SDSU For the past ten years, Louie Holton has owned and operated Louie’s pub at Aztec Center at the southeastern edge of the SDSU campus. While serving beer and wine to students weekday afternoons and evenings until ten, he has come to know many of their lifestyle patterns.
Holton’s advice has a whiff of the old in loco parentis, Latin for “in place of parents,” a doctrine that universities have abandoned, sometimes under court orders, since the 1960s. The idea was that when kids leave home for college, universities take over some parenting roles. Dormitory curfews, especially for girls, and dinner dress codes, once common at private colleges, are examples of the policy that was intended to be for students’ own good.
Several weeks ago, Holton gave me an earful from behind his bar. “Before the last campus police chief retired, he said he’d love me to be open seven days a week until two in the morning because he knew I ran a tight ship and it would give a place for students to drink on campus so they wouldn’t have to drive to the beach. The worst time for police around here has been the eleven-to-three-o’clock hour, when students are going to and coming home from the beach.
“We don’t want the students to have to go off campus to drink,” Holton continues, “especially those that live on campus because then you’re forcing them to decide whether they’re going to drink and drive. You’re putting young people in a compromised situation that they don’t have to be in if they have a safe, controlled environment on campus.
“The way I view the pub on campus is that it’s a controlled environment for students to learn their limits. People turn 21 while they’re going to college, and I think it’s part of the university’s responsibility to give them a safe, regulated place to learn their limits while they’re still in school. It’s a lesson that needs to be learned early and as fast as possible so they don’t end up becoming problem drinkers. When you hide stuff, you tend to hide it from everybody, including yourself a lot of times,” observes Holton.
“They’re going to drink at this age. It’s a foregone conclusion. Give them a safe alternative to drinking and driving. We’ve seen in recent weeks that even the smartest SDSU students will drink and drive if push comes to shove.” (Holton is referring to the arrest on October 17 of the SDSU student body president James Poet for driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of marijuana.)
“It should be part of the university’s mission statement,” the pub owner concludes, “to both keep the students safe and offer them alternatives to driving back and forth from downtown and the beach. I know there’s a liability issue involved, but sometimes we have to think past the liability to the responsibility.”
Holton might talk as though he wants to be dean of students. Instead, he’s trying to save his pub. At the start of the current school year, an official of Aztec Shops, a nonprofit company that administers food services, dormitories, and the bookstore on campus, informed Holton that he’d have to close in May 2009. Aztec Center is scheduled to be razed, and over a two-year period the university will build a new student center called Modern Space on the same site. When Modern Space opens, Aztec Shops plans to put operation of a new pub and grill out to bid. Holton was first told he would not be allowed to bid (Aztec Shops has since changed its mind), and until the new building has been completed, there will be no university pub. Holton had hoped to remain in business at least while construction was under way, but he was told no.
University officials told Holton not to speak with students or the student newspaper, the Daily Aztec, about the pub’s closing. But what irks him the most, he tells me, “is that administrators used the pub, they used my [business name], Louie’s, to get the students to vote yes on a new student center. They used my business name in their voting pamphlet for the referendum.”
The referendum on fees for a new student center was held in March 2006. The ballot indicated that choosing “yes” would be a vote for, among other items, more seating in Louie’s Suds n’ Sun (the bar’s full name), especially on the outside patio. On September 30 of this year, in a story about the pub, the Daily Aztec quoted Chris Manigault, student body president in 2006, as follows: “Originally, there was going to be some form of Louie’s pub. There was not an intent to lose the pub in the original ballot.”
“When I mentioned that the students were not getting what they voted for,” says Holton, “the university told me the name Louie’s was used only so that students would understand what a pub is. Yeah, right. I thought our grade point average at San Diego State was going up. I believe that most people on this campus know what a pub is.”
Despite the promise of a bidding process for the next campus pub, there has already been talk of bringing in Chili’s to run the pub and grill, which will be on the lower level near the bowling alley in the new building. At first, there were rumors that Chili’s would serve hard alcohol in addition to beer and wine. Campus administrators later squelched the idea, saying hard alcohol will never be allowed on campus.
“Downstairs is the worst possible place for a pub,” says Holton, who thinks that by going there the university shows it wants to hide drinking on campus. Currently, the fenced patio outside Louie’s often has a raucous atmosphere, especially on Thursday afternoons, when many students are done with classes for the week. And it is one of the last sights that visiting parents see when student guides bring them to the edge of campus after escorting the families on campus tours.