It’s hump day. You have a 9 a.m. tomorrow, but you still want to go out and let off some steam. That guy you’ve been eyeing will be there, and you’ll be able to dance your heart out. Maybe your friends will be way too sloppy drunk, but it’s okay because it’s BAR NIGHT! Especially if you’re an athlete and you have games on the weekend, this is your night. But in the midst of the drunken small talk and getting sandwiched by two brawny basketball players, have you thought about the story of Vines on Church?
Meet Neil Baloga. He grew up on the other side of the bridge, and he took over Vines on Church about a year ago with the intention of turning it into the “quintessential Wesleyan bar.” He’s dealt with everything from customers stealing paintings, to paranormal activity, to the case of Obama’s visiting nephew peeing in his closet (according to Baloga). With the hoard of people who storm the bar every Wednesday, you’d think the bar was making a killing. But Baloga says the opposite is true.
“To tell you the truth, since I started here, I haven’t taken home a paycheck, and we’re always on the verge of closing,” he said.“I have to spend so much on security, inventory, cleanup, and, when it happens, theft. I’m barely paying the electricity bill with what happens on Wednesday nights, which is sad because it’s really the only night I have here.”
Most Wesleyan students pregame before they go to bar night because they want to save money or they want to partake in the ritual with their friends. But this is taking a toll on Vines on Church’s business. Neil had to stop taking Middletown cash because he couldn’t pay his Internet bill. When asked about the possibility of closing, he expressed more concern for his employees and the tenants.
“I hired primarily people that were coming from addiction backgrounds,” he said. “A lot of the people that live here upstairs are in programs. There’s a family of four and three workers that depend on housing.”
If the place shut down, “the people that put their pride and faith into this place and work so hard for next to nothing” would be “ass out.”
For most of us University students, this is the one place in town that we truly frequent, and it’s barely off campus. We already don’t have a great relationship with the Middletown community. As Neil puts it, “the two crowds are like oil and water.” There are many excuses for this, including age differences and socioeconomic division, but as a school that prides itself on inclusivity and community engagement, there is certainly room for improvement.
Neil, on the other hand, has a strong relationship with Middletown residents. During our interview, a man walked into the bar and asked Neil, “How often do you use the garage?” Without even asking, he said, “Use it,” and told him to make a copy of his key. In contrast to his generous character, we tend to come into bar night and abuse the space with very little reciprocity. On Wednesdays, according to Baloga, Middletown residents “avoid this place like the plague.”
Instead of focusing on the negatives, let’s focus on the positive possibilities. People complain about frats being shut down and parties being overcrowded because there are so few options on campus, but this is a space that we are welcome to use. To all of you who want to show your art and who are confused by the event planning process, this is your new place, and it’s unregulated by Wesleyan. This is a call to anyone involved in music, stand-up, photography, painting, improv, poetry slams, interpretive dancing, performance art, etc. Let’s seize this opportunity to foster a better relationship with the town and help improve the night life. Not to mention, Neil has been cooking for 14 years and he can make some dope food. If any of you have any ideas for this space, feel free to reach out to me (and I could also get you in touch with Neil).
Johnson is a member of the class of 2019.