Dec

18

Postcrypt Coffeehouse Faces The War on Fun

Written by

postcrypt03Since its founding in 1964 by then-assistant chaplain Rev. John Cannon, Postcrypt Coffeehouse has remained “among a handful of really well run college venues of its kind.” Popular within the folk community both for the ridiculously cool space in St. Paul’s basement, and the dedicated crowds, the coffeehouse has hosted well-known artists such as Jeff Buckley, Lisa Loeb, and Ani DiFranco, and is one of the more enduring fixtures on the campus arts scene.  But for the second time in just under a decade, the coffeehouse faces significant pressure from Columbia administrators, pressure that Postcrypt operators believe will end their operations.

The fun began last month, when, on our post about Postcrypt Art Gallery (a separate operation), a anonymous commenter wrote that the “coffeehouse sells tons of alcohol to minors and they don’t seem to have any problems.” Postcrypt members say that they have an alcohol proctor on hand, as well as strict carding procedures, but that one anonymous comment did not stop the Chaplain’s Office, Public Safety, and the Office of Student Government Advising from scheduling an “emergency meeting” with Postcrypt representatives in early December. Seriously, people, careful with those comments.

At this first meeting, the two sides agreed to add a security guard to prevent people from leaving Postcrypt with alcohol. However, at a second meeting a week later, Postcrypt was told that it would have to pay for part of the costs of the second security guard, add a second alcohol proctor, and cease storing alcohol in its storage closet (a practice that allows Postcrypt to save hundreds of dollars per year). Postcrypt members were so concerned about these extra costs that they offered at the meeting to stop serving alcohol entirely, only to have administrators say that people would think of a dry Postcrypt as a “BYOB event.” Throughout the two meetings, administrators did not cite any specific incidents to justify the changes in policy.

Later that day, Postcrypt manager Ginia Sweeney went to the coffeehouse “to collect revenue from last weekend,” only to find missing “two hot water heaters, our coffee maker, our hot plate, our popcorn maker and, for some bizarre reason, the unit that controls all of our power.”  Administrators told Sweeney that the items were removed to put the space in line with fire codes, though no previous indication had been given for the removal, and in fact Postcrypt had received permission to use several of the items in the past. No administrators commented to Bwog.

Postcrypt staffers remain unsure how the coffeehouse will survive if forced to take on the extra costs.  In the meantime, Low Library, Casa Italiana, and the Maison Francais continue to host alcohol-infused galas, but only if you’ve got the money to pay for it.

– JCD

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59 Comments

  1. MDH  

    gotta say, Columbia is totally crazy about their alcohol policy- I mean I understand they want to crack down, but seriously, how many minors are getting drunk off Postcrypt wine? I don't understand why I pay to go here and they just spend so much money on problems that affect probably <10% of the population

  2. Clearly

    Columbia seems to be shooting for a spot on Princeton Review's list of "Stone Cold Sober" schools, joining BYU and Wheaton College as peer schools.

  3. This  

    is totally fucking absurd.

  4. Anonymous  

    Going insane over alcohol policies and confiscating coffee makers? Watch yourself, Brigham Young...we're catching up.

  5. anonymous  

    It is so easy to get totally shitfaced in lerner. Wow they give so much alcohol to minors it's crazy and i love it. imm gonna go there NOW AND GET FUCKING WASTED WOOOOHOOOO.

  6. who  

    would i email if i wanted to protest this?

    • Beezly Kiernan  

      You can reach the Office of Student Group Advising at [email protected] and the Chaplain's Office at [email protected] Public Safety, I don't know.

      This whole affair is ridiculous. I'm hoping student pressure can reverse the administration's decision.

    • You can send your letters of support to [email protected] We are compiling them to send to the deans. Thanks!

  7. Postcrypt Lover

    this calls for a hunger strike!

  8. so then..

    Columbia administrators DO read these comments?

    Dear Columbia, yesterday you sent me a letter asking me to support Columbia university. As a 2009 graduate, not only do I lack the finances to barely make rent during this historic recession, let alone pay down $52,000 in student loans, but I certainly will not be donating given the fact that ANY portion of my money goes to paying for YOUR ADMINISTRATION to squash any remaining semblance of student culture and entertainment on campus.

    • revision version

      It appears this would be the only version of that note that they would be inclined to read:

      Dear Columbia, yesterday WHILE I WAS DRUNK AT A PARTY you sent me a letter asking me to support Columbia university. As a 2009 graduate, not only do I lack the finances to barely make rent during this historic recession, let alone pay down $52,000 in student loans, (I CANNOT EVEN AFFORD ALCOHOL), but I certainly will not be donating given the fact that ANY portion of my money goes to paying for YOUR ADMINISTRATION to squash any remaining semblance of student culture and entertainment on campus WHICH IS VERY DANGEROUS AND IF IT INCLUDES ALCOHOL IMMEDIATELY LEADS TO DEATH, DESTRUCTION, DEVASTATION AND ENDOWMENT LOSSES.

      Sincerely,

      MY PARENTS ARE GOING TO SUE YOU BECAUSE SOMEONE THREW UP IN A CARMAN ELEVATOR MY FRESHMAN YEAR AND I COULD HAVE SLIPPED AND DIED FROM THAT.

  9. Alumnus

    For this reason, I'm not donating.

    Lift the war on fun and I'll donate to Columbia.

  10. CC 2002  

    This War on Fun seems to have completely changed Columbia since I left...This, as well as what I hear is a draconian illegal substance policy, is the exact opposite of what a university should be doing for its students--sparking creativity while keeping students safe. In my day, RAs never called Public Safety when they "smelled" something. The entire staff seemed to be more concerned with students with dangerous habits, like alcohol abuse and depression.

  11. I got drunk...  

    ...with the founders of Columbia. Whatcha want now, PrezBo?

  12. grrrrrr  

    this school is gradually becoming little more than a soulless, overpriced, dehumanizing, antisocial, utterly depressing degree factory. i gradually went from loving this school when I arrived in 2005 to absolutely hating it over the span of five years. Thank god i've only got one more semester.

    YOU ARE NOT GETTING A CENT OF MY MONEY. EVER (you've already nickel and dimed my family into the ground).

    p.s. shame on the 09ers (my old class and 98 percent of my friends here) for 90 percent participation in your senior fund. i listened to you guys complain and complain about the BS the administration threw your way, and you blew a mighty big chance at making a statement in the only language the bureaucracy understands: money.

    that's what all of these bullshit policies are about, after all.

  13. seriously  

    seriously guys, let's just all write a letter signed by literally as many people from columbia as possible from every single grade saying we are not going to donate if they don't ease up. we have to work together. and i am seriously talking like 20 pages of actual real life signatures from columbia.

  14. Finally!  

    Something worth protesting at this school!

  15. we gotta fight...  

    for our right...

    to paaaaarty!

  16. ZACA  

    The Columbia administration is oblivious to what the CU community has in Postcrypt. One of the most extraordinary institutions on campus, and this unprovoked attack is truly mind-boggling. With a spotless track record of late and all of the great things that the coffeehouse does it will be unacceptable if the University cannot be reasonable about this. "BYOB event"? If they had ever been to a Postcrypt Coffeehouse they would know how ridiculous that sounds, and how it is NOT about alcohol but simply the music. It is irresponsible and frankly offensive of Public Safety and the administration in general to categorize students as driven only by a desire to drink alcohol and as having a tendency to abuse it. Regardless of whether this is true in some other situations, it is a gross distortion of reality in this case, and we should not stand for it.

    • Agreed. The worst part about this whole mess is, I think, the preconceptions that they have and refuse to give up, despite all evidence to the contrary, like the idea that Postcrypt is a place where students go to binge drink. One administrator insisted that students must already be smuggling their own hard alcohol into our concerts (naturally, since we're all such huge lushes that we can't sit through some folk music without being drunk out of our minds) and if we ceased to serve alcohol, this behavior would only escalate—making the staffing (at an expense of about $300/night) of a security guard and an alcohol proctor necessary.

      As the commenter above said, this is a problem not only in Postcrypt's particular situation, but in the way students are treated at this school in general. It's insulting, and based on no evidence. We absolutely should take a stand, and I hope the enthusiasm demonstrated above does not die down with the new year.

      Thanks to everyone for the support. Postcrypt is an asset Columbia, not a liability. We need to prove that to them.

  17. ...

    first they came for the hot water heaters, but i did not speak because i did not shower.

    then they came for the coffee maker, but i did not speak because i did not drink coffee.

    then they came for tuck-it-away storage, but i did not speak because i did not require a new york self storage deal with the lowest storage prices, free moving, and no deposit.

    then they came for me and denied me my medical care, and my right to guzzle cheap wine in some dingy columbia chapel basement where the smoke consists of pretense alone, and there was no one left to speak out for me ... because sallie mae said so.

  18. alumns  

    please to organize something around this problem! They'll listen to yall if you threaten not to donate. Meanwhile students should write the deans !!!

  19. Not donating  

    Not donating to this year's senior fund doesn't help "make a statement" to Columbia....if we beat last year's participation we get an extra 50,000 dollars to student scholarships, financial aid, programming, etc. The only people you are "making a statement" to are the juniors, sophomores, and freshman who still need the money.

    Is that really worth saving a dollar?

    • durrrr  

      what do you think other donations go toward? why do you think columbia asks for donations in the first place? what you said makes me think it's even more imperative to not donate, as the stakes are even higher. not donating has nothing to do with personal stinginess or 'saving a dollar'. it is a message to the university that they did not create an experience worthy of your lifelong support.

    • hmm  

      this probably sounds irrational, but as someone who has probably 97% of my fees covered by financial aid, i see this as a greater imperative not to donate. i came here because it beat out some other schools in terms of financial aid - and i know some other people make some purely financial decisions in coming here, too. but, of not donating can prevent someone from coming here with columbia's draconian policies, then so be it. with financial aid policies reaching some sort of parity, they'll have a better time at a peer institution.

      but then again, i'm a liberal arts student who lacks sound reasoning skills.

  20. Anonymous  

    This is ridiculous--- they've always carded in there. It's one of the oldest folk music venues in New York City. The place is filled with friendly geezers and grad students, the drunk freshman are wandering confusedly through Carman. That's where they are. Go take a peek-see. BWOG COMMENT JOURNALISM? I mean, come on. Public Safety, are you also going to investigate the truth behind why V115 sucked, or whether or not you had to go to the lecture to get the free crackers and cheese? COME ON. TELL US WHERE HARMONY HALL IS, PUBLIC SAFETY. WHERE THE HELL IS HARMONY HALL?

  21. Dear SGB

    FIX THIS! It's your job. Kthx.

  22. Devora Aharon  

    Yes, SGB is doing everything we can to save Postcrypt from these absurd changes. Please help us by sending in letters of support stating how important Postcrypt is to Columbia, that they don’t sell alcohol to minors, and that it’s a really calm atmosphere with no need for security guards. As Ginia said, you can send them to [email protected], and we’ll compile them to send to the administrators involved in this.

  23. John Forbes Nash  

    Anything that an administrator does or allows to be done can either go well or it can go badly. If it goes well, their superior receives the credit. If it goes badly, they receive the blame.

    So the grid of it is:
    Success Failure
    Do/Allow: tie lose
    Deny: tie tie

    So the default reaction is to be a useless sack of shit.

  24. Anthony da Costa

    I have been playing at Postcrypt for 5 years now and it has become my favorite venue; not only in New York City, but in the country. It is truly one-of-a-kind, in that it's a totally student-run professional coffeehouse that people come from all over to experience. An institution not only at Columbia but in the folk scene, Postcrypt has been in operation for 45 years and has featured tons of amazing student, regional, and nationally-touring talent. I first came to Postcrypt as a wide-eyed 13 year old kid, looking for an open mic to play at so that I could try out my new harmonica and the Dylan songs I'd been practicing. When I arrived at Postcrypt, I knew I'd found home. Five years later, I've played at the coffeehouse several times a year to wonderful audiences. Not only did Postcrypt help me in my quest as a singer/songwriter, having a unique and intimate platform to practice my craft and share music with attentive listeners, but it got me acquainted with Columbia and all it has to offer. Meeting tons of students and spending this time on campus only furthered my interest in the school. When I was accepted as a freshman this past May, the thought of becoming more involved with the Postcrypt and the Columbia arts scene added to my excitement.
    Postcrypt has a special place in my heart. After playing tons of festivals, theatres, showcase stages, and conferences across this nation, I tell you that Postcrypt is truly a national treasure and a key institution at both Columbia and New York City. I believe that Columbia is making a huge mistake in trying to shut this place down. I have played tons of shows at Postcrypt and not once has there EVER been an outburst or a problem arising from drunkenness or alcohol-abuse. I have not witnessed underage drinking. People do not come to Postcrypt to drink. If they wanted to do that, they could find a million different ways to "get wasted". People come to Postcrypt to share music and enjoy the company of others. This is a simple fact. The idea that Postcrypt has become a center for binge-drinking is preposterous and is based on no evidence. The University has not specified any instances of underage drinking and in my opinion, is following through with this persecution on a whim (aka an anonymous blog comment). Postcrypt has shown no hostility towards the University, and wishes to reach compromise without having to shut down this place that we all know and love. Postcrypt has even considered becoming a dry event, though the University STILL insists that we would have to cover the expense of two alcohol proctors and a security guard, regardless. There is no pleasing the University in this case. They know that we cannot afford a $300 expense per night. We can barely afford to pay our performers, as the current fee for performing at Postcrypt is $50. Similar to the fact that audience members don't attend Postcrypt shows to drink, musicians and songwriters don't play Postcrypt for the money. They come for the experience. They come for the magic. This place is magic. Please don't take it from us.

  25. Tom Meltzer

    Without a doubt my fondest memories of my four years at Columbia are of the times I spent at the Postcrypt, both as a performer and a member of the audience. The Postcrypt is *the* coolest extracurricular asset the university has. As essential as it was (as a training ground for musicians and as a first-rate venue hosting experienced professionals) back in the 1980s, it is that much more so now given the relative dearth of acoustic venues in NYC.

    I wish I could say I'm surprised that the school doesn't realize what a tremendous asset the Postcrypt is to the campus, but this really doesn't surprise me. Campus life has always been a very low priority for the CU administration, and it shows in the poor school spirit among the school's graduates.

    Get this right, CU. Instead of figuring out ways to close down the Crypt, work with its organizers to establish reasonable guards against the perceived problems. Better still, accept the club's history of zero problems as a strong indicator that there's no problem here to remedy and focus your attentions instead on something more important, which would be just about anything. Let the Postcrypt be.

    Tom Meltzer
    CC '83

  26. this is insane. i love postcrypt. i'm writing a letter right now.

  27. Anonymous  

    We should protest. Isn't that what CU students do. Besides Postcrypt is an amazing institution. If they cut the group we should grab our guitars and stage sit-in.

  28. Anonymous  

    Maybe the administration should stop looking at groups that actually do their job and card and should start looking where it really counts. Every dorm has alcohol especially the dry ones and half the time, the RA is the one providing it. Oh yeah, and Lerner has a hidden stash.

  29. Maybe...  

    ...morons who comment should not write bullshit about any student group, lest the administration decide to ruin everything based on an anonymous lie.

    Or, Bwog should liberally and quickly delete anonymous nonsense.

    Either works, really.

  30. Anon  

    I know that during Frontiers of Science, my teacher serve the whole class beer We calculated the molar concentration of CO2 per 12 oz can.

  31. Anonymous

    something has to be done about this. Postcrypt is one of the few good memories I have of Columbia, and it is one of the only links the university has with the morningside heights community. many people each weekend are not from columbia but from all around the city. this is a historic club, started in 1968, and if it is disbanded over this alcohol stuff it is a travesty. i suggest that alums get together and do something because obviously the power of students currently in the club is limited. any ideas? as a former manager of postcrypt still in touch with many postcrypt/cu alums, i'm willing to help in whatever way the club thinks would work best! postcrypt without free popcorn is not postcrypt, and if postcrypt is not postcrypt then columbia will never see a dime of my alumni donations they want so badly. i refuse to accept these changes!!!!

  32. The true story...  

    It is a period of civil war.
    Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base in the basement of St. Paul's Chapel, have won their first victory against the evil Columbia Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the WAR ON FUN, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Chaplain and Public Safety, Ginia Sweeney races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the university...

  33. Sarah

    I read Bwog alot and but I don't believe I've ever posted. I also have been at Columbia for 3.5 years and have seen a lot of protests, and never protested. But if this is what it takes to save the beloved music institution that is Postcrypt, sign me up. I can't believe that Postcrypt would be implicated in the same war on fun as frat parties and general carmen inappropriateness. If they're worried about binge-drinking then do it like Lerner Pub, 2 drink max- marking the wristbands (that Postcrypt already is using). Postcrypt managers have always been willing to make changes to accomodate the administration- i still lament the loss of the beautiful candles that first made me fall in love with the dimly lit space. As was made clear by the offers to make Postcrypt a dry event, people who love Postcrypt are willing to sacrifice to keep it going- its too special of a place to see die. I'm sure Anthony's story is only one of the many people who have connected to Postcrypt in a way much deeper than any alcoholic indulgence could ever inspire.
    I was totally planing to be one of those alums that comes back to sit in a dark corner of the 'crypt even though know one knows me... I've even picked up guitar recently--- and even though I can only play a few songs if a guitar-playing sit is the course of action to take, I'll be there. Please Columbia, don't make the ugly protesting event of our senior year be over some quirky musicians and the most beautiful space on campus.

  34. Rod Picott

    The Postcrypt is a unique and beautiful space that I've played many times. Unlike most of the other places I've played in the city I've never seen or experienced any problems with over served patrons. In fact, The Postcrypt has exactly the opposite reputation. The room runs more like a coffee house that serves an occasional beer. The powers that be should be encouraging and fostering this wonderful room as an example of how a student run operation of this kind can work and function in the community. The staff has always been polite and professional and timely. I wish the city I live in [Nashville] had a venue as positive and wonderful as The Postcrypt. It would be foolish and shameful if a random comment put an end to this important, albeit tiny, part of the musical fabric of New York.

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