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Fish Co. to WhisCo: Local bar upgrades weeknight thrills

The Whiskey Republic has moved past the storied debauchery of the Fish Company

A group of first-year girls in tube skirts wait outside the Whiskey Republic on a Wednesday night, chilly in the below 30-degree weather but excited for the night ahead. After paying their $5 covers, they enter the semi-crowded bar of wooden panels and wander until they find the coat check.

They came here to learn how to booty clap, to handle their first four-and-a-half shots and to get hit on by a med student who turns red when he realizes they are only first-years. They dance to music selected by DJ Meatball, who has been spinning at the bar on 515 South Water Street for the past eight years. “I know what to play by reading the minds of the crowd,” he said.

At 1 a.m. the girls clamber out of the bar laughing and play with frozen leaves while walking back to campus. Tomorrow they will brace themselves for 9 a.m. ECON 0110: “Principles of Economics,” comfort their hangovers with Blue Room muffins and remember the phones, keys, jackets and student ID cards they left behind. “We get between five to 10 calls the next day about lost items — it’s a ritual,” said Brian Burke, Whiskey Republic’s general manager.


Big fish in a small pond 

The bar at 515 South Water Street has hosted “Brown Night” on Wednesdays for more than 11 years, as previously reported by The Herald. The debauchery of the Fish Company, the bar which previously occupied the building, began in 2002. It gave alums and current students memories that have stuck like beer on the bar’s bathroom floors, though some current students only experienced Fish Co. on brief pre-college visits. Their recollections spin wistfully around the bar’s notorious stripper poles.

In reaction to a raid by the Rhode Island State Police Underage Drinking and Nightclub Safety Task Force and the arrest of three Brown students, among other reasons, Fish Co. closed its doors in December 2010. Josiah’s served fewer late-night customers Wednesday nights after this closure, The Herald previously reported, and local bars — including Olives Bar and Entertainment on North Main Street and the Colosseum on Pine Street — tried to serve as chasers for the sting left by Fish Co.’s demise.

The bar reopened in March 2011 under new ownership and with a new name — the Whiskey Republic, or as it is more commonly referred to, WhisCo. Dropkick Murphys’ bassist Ken Casey, one of Whiskey’s co-owners, was drawn to the establishment’s waterside location, Burke said. The arrival of 20 high-definition televisions, creation of a kitchen, renovations to the bar, patio and dance floor and “cleaner bathrooms” marked a new era for the bar while still not letting it completely deviate from the Brown Night tradition, Burke said.

“We wanted to keep a good relationship, especially since we are so close to the University. We consider Brown Nights to be as important as Saturday nights,” Burke said.

In the beginning, Brown Night at Whiskey was well attended by students. “I went there almost every Wednesday my sophomore and junior years. It was so crowded by 10 p.m., some people would get in fights to get a place in line,” said Catherine Gross ’13, who transferred to Brown shortly after Fish Co. closed.

But the new management did not satisfy some students’ cravings for the bar’s former craziness and leniency. “All my classmates were around for Fish Co. They called Whiskey ‘Wishco’ because it wishes it were Fish Co.,” Gross said. Despite some dissatisfaction, students kept coming because they were “following a legend,” Gross added.

“There was nothing particularly great about WhisCo. There were long lines and drinks weren’t cheap, but it was a good mid-week break,” Gross said. She said her favorite WhisCo memory involves winning Las Vegas tickets. When DJ Meatball announced Whiskey was having a vacation giveaway on Twitter, Gross put her social media skills to use, an addiction her friends often tease her about, she said.


The Republic party  

Homework, distance and  on-campus social events keep some students from getting thirsty for the bar scene on Wednesday nights, but Lori Ebenstein ’17 uses WhisCo as motivation to get her work done in advance, she said. “I think it’s nice because there’s an area to dance and you can go somewhere quieter to talk to people — the place has both aspects,” she said.

Other first-years were less impressed. The bar  “is more hype than anything,” said George Reynolds ’17.

“It functions as a definite, while not necessarily great, destination on any Wednesday night,” said Andres Chang ’17.

Gross understands why the Brown Night tradition may be dying, she said. “That legacy carried forward with my class, but now the classes that are there didn’t have Fish Co.,” she said.


Casting the net

Many students feel Whiskey’s crowd is not as diverse as its alcohol selection. “When I went last year, the crowd felt rather homogenous,” said Vicki Kidd ’16. Athletes tend to dominate not only the television screens but also the dance floor, especially after they have finished their seasons. Burak Karaca ’17 said he noticed a very high male-to-female ratio at the bar.

Among this multitude of men, Ben Bouvier ’17 found few who identified as gay. “WhisCo is the most heteronormative place I’ve been to during my time at Brown,” he said.

But straight male Brown students are not the only ones at the bar. Older men from the area also attend Brown Nights, rocking slick Travolta tresses, leather jackets and fur coats. These men sit at the bar alone, trying to keep up with the music. “I was slightly wary of them creeping up on us, but then I realized they seem so lost. I felt bad for them,” said Shababa Matin ’17.

Every Wednesday there are around 10 doormen stationed at WhisCo to keep the place under control, Burke said. They discourage underage drinking while sporting a variety of hair styles, including a faux-hawk, and they are much stricter than their Fish Co. counterparts.


A new catch 

Danny Chimes ’17 said he believes Brown Night at WhisCo can be saved by emulating Fish Co.’s gritty glory. “If you are going to sell alcohol to minors, you need to go balls deep and trash the place up,” he said.

Or perhaps Brown Night needs to find a raunchier home. “Darwin’s should have a bar, that would be the best,” said Winston Kortenhorst ’17.

But some students said they do not think Brown Night needs to be saved. Kidd decided to go to WhisCo last Wednesday, though she does not usually attend, and she said she enjoyed the experience. Her friends, rather than the place itself, made it a good time, she said.

“When you get enough people anywhere, it’s going to be a fun time,” Gross said.


Editors' Note: A previous version of this article contained quotes attributed to anonymous sources obtained in a manner that did not adhere to The Herald's ethical standards. The quotes have been removed from the story. 

Steps have been taken to ensure that both the writer and editor involved fully understand The Herald's ethical standards and to prevent any similar violations from arising in the future. We apologize to our readers.


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