The state of Gallettes – student tradition shifts to newer spots as more options openBy Tray Smith | 02/06/2013 11:00pm
When Alabama students returned from Christmas break, they quickly discovered the new addition at Moe’s Bar downtown and a partially re-opened Rounder’s, which is still undergoing construction.
Moe’s and Rounder’s may be the newest options for students this semester, but they are only the latest in a growing trend. Tuscaloosa’s bar scene has grown tremendously in recent years, serving every niche of our growing student body. From the Alcove to Five to the Booth downtown, students now have many more choices at nights and on weekends than they did five years ago.
The result is that fewer are choosing Gallettes.
The throngs of students normally visible outside the bar on a typical Saturday night have disappeared. “When are we leaving for Gallettes?” has become “where are we going?” You can almost hear Dave Matthews playing in the background as confused students, with their default option gone, attempt to choose a bar.
The bar may still claim that “everybody always ends up at Gallettes,” but most nights more students end up at Quick Grill. The decline has been fast and surprising, but it really isn’t hard to understand.
Out-of-state students accustomed to living in suite-style dorms are no longer charmed by dilapidated restrooms that would be considered unsanitary even in a third world country. After all, bars in Charlotte, Dallas and Atlanta don’t distinguish themselves by not cleaning their toilets.
One long weekend in the exquisite confines of Miami Beach only reminded them of what they’d been missing.
Even without the Miami trip, though, it was just a matter of time before these new students began exerting their influence over our nightlife, scorning a legendary establishment that was a source of pride for generations of previous students in favor of new options that more closely conform to their expectations.
Now, Gallettes is in a terrible bind. To get its business back, Gallettes could decide to compete with other bars and upgrade its facilities. Doing so, though, would require sacrificing some of the traditional appeal that made Gallettes so successful in the first place.
Gallettes still has two major strengths. The first is that none of its competitors appear capable of challenging it on “Wine Wednesday,” so it will remain the default destination for students going out at least one day a week. The second is that, because it is so embedded in our gameday tradition, fans and students alike are sure to order plenty of Yellowhammers in the fall.
Sustaining those traditions will make Gallettes a revered part of the Tuscaloosa bar scene far into the future. Still, it is unlikely that Gallettes will ever regain the dominance it once had.
A larger population inevitably leads more businesses to compete to serve that population. The new choices brought about by UA’s increase in student enrollment are unlikely to disappear. That is a good thing. Competition lowers prices and improves services, and visiting different bars means that we may, at least occasionally, run into different people.
There are subtle consequences though. Students once united by a common preference for a single bar now have varying preferences for multiple bars. Our student body is larger, but it is also less cohesive.
The rising number of UA students, the increasingly distant states they represent, their levels of high school achievement, their financial impact on UA and even their economic impact on Tuscaloosa have all been heavily discussed in recent years. Very little discussion has focused on how bringing in so many different people from so many different places will impact our culture.
Our changing bar scene gives us some clues. After all, bars are not alone in creating more options that cater to different individual preferences. Student organizations and university programming are also changing to accommodate a larger student body with more diverse interests.
Just as Gallettes will have to decide how to continue its storied legacy in a new environment, future students will have to decide how to reconcile deeply rooted traditions with a rapidly evolving campus.
Their response to that challenge may emerge as one of the most fascinating stories in the state of Alabama over the next decade.
Hopefully, we will find that we can benefit from new bars while still contributing to the Gallettes legacy.
Hopefully, we will celebrate and enjoy growth and change while still embracing noble traditions. In the coming years, Gallettes may show us how.
Tray Smith is a senior majoring in political science and journalism. His column runs weekly on Thursdays.