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Alumni Reminisce as The Graduate Closes

by | Jul 1, 2019 | College Town

No one type of customer frequented The Davis Graduate, a bar and restaurant that closed its doors on Sunday after nearly five decades serving beers and burgers at the edge of campus.

On a recent afternoon, customers filled the heavy wooden picnic tables to watch a Women’s World Cup soccer match. Later that night, salsa dancers crowded the dance floor. Posters advertised a country music night.

“When I was really sad or really stressed, I just went to The Grad and I knew I was going to have a good time,” said Rocio Jones ’19, who said frequent trips to The Graduate’s salsa nights, especially during her junior year, helped her feel less stressed and perform better academically. “It was more than a venue — it was a community.”

The 8-acre University Mall shopping center is set to be razed and rebuilt as “University Commons,” a mixed-use site with residential units on top of parking garages and new retail spaces. Only the Trader Joe’s in the southwest corner of the lot would be untouched.

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University Commons rendering of proposed future design. (Brixmor Property Group)

Charlie Swanson, owner of The Graduate, said on Facebook that he was grateful for the years of support, leaving future plans open.

“Since 1972 we have done our best to be a reflection of our community,” he said. “I am not sure what the future will bring but we gave it a hell of a run.”

A sports bar for all

For some customers, The Graduate was a place to watch and celebrate sports.

Video of a packed Graduate erupting over a 2010 Word Cup goal was part of a recap aired on ESPN during that tournament.

Maggie Albrecht ’18, a regular of the bar’s country night, said she also frequented The Graduate to watch San Francisco Giants games, joining a large crowd that only grew as the team advanced through the 2014 playoffs on its way to an eventual World Series win. She pointed out that like many superstitious baseball players, she always ordered the same meal to bring good luck to the team.

“One day late in the season I ordered the wrong thing and the kitchen staff guy looked at me questioningly and corrected my order for me,” she said. “I think it’s hilarious they knew me that well.”

Aggie sports were also a highlight.

Rich Watts ’96, who played baseball at UC Davis, said it was often the only place he could watch friends who played other sports when they would travel the country for playoff games. He recalled one of his favorite memories — piling into the bar with three teammates who had all been drafted by Major League Baseball teams earlier that day (Watts wore the hat of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had drafted him) to celebrate the end of their on-campus athletic careers. Last year, he took his then-14-year-old son to his old haunt.

“We got him a Grad Dog and showed him where mom and dad used to celebrate all the big milestones,” he said. “The Grad was always that place, the gathering place for a whole group of us.”

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Heather Gwinup, Cred. ’02, on the dance floor at The Graduate in 2000. (Courtesy of Jenny Rihl/The Davis Enterprise)

It also served as the go-to lunch spot for many campus employees.

“Every time you walk in, you know somebody at some table,” said Janelle Belanger, ’92, M.S. ’94, a lab manager in the UC Davis Department of Animal Science who was sitting down to lunch with a few coworkers on a recent afternoon — a few minutes later, a half-dozen more staff members from the same department filled an adjacent table. “It’s the end of an era — I don’t know what everybody is going to do.”

Sheikh Selim ’90, Ph.D. ’95, made sure to take a few memories with him after his final trip to The Graduate, snapping photos of every corner of the restaurant as he backed out of the door. He said he visited “almost every week” when he was a student, and was shocked that it was closing.

For Heather Gwinup, who earned her teaching credential from UC Davis in 2002, a certain photo of the Graduate has special meaning. She met her husband — then a law student — at the bar one night in 2000, on a night The Davis Enterprise happened to be photographing the business for a section highlighting weekend activities in town.

She was helping a friend move a few weeks later when she spotted a photo of herself on the newspaper that was about to be used to wrap some glasses.

“Now, the night we met is memorialized forever in our laundry room,” she said.

Bud Light commercial filmed at The Graduate in 1993 (Photo courtesy of Alison Portello/The Davis Enterprise)