The dark room bathed in pools of blue, green and red lights adds an ambience that can be instantly related to an indie music venue; posters of past performances line one side of the mirrored walls, with an unclaimed section reflecting a marble topped bar; the random selection of couches and small square tables are placed haphazardly, facing a dimly lit black stage.
Over 10 years of live music, beer and dancing is coming to an end this year as the University Cafe is set to shut down, along with the entire Stony Brook Union.
“I love being in the Union in general and this space has a lot of memories,” Shari Cummings, secretary and public relations directors for WUSB said. Cummings also works as an audio engineer for the Graduate Student Organization (GSO), which runs the UCafe. One of Cummings’ favorite events is jazz night, where students and quirky professors come to hang out and listen to some great live music. “The UCafe was the center of campus life a couple of years ago. It is sad to see it go because it will never be the same again.”
The UCafe is being moved to the second floor of the Student Activities Center (SAC), which is a total eclipse of the personality that it is supposed to take on: dark, grungy and cramped, the perfect combination of rock ‘n’ roll.
“I think it sucks,” Max Coker, music director for WUSB who interned for the GSO last year, said about the move. “The lighting, the atmosphere, even the acoustics are going to be different.”
The SAC space will not function as a proper venue for a band to perform simply because it lacks the basic architecture that is necessary for hosting music shows.
“It’s more like ‘performances’ rather than concerts,” Coker said. In addition to the new space being much smaller, the GSO does not have permission to set up a permanent stage and can only serve out of a roll-out bar because the administration still wants to use the space as a lounge for commuters to play pool and eat lunch during the day.
An overarching problem within the academic structure of the university is that the arts do not receive as much spotlight as the science departments do. This may have played a large role in the disconnect between the administration and student organizations like the UCafe and especially WUSB, which has held the same location for almost 40 years.
“Everything is very sterile on this campus,” Conor Rooney, a productions manager for GSO, said. “It correlates with the culture on campus. As the school drove more towards science students they became less likely or motivated to go see a show on campus that they don’t know anything about.”
The decision to move is not going as smoothly as they had hoped. Cummings was interning with the GSO last semester and was told multiple times that the UCafe would be shutting down soon. “We had flyers all around campus saying, ‘last show at the UCafe,’ but it is still open this semester because they did not finish our space in the SAC.”
The bar has been a large part of the attraction of the UCafe since its inception. According to Rooney the new food service vendor on campus, Sodexo, was not ready to take on the responsibility of serving alcohol on a college campus. “Since the school isn’t sure if we’re going to be permanent in this new space, they’re hesitant to get a full alcohol permit for it,” he said.
The UCafe and the campus radio station WUSB have a very close relationship, literally. There is a direct line that connects the radio station and the cafe for broadcasting live music shows. It is unclear if there will be more performances at the UCafe this semester, but it is something the student body is working on. “If students were more aware of the history behind the radio station or the culture of hosting live shows, there might have been more involvement,” Rooney said.
The UCafe’s current location is in a little-known nook off the side of the Student Union, but the new space is set to be in one of the busiest buildings on campus. “In fact, I think the SAC is in a lot of ways a better location. It’s more central, there’s more of a natural draw,” Mike Gusev, who worked as a productions director for the GSO last year, said. “The UCafe was sort of hidden, which contributed to the ambience but deducted from attendance numbers,” he explained.
The SAC has a huge number of foot traffic during the day which might be an advantage to the artists performing there in terms of increasing their publicity. “The low ceilings and lack of stage space are a blow, but I see that as a constraint we can learn from,” Gusev said. “So overall a definite boon to the scene, and I’m excited to see how the bands roll with the new vibe.”
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