As one walks this ever-expanding campus, a preternatural emptiness quickly becomes apparent. Relict and nebulous, the University of California, Riverside breathes a sense of greatness now lost, the deceased culture of more outgoing student bodies remaining in the holdouts of an old UCR. Portals to this aged reality exist across campus allowing a glimpse into the past life of our institution. The Getaway Cafe, one of the two remaining bars on campus, is one of these doorways to a fever dream of a greater UCR.
The Getaway Cafe opened in 1998 and has served 25 classes at UCR, hosting numerous students and faculty. It is with this antiquity in mind that I, in search of the soul of UCR and a quench for my weekly Thursday thirst, approached the Getaway. Upon entering the bar’s billiard room, the dusty and nostalgic smell that characterizes every college bar obliterated my olfactory system, beckoning me into the welcoming embrace of this night of drinking. Neon signs and UCR memorabilia covered nearly all of the wall space outside the billiard room, truly immersing me in this space; what was missing, though, was the patrons. The building remained almost empty during my visit, with only three customers aside from myself and my compatriots populating the space. Also disappointing was the lack of a proper bar, with there only being a counter to place orders at.
Realizing the night I was going to have, I approached the counter and ordered two beers, craving to escape a building feeling of isolation in this strange, empty place. The man behind the counter was very personable, explaining the various special offerings they had on draft. He presented a good selection, hosting fourteen varieties, including India Pale Ales (IPA), stouts, porters, a brown ale, a blueberry ale and more. Priced between eight and twelve dollars for a standard pint glass, it certainly was not a bargain, but it was fairly priced for being within walking distance from my final class of the day. For the first round I indulged in a heavier beer with the Bootleggers Brewery’s Knuckle Sandwich, which sat at 10.2% ABV. Perfectly served, crisp, sweet and surprisingly light for having such high alcohol content, the Knuckle Sandwich was a treat and, in a very positive sense, did not live up to its name.
Beer in hand, I quickly found seating in the empty dining room, hoping to catch the tail end of Thursday Night Football — Thursday Night Football was never shown as they did not have access to the channel. With this revelation, I sat and drank and talked with my friends with whom I came. An unmistakable vibration of melancholy had already overset me, dreams of a night of drunken socialization crushed by the inactive reality of this space. Little time had passed before I had finished my Knuckle Sandwich, a dim ethanol haze veiling my vision. I needed another beer. My second beer of the night was a Stone Hazy IPA, a hoppy, zippy, bright pale ale, which sat at 6% ABV. Once again, it served perfectly and was very pleasant.
Bidding to escape the doom of this empty establishment, an exodus of my posse to the billiards room was executed, and, for only two dollars a game, we played a few. The pool cues and tables were exceptionally well maintained, exuding a sort of man-cave energy which was an oasis in this Sahara of loneliness. Inning after inning, game after game, this drunken competition revitalized my succumbing hype, zeroing my mind into what this place could be. Taking in the room around me, numerous signs of wear were visible on the walls, preservations of respite in the Getaway Cafe — in a philosophical delusion, I had found this soul of UCR I sought in these scarred walls. I found truth and insight in these abrasions, the physical marks of those who found refuge in the Getaway. I looked down and I had finished my beer.
Hungry — both literally and spiritually — and distraught, I headed back to the counter to order food and my last beer; the spinach artichoke dip was my food of choice, with it being simple but also wholesome and filling. This was not a normal dip. This spinach artichoke dip was the best I have ever had, containing perfect balance of cheese and spinach, incredibly seasoned chips and much more artichoke than typical in the dish. The final beer I decided to indulge in was Ballast Point Brewery’s blood orange IPA with 6.8% ABV. This beer was less good than the others I had, but was still pleasant. Slightly sour, very citrusy and a little bit yeasty, this beer was alright.
By the time I had finished my food and beer, I was ready to leave the Getaway, having found the answers I sought. The Getaway Cafe itself is very nice, exuding a nostalgic sports bar appeal, but the complete absence of patrons was disheartening. It is clear that this bar was once great and had been a significant gathering spot on campus, but it now stands as a testament to the declining social atmosphere of UCR, an atmosphere that has disenabled many of the joys typical to college life on our campus. This decline is not a death, though; a broad social culture could be revitalized at UCR — more of us should go on a getaway to the Getaway Cafe.