The AR and the Rath: More than Just an Eatery
“Where’s the AR? Where’s the Rath?” Depending on your class year, these are the questions you may have asked on your first visit to campus.
In September 1950, the new John Paine Building opened with a cafeteria in the basement. After a contest to name the space, the winning entry, submitted by Faith Meyer ’51, was chosen. The cafeteria was christened the Aluminum Rail—based on the surface over which customers slid their trays from the order pick-up area to the cash register—and quickly shortened to the AR.
The AR became a gathering place for everyone in the college community, especially faculty and students. Countless meetings, both formal and informal, were held over hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. Lunchtime was an opportunity for faculty from different disciplines to socialize with each other. Commuting students could buy a hot lunch or bring lunch and buy a drink. Even resident students, needing a change from the dining hall, would grab a burger and fries. At night, the AR provided a place to take a break from studying. I confess that I graded many tests and papers there, hoping that students would drop by my booth and give me respite from that unpleasant task!
The AR was also a boon to nursing students and student teachers who could get breakfast before the dining hall opened. Eventually, it served athletes and others who returned to campus after the dining hall had closed for the night.
Of course, over the years, there were the usual complaints that led to better service, more extensive menus, and new furniture and paint jobs. (Complaints about prices were common. In 1973, for instance, students protested their 40-cent hamburgers going up to 45 cents!) But one thing remained the same: the opportunity for all constituents of the college to access food, fun, camaraderie, diversion and entertainment.
In November 1973, the management obtained a beer and wine license; the drinking age was 18 then! In the evenings and on weekends, under the coordination of Susan Porter, the AR by day became the Rathskeller—a restaurant or tavern below street level—by night. With waitress service, free peanuts, 30-cent beer on tap and live entertainment, the Rathskeller was billed as “the best place to relax with your crew for a brew.”
On Friday afternoons, all-college get-togethers encouraged socializing among students, faculty, and staff. Happy Hour on Friday evenings featured 15-cent beers and 25-cent cappuccinos.
In 1974, the daytime food menu became available at night as well. This plan saved students from having to make “runs to the Jack-in-the-Box when [they] need[ed] something more substantial than pretzels.” The liquor license was not without its down side, however. Stolen glassware and utensils, damaged furniture and “hassles” lead to new rules and regulations in 1975. Ron Shongar, then-manager for both the AR and Rath, dealt with these situations while also instituting new activities and promotions. Some of you will remember performers including Hector and Holmes & Mancini.
Difficulties continued to plague the Rath, especially evening and weekend crowd control and continuing theft and damages. While the commuting students were assured that the AR daytime services were not in jeopardy, the resident students formed a “committee to save the Rath.” By 1977, this committee had become a student government sponsored club. The members worked with the AR/Rath manager and administration to deal with problems, improvements, budget, and programming. They surveyed patrons for ideas and suggestions.
In December 1982, a new state law raising the drinking age to 19 (and soon after to 21) affected the Rath. Bouncers were needed to check IDs. Manager Mike Muscatello worked hard to keep the Rath alive and well. Although the Rath was considered a service rather than a money-maker, it was necessary to at least break even, and prices went up to cover new expenses. Eventually, the new drinking age took its toll—attendance had dropped and Mike was forced to cut back hours—and the Rath personnel decided to not renew the liquor license.
Over time the term “AR” was supplanted by the term “Rath” to refer to the total operations of the eatery in the basement of John Paine Building. Employees and student workers continued to provide efficient and caring service in the Rath until the end of the Spring semester 1995, when the Rath moved to the small dining hall in McKinstry and became known as The Sage Café. The basement space in the John Paine Building became a much-needed photocopy center as well as the new location for the mailroom and supplies service, which moved from Gurley Hall.
For 45 years, the AR and the Rath served as the hub of campus activity. Some of you may remember Mrs. Blackburn, who worked in the AR for almost 20 years, or Sue, Mike, Gloria, Fran, Annie, Tony or Paul, who made the AR and the Rath a welcoming place and a refuge from study. Although it no longer exists on campus, the AR and the Rath will live on in the memories of the Russell Sage alumnae who patronized it during those years.
Sage Archivist Aggie Stillman answers questions of interest to RSC alumnae.
Write “Ask Aggie” at [email protected]