For the first time in several years, Middlebury students gathered at an on-campus, student-run bar on Thursday, April 13 on the first floor of the Mahaney Arts Center.
The bar, named The Catamount, was created by Shane Silverman ’24.5 and Marc Chu ’24, who felt the social scene at Middlebury was lacking. While students often head into town on Thursday nights for “bar night” in the basement of Two Brothers Tavern, they often face long lines at the door. Two Brothers has limited space — and there are no other bars open after 9 p.m. that are within walking distance of campus.
“We wanted to create a casual, affordable drinking environment for older students to enjoy, and I think we've most definitely met our goal,” Silverman told The Campus. Silverman noted that a number of people have been involved in the process of creating the bar, including college staff in dining services and events management. “Providing students with this experience has definitely been a team effort,” Silverman said.
Dan Detora, executive director of food service operations, has supported Silverman along the way. Dining Services saw the student-run bar as a good idea in part because the bar options in town are not able to hold much of the student population, Detora told The Campus.
“The first night went well. We had 105 customers,” Detora said. “The town of Middlebury is obviously very limited, and the spaces they do have cannot carry the entire student population, but Dining Services are here to support. Shane [Silverman] came to us with the idea, and as long as the idea is viable and students behave, we did agree that this was a need.”
Cameron Truman-Wyss ’23.5, a student who has attended “bar night” at Two Brothers, agreed.
“I think that the local drinking scene at Middlebury differs significantly from other, larger schools,” Truman-Wyss said. “The drinking scene at Midd revolves around local taverns and breweries.
Truman-Wyss said that due to the local beer and brewery scene in Vermont, participating in the bar scene around Middlebury can sometimes be intimidating for those with little experience with craft brewing.
“That isn’t to say that the scene lacks social spots in town, but it just requires a certain person to appreciate the spots,” he said.
One question being posed by students is what effect the on-campus student-run bar will have on bars in town.
Two Brothers Tavern, perhaps the most well-known and conveniently located bar for Middlebury students, is the prime spot for students over the age of 21 to socialize on Thursday nights.
Some students also go to the longstanding institution Mister Up’s, which is known for its daily specials, like reduced price cocktails or pints.
Holmes Jacobs, along with his wife Megan Brady, brother Beal Jacobs and father Travis Jacobs (a former history professor at the college) are the owners of Two Brothers Tavern.
“We started Two Brothers Tavern in 2002, as we all wanted to return home to our families and start a business that could help give back to the community,” Holmes Jacobs told The Campus.
For more than 20 years, since the Jacobses bought the restaurant, Middlebury students have enthusiastically been going to Tuesday and Thursday bar nights at Two Brothers Tavern. Now, bar nights are only on Thursdays and often draw a large crowd of students from the college community.
“We consider ourselves stewards of this tradition in which the college students come down to both our Tavern space and sister restaurant below, Notte,” Holmes Jacobs said. “We hire a DJ in Notte for a night of dancing and revelry.”
Holmes Jacobs added that nearly 200 to 250 students may try to go to Two Brothers on a given Thursday night, but they have to limit the capacity to 99 people. Lines to get in often run down Park Street, which is not ideal for students looking to unwind.
“The energy at bar night requires a very particular state of mind, a state of mind that is mitigated by the long wait at entry,” Truman-Wyss said. “There is always a line that moves at a snail's pace and ruins the energy of the space before even entering it. However, this is certainly due to the fact that Two Brothers is the only really accessible bar to Middlebury students that is open late. This means that any Middlebury student that wants a fun bar experience flocks to Two Brothers.”
Silverman is aware of the effects the new Catamount Bar may have on the bar scene in town, specifically Two Brothers Tavern, but sees it as a way to offer students another option for a night out.
“This may mean that fewer students go out to town, but I don't know if that will be bad for Two Brothers or anywhere else,” Silverman said. “Our bar may reduce crowds and make the scene more manageable. Overall, we are not trying to put anyone out of business, we just wanted to see something new, so we created it; local businesses might even like to see drinking more contained to the campus."
When asked about the new student-run bar, Holmes Jacobs said Two Brothers Tavern will always welcome new businesses to the community and wishes The Catamount the best of luck.
“Invariably, the addition of any new competition can have an adverse effect on sales, especially one that is underwritten by an institution with many more financial resources than the rest of the community-run businesses,” Holmes Jacobs said. “But our focus needs to always be on doing the very best we can to set up our business for success. At the end of the day, the more successful businesses we have, the more vibrant our community will be!”
The Catamount Bar will be having its second and final night of the semester on Thursday, April 27 but will hopefully be continuing into the fall 2023 semester.
“On Thursdays, students are a little less rowdy, so the night works very well,” Silverman said. “In the future, I do hope to continue opening on Thursday nights, but at the same time, we are starting to figure out a way to open on Fridays and Saturdays too. Next semester, if things go well, we will be open two or three times a month on either Thursday, Friday or Saturday.”