Where can I go on a Friday night at Stanford when I’m not in the mood for a frat party but also don’t want to just knock on a friend’s door? This was the thought running through Emily Arbuthnott’s head as she began a journey that would lead to the creation of The Arbor, a largely student-run beer garden and outdoor hangout at Tresidder Memorial Union.
In response to an Office of Student Affairs email asking for ideas in winter 2019, Arbuthnott, then a junior, and other students who shared the same mindset were given the opportunity to turn their vision into a reality by that spring. After being closed for more than a year due to cold weather in winter 2020 and then COVID-19 restrictions, The Arbor reopened on April 15.
While The Arbor exemplifies the power of student voices, it is also changing the way students from varied age groups engage socially, interact with alcohol on campus, and enjoy in-person entertainment following a year of virtual campus programming.
The set-up of The Arbor, open on Thursdays and Fridays from 6 to 10 p.m., is modeled after Arbuthnott’s experience at a beer garden in Monterey. “It was a very simple set-up. Just some picnic tables, a heater, some lights, and they were serving beer,” she explained.“Why can’t we have something like this on campus?”
The Arbor was nicknamed “Barrillaga” as a joking reference to the number of buildings named for philanthropist John Arrillaga. But it’s not actually a bar. Because the beer garden is outdoors and serves non-alcoholic beverages in addition to food, students under 21 are allowed in the space. “We didn’t want younger students to feel prohibited from going and meeting older friends,” Arbuthnott said. On an average evening, The Arbor serves 200 to 250 people in partnership with CoHo Cafe. Most come in groups around 8 p.m. and stay until closing, according to the social media manager for COHO.
Plastic cups of beer and cans of wine are a common sight at tables, making the establishment’s nickname even more fitting. Interviews and visits indicate that many patrons who frequent The Arbor are graduate students. “I found out through a Rains listserv email,” said one Physics Ph.D. student who lives in the Rains housing complex for graduate students. Several other graduate students said they learned about it from a friend, a house listserv, or a lab mate.
However, many undergraduates have not been formally introduced to The Arbor. There seems to have been no announcement made to the undergraduate population by the Office of Student Engagement or Office of Alcohol Policy and Education. At Verily, the only COVID-19 testing center on campus for undergraduates during Spring Quarter, there is a 36×24-inch poster board advertising The Arbor, tucked away in the corner.
“What is that? Where is that? I have never heard of this before,” said junior Mwengwe Mpekansambo, a Residence Assistant at Crothers Hall, when asked if she had seen any information about The Arbor. One sophomore said he found out about the existence of “Barrillaga” from a friend’s tweet. A first-year student, Nora Swidey, recalled being invited to trivia night at Tresidder with friends and only realizing once she got there that “Oh, this is Barrillaga.”
While there are signs explaining The Arbor’s house rules once you enter the space, a few weeks ago a security presence was introduced. The guard on duty from Stanford Public Safety, who asked to remain anonymous, said his presence was mainly to enforce that alcohol cannot be brought in from the outside. When students are told this rule, they typically leave the boundaries of The Arbor to drink the beverage before returning or toss it immediately, the guard said.
Not all students come to The Arbor to drink. “I’m here supporting my friend. He’s performing tonight,” said Kheshawn, a sophomore who asked to be identified only by his first name. The Arbor has given student talent a platform with weekly acts ranging from spoken word artists to bands complete with drums, guitar and vocals. Bradley Immal, a Stanford undergraduate who’d been trying to engage with the live music scene on campus for years, was so passionate about the opportunities available to performers that he started volunteering his time at The Arbor as a sound engineer this quarter.
“Some nights it’s really low key,” he said, “then other nights we’re performing for like 200 people and it feels like a real show.” Immal explained that he started working at The Arbor for free but is now paid for his time. Student performers are paid around $20 an hour, which, as Immal put it, is “a lot better than free shows we usually do.”
After a night of live entertainment or friendly trivia competitions, at 10’o clock an employee or a volunteer will get on the mic and announce that The Arbor is closed. However, because the venue is outdoors many people linger until the last possible second, usually well past closing time, waiting for the next chance they’ll get to return to Barrillaga.