The room is dark with limited lighting. Students are huddled together around tables and are all looking toward the stage where a lone man sits.
It’s Rick McGhie’s weekly show and he is taking requests from the audience of drunken students eager to sing along.
“Play 'Devil Went Down to Georgia!' ” yells one student who has clearly had a few drinks.
McGhie points at his guitar and explains, for the tenth time, that he doesn’t have a fiddle. Annoyed, he returns to taking serious requests.
A few songs go by and again, the request to play “Devil Went Down to Georgia” comes from the same student. The heckler was Scott Colby, former editor-in-chief of The Gazette and current opinions editor for the Toronto Star.
But this isn’t your typical Wednesday night at The Spoke: It’s 1988, and The Elbow Room is absolutely packed.
If this is your first time hearing the name “The Elbow Room,” you are far from alone. The Weldon archives only have a few documents about this old pub and most current students have never heard of it.
The Elbow Room was a pub located in the basement of the UCC from 1973 to 1991.
An old floor plan of the UCC shows many classrooms occupying the space where the Elbow Room used to be. The former space of the pub is now hidden behind the Wellness Centre and Body Systems Nutritions store in the basement.
Though the pub was closed over 25 years ago, memories of its defining features still live vividly in the minds of Western alumni and professors who are still teaching here.
Western’s distinguished English professor David Bentley frequented The Elbow Room when he was a junior faculty member in the late 1970s.
Bentley says it occasionally got rowdy and there was almost always a bouncer at the door.
“People used to get cut off on a regular basis,” says Bentley with a laugh. “Of course things were much looser and less strict in those days, so … it really was when someone got rowdy and unpleasant.”
For other regular customers of The Elbow Room such as Colby, the pub was a place to go to wind down after their day.
“We [editors at The Gazette] loved the Elbow Room, particularly on Friday afternoons,” says Colby. “When we finished our work week at The Gazette some of us would head down at around 5 o'clock. It was a good time to get your end-of-the-week drink in and decompress before heading out.”
Marie McLaughlin, who graduated in 1983, recalls the pub fondly. She explains The Elbow Room had an intimate atmosphere. “It was like going to someone’s living room and sitting around having drinks with your friends.”
McLaughlin says there was always music in the background; sometimes even live performances such as Rick McGhie or music videos being played on the projector.
“One of the things that I remember about The Elbow Room that I thought was cool, if you can believe it, was we used to watch Much Music videos,” says McLaughlin. “When there wasn't a live singer there, they'd have a big screen projector and they'd play music videos.”
Colby explains that these videos were really popular among students in the '80s, some of whom made a weekly habit of attending the Much Music “Power Hour,” which was mostly heavy metal.
Despite attracting students and faculty on a daily basis, The Elbow Room wasn’t destined to stay.
In 1991, the pub was shut down.
No one seems to know why the much loved Elbow Room closed its doors.
Some speculate that the University removed it as part of renovations to the UCC basement that added more classrooms to building.
“When they renovated the UCC, that’s when they got rid of The Elbow Room,” says Colby.
“When I go back, I miss [The Elbow Room]. It was definitely my favourite place. I liked it better than Ceeps — better than the bars downtown.”