By Gregory Yee
The line stretched outside the Anthill Pub and Grille at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012. The word was out: Pliny the Younger, one of the nation’s most rare and sought-after beers, was on tap. One 5-ounce keg, one 5-ounce pour per person and an aura of electrified anticipation. The beer, brewed by Northern California’s Russian River Brewing Company, is considered to be one of the best beers brewed in America.
People came from all parts of Orange County, and the line buzzed with talk of waiting in line for as long as five or six hours just for one taste. Current students know the Pub only as an awesome, on-campus bar that has a consistently amazing beer selection; however, the Pub has not always been the microbrew haven it is today.
“The old pub was English style with wood floors and faux brick walls,” said Mark Sellick, who managed the old pub with current pub manager, Scott Winterstein. “Originally, it was set up like a typical campus bar. Before it was the Pub, it was a restaurant called Pietro’s. The Associated Graduate Students (AGS) lobbied [UCI’s] administration to use the space, and the administration said that if AGS got a liquor license, they could run it. When the restaurant went under, it became the Anthill Pub and Grille and was divided into the pub section run by the grad students, and the grill run by the Student Center. The pub’s incarnation started around 1992-93. Scott and I went to the bar in the mid ’90s, when Ed Varner was manager and became bartenders about 1998 or 1999. We took over in 2001, and that’s when we started changing the Pub from a campus bar to a microbrew haven. Scott did operations, and I did budget and products. We came up with that motto, ‘A Swill Free Zone,’ after watching Bill O’Reilly’s ‘Spin Free Zone.’ We thought it was funny.”
Winterstein and Sellick took the pub in a radical new direction, changing the beer list from mostly domestic brews like Budweiser, Coors, etc., to delicious microbrews such as Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye, Lost Coast Downtown Brown, Brasserie Huyghe-Melle Delirium Tremens and Alesmith Speedway Stout.
“The old bar had character,” he said. “It did have pool tables. It was on the third floor of the Student Center, in what used to be a cafeteria and overflow seating for the Student Center. It was shaped like a T and had an outside patio. If you’re trying to monitor drinking, it’s hard. That was our biggest challenge. It was a little crazier. But you get that at any bar. We had very few incidents, and we coordinated with the police. We ran the old pub for four years.”
Since the Pub’s re-opening in the new Student Center, Winterstein continues to push the boundary of what is expected at a campus-drinking establishment. Students enjoy a fantastic beer selection, live music and regular trivia nights.
“Scott has personalized this place,” he said. “He’s the architect of this place, along with Megan Brescini, who has overseen products and events like tonight’s. The vibe is pretty similar [to the old pub]. When I come in here, it has a lot of the same feel. The old pub has taken on a lot of mystique. This place is so much cooler than the old pub in certain ways. If you look around California, there are 10 or 15 microbreweries. That all started with the old pub. We started doing firkin nights. I used to know the beer producers and distributors well, like Richard Norgrove from Bear Republic. It’s all about maintaining good relationships with the producers and distributors, and going to those beer festivals. It’s about creating a culture, and maintaining that culture.”
Sellick reflected on another of the Pub’s important functions on campus: providing a central meeting place. Irvine famously has few options for nightlife, and although the many dives and sports bars of Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana are a brief drive away, having a pub within from class is an unbelievable privilege.
“It gives you an actual meeting place,” he said. “Irvine is a pretty sterile place. The Pub offers a social space for grad students, undergrads and professors to meet. When I was a grad student, I would hold my office hours here … We like to educate people about the brewing process. It’s a very pedagogical place. What we used to do is have two gateway beers: Newcastle and Paulaner Hef. We used to be the biggest Paulaner Hef. retailer in Southern California.”
After the opening of the new Student Center in 2007, the new Pub continues to provide an on-campus meeting place to hang out, learn about beer and have a good time. Although this transition certainly marked the end of an era for UCI’s graduate students, the Pub remains in capable hands.
“AGS was going to fight to keep the space as graduate-student run,” he said. “When I left, we had already gotten a lawyer. The school was questioning the liquor license. I think the school saw an opportunity to get the graduate students out of here. The grad students used to run all aspects of the pub. They conceded the license, which to this day breaks my heart. The upside, of course, is that the Pub still has its best and most thoughtful manager, Scott, and some very good people like Megan. They had a bunch of bidders, and Scott and Tim Haskell ended up winning. I think this was the best possible outcome for the Pub and for UCI.”