by Daria Purdy ’19
McPhail’s gives testimony to the long and colorful history of Providence College through the memorabilia hung upon its walls. Pictures of sports greats, influential administrators and Dominicans, and old spring concerts constantly remind students of the heritage that they live out as a part of the PC community.
Yet, what about the history of McPhail’s itself? The circular journey of McPhail’s, its many re-namings, and its rise in and out of prominence in student life form part of a history that is as colorful as PC’s.
Sgt. David Marshall, a member of PC’s office of safety and security, has seen it all. He joined the PC security staff in 1974, when he was 17 years old, and has been here ever since. He has a memory of a McPhail’s very different from the one that exists today, although it was located within the same building: Slavin Center.
When Sgt. Marshall first started working at PC, the bar on campus was called the Rathskeller. “Rathskeller” is a German word used to refer to a drinking establishment. The bar was located where the fireplace is now located in Slavin, and it consisted of two rooms: one which contained a pool table and another which was the bar area.
Marshall describes the old Rathskeller as “small, too small for concerts or for watching football games,” unlike the current day McPhail’s.
Yet, despite its small size, Marshall describes the bar as having always been crowded, with a line of students waiting to get in. “More people stayed on campus back then,” Marshall says, “as the drinking age was 18, so everyone went to the Rathskeller to have fun with their friends.”
There used to be a game room in Slavin where the bookstore is now, containing games such as pinball and Pacman (popular games in the ’70s). As the bookstore expanded, the games were moved into the Rathskeller. As Marshall describes, in the ’70s Slavin was the center of student life, with the Rathskeller being the social hub.
Then, in the ’80s, the Rathskeller became the Colonel’s Corner, and its location was moved to where the mailroom is currently located. Marshall described this as being a completely different venue. “The bar was now located in a basement,” he says, “It was always a lot darker and somewhat dirtier than when it had been located in Slavin.”
The bar was renamed to honor Col. Andrew DelCorso, who served as a professor of military science and director of the ROTC program in the mid 1960s, and as an associate director of residence for around 20 years.
Marshall says that the move of the bar away from Slavin coincided with a dip in the bar’s popularity. “The theory was that a move of the bar to the center of campus would uphold its popularity, but this was not the case,” says Marshall.
The bar was later moved to lower campus, to the arts service building, to make space for the mailroom. Marshall says that the bar regained its popularity with this further move, as lower campus has always been a hub of student life.
Then, in 2002, the newly re-named McPhail’s was opened in Slavin. The circular journey of McPhail’s was then complete; from its early conception as The Rathskeller, it had moved to the center of campus, then lower campus, and finally back to its original location, re-built and re-named.
Tim Dannenfelser, the manager of McPhail’s since 2012, describes how the new McPhail’s was meant to be an upgrade beyond just a drinking establishment. “The goal was to get freshmen and sophomores to participate in activities at McPhail’s, not just upperclassmen,” Dannenfelser says.
When the drinking age was 18, drinking establishments such as the Rathskeller were an option for all students, but with the drinking age being raised to 21, new activities had to be put in place for the underage freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.
Dannenfelser describes some changes that have taken place at McPhail’s since he started working there in 2012. “I now hire more from the student body,” Dannenfelser says. “This has been a great experience, as I have found PC students to be great workers.”
Dannenfelser also proudly recounts the name of the famous athletic figures whose pictures hang on the walls in McPhail’s. These figures include PC alum Billy Donovan, head coach of NBA team the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Lenny Wilkens, a PC basketball player who went on to play in the NBA from 1960 to 1975.
Looking to the future, Dannenfelser says, “We hope to update our decorations with memorabilia honoring more current athletes, which we think will pertain more to younger students.”
Dannenfelser also said that he believes more renovations in McPhail’s are coming, to make it more and more of a student hub, like it was in the days when it was known as the Rathskeller.