The Vassar community honored The Mug’s 50th anniversary on Friday, Jan. 20, with a celebration that kicked off with a cocktail hour and led into a classic Mug Night party. Atmospheric lighting in shades of red and purple bounced off the dark walls, and live music thrummed through the small space, echoing down the halls of Main Building. Campus Activities offered a variety of food and organized the entertainment, which included live bands and a DJ towards the end of the night.
Many students were enthusiastic about The Mug’s anniversary. Zoe Tisato ’26 said, “It was fun to have live music and there was a real sense of community—lots of people knew each other…It was really nice seeing The Mug used in the way it was intended to be instead of, like, a place to sell boba.” Yet despite the buildup to the event and The Mug’s rich history, some students expressed their disappointment following the celebration. For a chunk of the night, the entrance to The Mug appeared deserted, and as first-year Ana Leon remarked, “Security was being very cautious about capacity so the room wasn’t very full.”
Security’s wariness is warranted considering The Mug’s unruly history, but this 50th-anniversary party stands in stark contrast to The Mug’s legendary reputation in decades prior. According to “Matthew’s Mug fills nightlife niche across decades,” published by The Miscellany News in 2011, Vassar’s tradition of on-campus dances began more than a century ago as a way for Vassar women to meet men from nearby colleges. Matthew’s Mug officially opened its doors during the fall semester of 1975, although the project took years of work and endured many different names including the Drinktank, the Dangling Participle and Student’s Consumption Function. The bar and dance floor were not an immediate success, but following the closure of a popular Poughkeepsie bar, Pizza Town, The Mug became the hotspot for Vassar party life. With a well-stocked bar, a jukebox and a staff of student managers, bartenders and bouncers, The Mug was unlike any other college party space in the country. According to Sandra Jean Glorian ’76 in Spring 2002 Volume 98 Issue 2 of Vassar Today, “From day one it was all about dancing.” Back in those days, the line to get into The Mug was so long and rowdy that students would stake out three hours in advance, and a slew of overly boisterous people was regularly banned from returning ever again. Around this time, the term “Mug Rat” was coined for those special people who ate, slept and breathed The Mug, showing up at least three nights a week.
Eventually, the jukebox gave way to a DJ booth and the space underwent several renovations in the following decades to redo the mirrored ceiling and sloped floor, as intoxicated students often struggled to maneuver over the uneven ground. In 1984, the legal drinking age in New York State was changed to 21, and the Vassar administration considered turning The Mug into a senior-only space, but in the end, it was decided that all ages should be included, and so legal drinkers were marked with wristbands and stamps. In 2010, to the disappointment of many alumni, the sale of alcohol in The Mug ceased, and the infamous bar was removed following the change of management from Aramark, the College’s food service company, to Campus Activities, according to The Miscellany News. The newest renovation in Spring 2022 transformed The Mug’s appearance yet again. The only remnant of its history now hangs against the wall: the original wooden bartop filled with signatures, notes and sketches etched into its surface by students, many of whom graduated long ago.
The Mug is fondly remembered by alumni and staff alike, and although it has gone through many changes in the past few decades, it remains a vital piece of Vassar’s vibrant history. Happy 50th birthday to the beloved Mug!