The memorabilia started trickling back to Tommy Nevin’s Pub slowly. First it was the neon sign that showed up in the alley. Next was the photograph with the full-page apology letter from the Northwestern undergraduate. And, finally, the grand gesture of a dartboard put back in its rightful spot.
And what began as an all-too-familiar story of college students behaving badly quickly morphed into one of contrite Northwestern University students working hard to make amends.
Over the last several weeks, a series of “last calls” at Nevin’s has kept this Evanston institution crowded despite plans to shut down permanently by the end of the month. The dark, cavernous pub, which doubles as both sports bar and casual dining spot, is a familiar venue in Evanston, known for its weekly trivia nights and as a gathering spot for ETHS alums who come home for the holidays.
After 27 years in business, Nevin’s is slated to close for good in part because of a declining customer base and in part because the City Council recently approved an apartment complex to be built in the spot currently housing both Nevin’s Pub and Prairie Moon at 1454 Sherman Ave. Owner Rohit Sahajpal had in fact already listed the building for sale. (See RoundTable article “Narrow 5-4 Vote Greenlights 15-Story Albion Development”). To mark the momentous closing, patrons celebrated a series of “last Nevin’s” during the second two weeks of November.
The festivities quickly got out of hand with what bar manager Brian Davenport called a “looting” by the Northwestern students who had come to attend the bar’s last weekly undergrad night on Nov. 16. Once covered with pictures and other memorabilia, Nevin’s walls were stripped bare by students who came to celebrate the last hurrah, according to Dustin Osakada, a manager at Nevin’s that night. Mr. Osakada described a packed bar and a scene of barely contained chaos.
It began with a frantic message from next door, when a manager from Prairie Moon alerted the Nevin’s staff to the fact that patrons were leaving out the back door with stolen articles from the bar. In response to the warning, bartender Seth Brav-McCabe and security guard Christopher Ruckus chased several students down the block and eventually caught up with them in front of the Evanston Police Department. They were not able to detain the individuals, but managed to recover several items that had been taken from the bar, said Mr. Brav-McCabe.
When “a group of regulars” then informed Mr. Osakada that others were leaving out the kitchen door with stolen property, he went to the back of the restaurant, flipped on the lights and turned off the music, at which point “the kids started to make a mad dash … going out from all the exits,” taking “pool balls, cue sticks, pictures of dead employees, everything they could get their hands on,” he said.
At that point, Mr. Osakada continued, the Nevin’s employees began searching patrons as they exited the bar, reporting that many had items hidden under their jackets, in their pockets, and down their pants. Although the walls were nearly empty by the end of the night, Mr. Davenport said that many of the items were recovered in the search. Over the course of the next week, one or two items reappeared each day, he said, with close to 90% of the stolen items returned to the bar, including a framed newspaper article from the day Richard J. Daley died and a picture of James Joyce.
Prompted by the NU students’ alleged behavior, Mr. Davenport wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Northwestern, in which he asked, “Why be so worked up about this? It’s just stuff, and soon, it will all be relocated to somebody’s mantelpiece anyway, so what’s the point? The point is, it is unquestionably not your stuff. Every picture that was unceremoniously ripped off the wall could tell you a story from 20-something years ago.”
When asked about the incident, NU’s Dean of Students, Todd Adams, responded with a written statement. "We are deeply troubled by the incident at Nevin’s and are working with local authorities in an attempt to identify those involved and, if they are indeed members of the Northwestern community, take appropriate action.”
The Evanston Police Department confirmed they are working with Northwestern to identify possible suspects, and Commander Joseph Dugan said he plans to share a video from the night in question with NUPD in order to “help ID offenders.” Although, he added, “Nevin’s would rather get their stuff back than have people arrested, so they are hoping word would get out before we start arresting people.”
Several days after the chaotic evening, the bar sat quiet on a Monday afternoon, with a handful of patrons gathered around, taking in the barren walls. Northwestern sociology professor Laura Beth Nielson appeared teary-eyed. Reflecting that most people had a story to tell about the pub, she said that, for her, Nevin’s was “the only place I’ve pulled my own Guinness.” She celebrated many milestones in her life there, including a christening party for her oldest son, Zach, and her own 40th birthday party. Some years back, she made a habit of holding her office hours at Nevin’s. Disappointed that NU students were the ones allegedly responsible, she emailed many of them, asking that they return the stolen articles. When asked what she thought drove the students to steal the items, she offered a simple conclusion, “Alcohol and being 21.”
On the opposite side of the dark bar, another patron who identified himself as a 60-year-old veteran present the night of the thefts, described his attempts to keep his belongings safe as the students snatched artifacts from the walls and counters. Hiding his phone under his hand, he warned them to leave him alone. One young man then plucked the hat off his head and “booked out the door.”
“If these are the leaders of tomorrow, we’re in trouble,” he concluded.
Despite the night’s sour conclusion, Nevin’s has been packed with festive crowds eager to tell their own stories about the bar’s significance in their lives. Nevin’s pending closure marks the end of an era for many who have frequented the bar over the last three decades to listen to live music, watch sports events, or just have a drink.
As Mr. Davenport noted in his letter to the Daily Northwestern, he believes most NU students will learn to appreciate the unique community that is Evanston. “One day, some of you will rule the world, but most of you won’t — because that’s how it works. It is not a bad thing to be aware of the community in which you exist. Some of you may never learn that, but most of you will. Because that’s how it works,” he writes.
And the crowds lining up outside of Nevin’s over the Thanksgiving holidays would seem to support Mr. Davenport’s conclusion. More than anything, Tommy Nevin’s has always been about community.
Final “last call” is Nov. 30.