Emerson students walking from their 2 p.m. class in Ansin to their 4 p.m. in Tufte will see a sad sight: Beneath Sweetwater Tavern’s hallmark red awnings, the tables are missing, the door is closed, and there are white, spray-painted demolition markings on the ground. Just a few nights prior, the same spot had been bustling with buzzed bar-goers and nostalgic students enjoying Sweetwater’s final festivities.
On Wednesday, March 25 at 2 a.m., Sweetwater locked its doors for good.
Open since 1978, the Tavern has long been a hotspot for Emerson students who flocked there for weekly trivia and karaoke nights, or simply a casual Sunday brunch. As Emerson moves forward with its construction plan for a new dormitory at 1-3 Boylston Place, the reverberation of jovial, beer-soaked banter in the Boylston alley will be replaced with the roar of demolition.
A Sweetwater story
Open for over 35 years—and thus preceding Emerson’s move to Boylston Street in the late 1990s—Sweetwater had developed deep roots in the alley that is now part of Emerson’s campus. Thus, Emerson’s community has embraced Sweetwater as a beloved escape from classes, work, and internships—a fact that becomes evident with a brief search of “Sweetwater Tavern” on Twitter.
“Such a mistake to close this bar #Sweetwater,” tweeted Jeff Kolb, an Emerson graduate. Alex Crabb tweeted, “Old @emersonimc stomping grounds closed,” using the Twitter username for the college’s Integrated Marketing Communication graduate program.
According to Emerson’s website, participants of a Ploughshares Literary Magazine Guest Editor event even took advantage of the tavern’s libations between talks that day. Author Peter Ho Davies, Ploughshares editors and staff, faculty, and students gathered at Sweetwater’s happy hour.
Tom Carroll, who graduated from Emerson in 2014, was in attendance for Sweetwater’s goodbye celebration on Saturday, March 21, and its closing night three nights later. He said that he and his friends always enjoyed karaoke night, and he appreciated the bar’s centralized location, cheap beer, and good bar food.
“I understand why it’s closing—the school is looking to expand,” he said. “As an alum, I’m happy to see my school looking to grow. It’s just sad to see Sweetwater go. We all have so many fond memories from our time there. It was an awesome place to meet up.”
In November 2014, Emerson confirmed its plan to build an 18-floor, 375-student residence hall, which would displace the club The Estate and Sweetwater. This new dorm, along with a scheduled Little Building renovation, would increase the number of students who could live on campus to 70 percent from about 53 percent as it is now, Margaret A. Ings, the associate vice president of government and community relations, told the Beacon in November.
Estate announced its last day would be Saturday, March 28.
Carroll said he felt an obligation to get to Sweetwater a few last times before the wrecking ball arrived.
“I’m really going to miss that place,” he said. “A little bit of Emerson’s soul died as Sweetwater closed its doors its final time.”
Home (just barely) away from home
On Facebook and Twitter, in the weeks preceding Sweetwater’s closing, feeds were colored by nostalgic posts lamenting the loss of favorite meals, from the nachos to the tater tots. For sophomore visual and media arts major Isabella Boettcher, the loss of the pulled pork sandwich was particularly saddening.
“I could write an essay about their pulled pork sandwiches,” she said.
Being her go-to lunch place, Boettcher said she will miss not just the food, but also the friendly, easygoing waiters and bartenders.
“The wait staff was always super chill,” she said. “When I went there on Friday [the waiter] thought I was drunk at 2 p.m.—I wasn’t, but he was fine with it if I was.”
Similarly, senior writing, literature and publishing major Luke Fogel said he will miss the sense of community fostered by Sweetwater.
“Sweetwater was like Emerson’s bar,” he said. “It was a go-to where you always knew you could find someone there. When you got down to it, there were good prices, good food, solid-strength drinks, and it was always a good time. You’d always hear people laughing in there.”
Fogel said he’d gone to both a trivia and a karaoke night before, choosing to sing last summer before all of the theater majors arrived and stole the show. At the trivia night, though, he said he chose to stand on the sidelines.
“I decided not to participate because I was shouting out the answers,” Fogel said. “I’d had one too many whiskey ginger ales.”
Junior writing, literature and publishing major Hilton Dresden, a regular at karaoke night, said he was devastated by the tavern’s closing.
“I’m beyond sad—it’s a part of my lifestyle,” he said. “It was a break in the middle of the week for me and all of my friends who live on campus because it was only 45 seconds away. It was just fun—we’d go and drink and dance and sing.”
End of an Emerson era
At the last trivia night—and the bar’s last night ever—on Tuesday, senior interdisciplinary major Mariesa Negosanti said that the bar was packed and the atmosphere was fun, and everyone was celebrating rather than mourning.
“It’s a huge bummer that it’s closing, especially for us seniors who would want to enjoy it during senior week,” Negosanti said. “But it had a great run, so it’s hard to be too angry about it.”
Fogel said he did understand the reasoning behind Emerson moving forward with construction plans.
“As Emerson students, we complain about the lack of space, the lack of facilities, the lack of dorm rooms,” Fogel said. “So I understand the need for [the demolition]. But maybe a relocation of Sweetwater is something to consider.”
Representatives from Sweetwater were unavailable for comment.
For Negosanti and many other Emerson students, Sweetwater was much more than just brick and mortar.
“I think the best part of Sweetwater,” said Negosanti, “was knowing that no matter what day of the week it was, you could go in and know there would be an Emersonian there.”