Raising the Bar

John Hanacek/Guardian

After a long seven months under construction, the Student Center’s best-loved saloon is dusting the dirt off its swankier, second skin.

One week from this Thursday on Jan. 14, Porters’s Pub will be hosting a grand-opening bash to debut their recently renovated kitchen and bar. In dutiful compliance with its lease agreement, the pub has revamped its historic digs with shiny new sports-bar semblances.

Since indoor facilities went under the knife last May, the pub has kept up appearances on its open-air patio, with a fully functional bar opposite the stage and servers to keep business running smoothly during development. Now that renovations are finally complete, owner Stephen Lawler and his team are expecting to attract a lager amount of students looking to grab a bite to eat or kick back after classes.

“The pub used to operate more like a concession stand,” Lawler said. “But we’re opening it up to a full bar and grill to accommodate the student community here.”

The latest construction is the first major renovation to the space since February 2008, when Lawler and Moses Muñoz took over management of the pub from its original owner and namesake, UCSD alumnus Rob Porter. Their original lease agreement with the university stipulated they must renovate indoor amenities on their own dime while the university would refurbish the roof and add new paneling.

As a student at UCSD in the early ’90s, Porter decided he wanted to re-open the Triton Pub  — as it was known during the ’70s and ’80s — after a four-year hiatus.

When university officials began construction of the Price Center in the late ’80s, they decided to close the Triton Pub so they could advertise the space currently occupied by Round Table Pizza as the only on-campus location with an alcohol license.

Consequently, the owners of the Triton Pub decided they didn’t want to participate in the bidding war for the new space, and called it quits.

In 1992, officials rethought the closure, opting to re-establish the lease for a pub on the funkier side of campus. Porter, who had been interested in creating a student business and was eager to create a space for students to hang out, made an offer.

In June 1992, shortly after graduating, Porter received a call from the university informing him that his proposal had been selected.

“Going to school, I always wanted a cool, little bit more of a hangout kind of a place,” Porter said.

In Porter’s day, the pub was one full, contiguous space — without the dividing walls that now define the stage room, kitchen and bathroom areas.

The university finished making renovations to the space in 1993, when Porter officially began managing the pub. At that time, the pub only consisted of the bar and bathroom areas — 1,300 sq. ft. at the front of the building.

In 1995 however, the university agreed to expand the lease, handing off the additional stage and patio areas to Porter’s community vision.

After over a decade at the Pub’s helm, Porter decided to move on. In 2008, Lawler and Muñoz officially took the wheel.

The new management team has hired fewer students than Porter, opting for a full-time staff behind the scenes in the kitchen and up front at the bar.

“The pub used to exclusively employee their students, or as in my case, UCSD alumni,” said Steve York, a former Porter’s Pub employee.

According to York, the decision to hire less students changed the pub’s atmosphere.

David McClearly, who recently graduated last year and still stops by twice a day, also worked at the pub from April 2008 to April 2009. According to McClearly, the pub’s menu expansion in early 2008 helped bring in a lot of customers despite the price increase on beers. He said he expects the recent renovations will do much of the same.

After the most recent renovations were officially finished by the end of Fall Quarter, many of the bar’s interior amenities have been upgraded. In the kitchen, a newly equipped char broil grill has expanded food options in order to accommodate more students while the new cooling unit (which keeps beers and other stored beverages cold) will allow the pub to offer a wider selection of beers. By Jan. 14, the team will be coming out with a new menu.

“Last week, I had my first carne asada burrito at Porter’s Pub — it’s been a long time coming,” said Porter. “We were making meals without a full kitchen, so we were naturally limited in our menu offerings.”

Though the pub’s foundational architecture remains much the same, most doorways have been expanded to accommodate patrons with disabilities. In the main dining area, a spotless gray wall divides the kitchen from patrons, studded with a pick-up window for food orders.

According to bartender Luis Saenz — a nonstudent employee who has worked for the Pub for about a year — a roomier kitchen structure and wider walkways between the kitchen, bar and seating area have made things easier on the staff. Not only that, but the new appliances have also made recipes more manageable for the pub’s cooks.

“Before, the cooks were making half that stuff up in their head,” Saenz joked.

The pub has also adopted a swankier, clean-cut aesthetic. Thanks to its mandatory upgrade, shoddy carpets were replaced with shiny new spill-proof flooring, the walls were painted a dark beige and Lawler threw up three new flat-screen televisions.

According to Lawler, he also hopes to install an additional wine rack for faculty, students and alumni who aren’t beer lovers.

Lawler said he hopes the renovations will provide UCSD students — 21 or not — with more reasons to stop by the pub. The venue will be opening earlier and staying open later, with breakfast available all day. In addition, Lawler said he’s looking to serve entrees inspired by traditional cuisine from the Mediterranean, the American South and other regions.

“We wanted to change things up so we could offer more to the student community,” said Lawler.

Now that the roar of construction has faded, Lawler and his team have a new concert series in the works, in addition to a winter beer garden (building off the momentum of this summer’s Reggae in the Garden).

“It’s going to be good,” Saenz said. “I can’t wait to get things rollin’ and get more people in here.”

Readers can contact Edwin Gonzalez at [email protected]

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