation plans sound fine…I mean, I’m all for food, beverage, and entertainment,” Robinson said. “I would just hope that the intimacy and lounge type atmosphere could be replicated. That was what made the Underground unique from the Nest or the Washroom.”
“I’m glad to hear that the Underground will be resurrected, I think the space has great potential,” she said. “The Nest and Wash Room are nice, but I feel like the Underground can provide not only another great location, but something a bit different.”
The main concern among many senior students and alumni about the quality of the transition from the old Underground to the new Underground is whether or not the new Underground will be student-run.
“I think that the fact that it was student-run was a defining characteristic of the atmosphere that the Underground offered,” Hamaker said. “The music tended to be based on the whim of your friend behind the counter. There was never a rush to get your coffee or soda. Tables and couches could be arranged and rearranged as you saw fit: to study, play cards, or practice some choreography for a class or Mr. UMW.”
Thomas is convinced that the quality of the student-run venue will not be lost, stating that the University will indeed be employing students to help manage the Underground.