In 1940, Roger Babson ran for president on the National Prohibition Party ticket.
Thirty-four years later, Babson could not have foreseen that a new hangout at the college that bears his name would begin doing the very thing he was running against: selling alcohol.
Located in the Coleman Hall basement in a space formerly used for classrooms, that student-run hangout, the Beaver Brau, was the original watering hole on campus and the predecessor of the Roger’s Pub & Grille of today.
“Right out of the box, we were very successful,” says Joe Diamond ’73, MBA’74, the Beaver Brau’s original manager who today works as a consultant. “It was a great place. It was a place where you knew everybody.”
A student who led the effort to establish the Beaver Brau was Gerald Watson ’76, who was frustrated that students had no real place to gather. This was long before the Reynolds Campus Center or the Babson Recreation and Athletics Complex.
“The driving force wasn’t to create some place to drink. The driving force was to create somewhere to be,” says Watson, now the owner of The Watson Group, a financing company based in Chicago. “There clearly was a need. There was no common place for students to go and hang out.”
School administration soon backed the creation of a community space, and Watson formed a group of students, the Community Coffeehouse Committee, to investigate the idea. Watson found inspiration from professor Jack Hornaday P’76, H’99, who taught an early entrepreneurship course at the College. “He was a freewheeling, swashbuckling kind of guy,” Watson says. “You learned a lot in his class about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. That was helpful on a lot of levels for me.”
With the state drinking age recently lowered to 18, the committee decided it wanted the new establishment to sell beer and wine. To do that, it gained permission from the Wellesley Board of Selectmen, not an easy feat, given that Wellesley had been historically a “dry town.”
Opening in April 1974, the Beaver Brau offered sandwiches, snacks, and both wine and beer on tap. Bands played on Thursdays, and Watson would bring a record player and microphone to play jazz records. Diamond recalled a faculty talent night that featured longtime Babson professor Joseph Weintraub playing the banjo.
Eventually, the Beaver Brau was replaced by Roger’s Pub, located in Park Manor Central, in 1988. That establishment, in turn, was replaced by a new Roger’s Pub that opened in Trim Hall in 2016. Watson visited the new Roger’s earlier this year. “I was very excited to see it,” he says. “I hadn’t been back to campus in a long time.”
Watson’s efforts in the 1970s had helped to pave the way for the social space today, and the students and staff at Roger’s greeted him enthusiastically once they learned of his role in founding the first bar on campus. “I took it all in,” Watson says. “It was a really good feeling.”
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