Once one of Harvard Square's few sanctuaries of bike culture, heavy metal music, jeans and leather jackets, the Bow and Arrow Pub has rapidly become the home to increasing numbers of chinowearing, pop-music listening Harvard students.
In years past, the sight of 25 Harley Davidson motorcycles parked in front of the pub would be enough to drive the students away. But now, thanks to changes in Harvard's alcohol policy and an aggressive attempt on the part of Bow management to attract students, more and more residents of the houses are spending their Thursday nights there.
A visit to the pub at the intersection of Bow and Arrow Streets on a recent Thursday night--a big night-out for area students--provides a glimpse into the transformation the bar has undergone.
Outside, two men leave the pub, hoping to escape the rush of students. One of them, clad in a plaid flannel shirt with a bushy mustache and beard, stands near a red pick-up truck. He says he's leaving the Bow--it's getting too crowded.
Asked what he thinks of the influx of students, he pauses for a second, thinking.
"I think the Bow, lately, sucks. There are too many yuppies," he says, wearing a red Budweiser Beer hat. Then he gets into the truck, which bears a flourescent green "Motorcycles Are Everywhere" bumper sticker, and takes off.
Pub Manager Richard Zombeck is the mastermind behind the recent changes at the Bow. During the last eight months, he has hired a slew of Harvard students as bouncers and run advertisements in the student press.
He says the reason is one of safety. Before the Bow had a rough and violent reputation for a good reason--it was. Now, the students spend as much money as some members of the biker-regular crowd and they simply don't present the same crime and drug problem, he says.
"You know about the old rumors, actually facts. There were a lot of bikers and drugs. I started to cater to Harvard students," says Zombeck. "I like the new clientele."
Zombeck, who spent time in Switzerland and at the Beacon Hill Pub, also changed the music from Aerosmith, AC/DC and Black Sabbath to more conventional Top 40 tunes, put in a popular basketball machine and started serving buffalo wings and 10-cent hot dogs.
The Scene Inside
Inside, an old-fashioned stenciled sign hangs on the wall near the entrance reading, "Boston's Best Beer: Samuel Adams," and a message above the bar implores Harvard students to tip better. It's early and not that crowded yet. But two Harvard affiliates sit along the side wall of the bar, talking quietly and sipping Sam Adams beer. They say they want to stay for a while, but when it gets too crowded, they will leave.
In front of them, two women sit at one of the wooden-toned formica tables that dot the middle of the room. They wear trendy black leather jackets and puff on Marlborough cigarettes as they chat with a uniformed security officer. An English Beat tune plays in the background.
One of the women identifies herself as a 19-year-old Boston University junior named Moon. She says she used to frequent the Boathouse Bar, but started coming to the Bow early this fall because it's "a different place, nothing special."
Then, as the women stare off into space and smoke their cigarettes, in walks Christian N. Arangio '91, 22, and his buddies from Leverett House. Over the past several years, he has witnessed the Bow's transformation.
Arangio describes a Bow where TV sporting events were turned up loud and Black Sabbath metal anthems, such as "Iron Man" blasted away. "There were bikers from the second half of the bar all the way to the back," he says. Now all that's changed.
One senior who visited the Bow for years says, "One day I took a look around and there was everyone who went to all of the freshman parties."
Another senior put it another way: "One day the whole Eliot Crowd showed up and then it was all over." He adds that new nicknames for pub include "the Bow and Eliot" and "Lowell and Arrow."
But Arangio and his friends revel in Bow and Arrow folklore. He says that every Friday night, a man, with a pipe in one hand and a drink in the other, comes in to play checkers. "He puts the drink down just long enough to move," says Arangio, who comes from the Orient Heights section of East Boston.
The man, whom bartenders call "George," plays and beats all comers, including Harvard students. And then at 11 P.M., the man's greatest challenger comes in--a guy, Arangio says, whose name is Bob.
"Every weekend he plays Bob in a best-of-five series. Bob has beat him once. No Harvard student has ever beaten him," says Arangio, telling the story in between gulps of beer.
Arangio claims that he once overheard the man talking to himself in the bathroom. "He's talking out loud saying `that fucking Bob, he's a pretty good player, but always comes in here when I'm bombed.'"
Arangio's friend, John Mitchell, a 21-year old from North Dartmouth, Mass., says he has personally witnessed the clash of the bar's two worlds.
"I came in here one day after a job interview wearing a jacket and a tie. A guy in a leather jacket came up to me with his two buddies and said, `Why don't you buy me a drink?' I said, `Why?' He said, `Because you look rich.' I told him this jacket probably cost less than your $300 leather jacket, and he just shut up." Mitchell says the confrontation did not frighten him away from the bar.
`Rick the Bouncer'
Black-shirted muscular bouncers bop around the room. Most are Harvard students.
One of the bouncers, who is off-duty tonight, tells of his initiation into Bow folklore. "I had to meet all the regulars. One of them was a guy named "Rick the Biker," with a beard down to his chest and tattoos everywhere."
The man told the fledgling bouncer the ins and outs of doing security at a bar. He told him about tricks people pull and how to avoid them. "For two hours he told me all the things a bouncer should know," he says.
A few minutes later, Madonna's "Express Yourself" plays in the background. Two of the bouncers jump up and down to the music, the way the dancers do on "Club MTV."
Taking another swig of beer, Arangio says he has a theory about the Bow's surge of popularity amongst students. He says the College's strict new alcohol policy has driven students from drinking in their rooms to bar-hopping.
But drinking at bars can be expensive, so students have turned to the Bow over pubs like the Sports Bar and the Boathouse, he says.
Between 11:15 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., the number of people in the bar has swelled. Three women from Lesley College sit around one of the tables in the middle of the bar. Other students cram narrow passageways, sit along the bar and crowd the small tables on the opposite wall.
Another Lesley trio stands next to the bar. One woman, junior Rebecca Tauber 21, mouths the words to En Vogue's song "Hold On." Tauber says she came to the Bow because it is now the pub in fashion, the place where the most fun can be had. She adds that this did not make all the bar patrons happy.
"One day I saw a bike-chick and she said all the college kids took over her bar," Tauber says.
Harvard students may now dominate the physical appearance of the Bow, at least on Thursday nights, but a solid group of regulars has retained their hold on the pub.
The greatest common denominator between the regulars is that they have come to the Bow for a long time. some are bikers. Many are working people. And all just love the bar.
The back of the Bow is their domain. From the newly-installed big screen sports television to the pit which holds three dart boards all the way up to the pole which marks the bar's midway point, the regulars roam.
John, a 28-year old Cambridge man, takes a look around the room and sees Bow history. "I saw Bruce Springsteen play here, before he got famous."
Beneath where the dartboard now hangs, the pit was once called "The Den of Iniquity," says John. "You could go there with your girlfriend and no one would bother you."
Now, he looks around, almost amazed by the spectacle of burly but preppy Harvard athletes pushing each other and chanting, fashionably dressed women talking and drinking.
He has a message for the students, a call for sensitivity: "I grew up here. You're here for four years. Don't ruin my one night out, spending Dad's money."
Says another regular looking at the huge crowd, "It's getting a little full right now. You just say excuse me and when he doesn't move, you throw him one of these." He makes the motion of giving someone a forearm.
But for most of the hardcore regulars, the new crowds are not a problem. In fact, they say they enjoy the opportunity to meet new and different people.
"My reason for coming here is the diversity. You can have everything from a street person to a millionaire here on a given night. The main thing is relaxation," says John.
According to one of the regulars, a bearded man named Mike, the regulars form a close, family-like group, which he compares to characters who attend another Boston area pub, "Cheers."
"This is the quintessential bar," says Mike.
The hardcore regulars say that the new surge of students is nothing new for the Bow. They tell how back in the seventies, the pub was dominated by Arlington kids and live music was enjoyed by locals and students alike. And they mention with pride the names of Harvard students who used to drink at the pub and have since made it big.
Nearby, in the dart pit, two guys are scuffling. One man has his arm wrapped around the neck of another. A student, a woman wearing a black sweater, takes a puff out of a cigarette and dully looks on.
But Peter Zilonis, wearing a red windbreaker and Budweiser hat leaps into action to break up the fight. He separates the men until a uniformed security officer and black-shirted bouncers come along to eject the pair. Zilonis, a former minor league baseball player and a North Cambridge resident, managed the Bow during the mid-eighties.
He comes back to his barside stool. "Still have a feel for the old days," he says, breathing a little heavily.
What just happened, the regulars say, is an example of self-policing. They rely on each other to handle problems when trouble starts. Many have been at the bar longer than anyone else, and they feel it is part of them.
But some regulars are disenchanted by what has been happening to the Bow. Two such men are the Pappas brothers, Peter and George. George has a short haircut with long tail and sports two arm length tattoos of wizards, dragons and other fantastic creatures. His brother Peter is missing two front teeth and wears a black t-shirt.
"Old friends who used to come here don't anymore," says Peter, adding that he's been coming to the Bow for 20 years. He points to a scar near his eye, which he got when someone cut it with a revolver at a fight outside the Bow during the seventies.
When closing time comes, George dons his new Harley Davidson-brand leather jacket, leaves with his brother and crosses Mass. Ave. Throngs of Harvard students stand outside.
One of them, a woman who lives in Lowell House, explains why she likes coming to the Bow.
"My friends told me to come here. I didn't know anything about it," she says.
But just as that woman goes to the Bow because all her friends do, other Harvard students say the pub's newfound popularity has driven them away.
Kirk J. Stowers '91 is one of the Harvard students who is put off by the new crowd at the pub. Stowers tells how one day he was talking to a man who had just gotten out of prison. All of a sudden, there were "60 to 70 Eliot House residents" at the bar.
Before the students' arrival, he says, the pub was an open and welcoming place where individuals would accept people if they showed respect. Now, many of the failings of Harvard's social environment have ruined a place where once a community of unpretentious equals raised their drinks in salute to each other, he says.
"The idea is that you can't break in with these people," he says of the new Harvard party crowd. "Before you could go and talk to anyone. They stick to themselves and they're taking it over for themselves. They definitely snub the regulars and don't want to deal with them," says Stowers, a native of Las Vegas.
"I always considered the Bow a nugget o'sanity in the middle of a very warped college environment," says Stowers. "It's not like that anymore."