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Boat Club still afloat

Lauren Beck | Friday, October 3, 2003

They called it the ship that could never sink.

And despite hitting a large iceberg last January, the Boat Club seems to be living up to that reputation judging from the throngs of students on board during recent weekends.

Though the Boat Club is afloat once again, there’s a different – that is, more legal – crowd going sailing this year.

“It’s just as loud, just as hot, just as sweaty, and just as fun, but it’s just all upperclassmen there now,” senior Amie Wersching said.

That’s understandable, considering 231 underage drinkers were cited in the Jan. 24 raid on the bar.

Boat Club owner Mike McNeff said his business declined drastically after the bust.

“Everybody thought I was closed,” he said. But as people have realized that isn’t the case, McNeff has seen a slow, gradual increase in revenue.

As turnout has exceeded his expectations, McNeff has increased his stock behind the bar to avoid situations like the past two Thursdays, when students drank the Boat completely dry. McNeff said it took him two weeks to get adjusted to the renewed influx of customers.

“The seniors came together and let each other know that we’re still open and just as much fun. There’s more security, but once you’re in, it’s still the same old Boat Club it always was,” McNeff said.

“And there are still the same specials,” he added, alluding to the bar’s infamous $1 pitchers.

McNeff said several students have complimented him that the Boat Club now feels like a senior bar.

“This year I think people are more excited about it,” senior Roxie Trevino said. “They’re stoked because it’s the same thing as freshman year except it’s legal now. People are excited about the re-emergence of it.”

To deter those for whom boating isn’t legal, McNeff said he has stepped up his security.

First, McNeff chose to do away with the stamp Boat Club previously used to mark patrons’ hands upon entrance to the bar. Aware of students who would rub their stamp off on an underage friend’s hand to avert the bouncer, McNeff opted to use wristbands instead. A bouncer puts bands on all patrons’ wrists – tightly – as they enter, and he changes the type of wristband distributed each night.

Although McNeff used a video camera the past few years to tape students as they show their IDs to the bouncer, he said he now displays the monitor to prove to incredulous students that the camera actually does work.

Bouncers also consistently scan IDs at the door, and students wishing to enter must sign affidavits proclaiming they are indeed 21 years of age.

“There’s technically not much more we can do at the door,” McNeff said.

With new security measures and an increasing student presence, McNeff is more confident about the future of his business.

“There’s a lot of loyalty. People are glad we’re still around, and they’ve said they support us and understand everything we’re going through,” McNeff said.

But not all former patrons were as understanding.

Two hundred Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students cited in the Boat Club raid are being sued by Millennium Enterprises, the company that owns the bar, for $3,000 each. The lawsuit claims students fraudulently misrepresented themselves to the bar as being 21 years of age.

Some of those students said they haven’t returned to the Boat Club because they don’t want to risk more trouble after the frustrating legal process they have undergone.

A South Bend judge recently dismissed 40 of those suits, declaring that no legal precedent exists in Indiana for such litigation and that underage students could not be held solely responsible for damages the bar could incur as a result of the bust.

Millennium Enterprises appealed those suits and attempted to postpone the remainder until April.

Other students were willing to overlook the lawsuits, though.

Whether they come to dance to Bon Jovi, reclaim their cups championship title, imbibe cheap beer, or stick to the floor, a significant number of students have chosen to make Boat Club part of their weekend routine. Whether the bar’s lawsuits are ethical or not, some seniors say they just can’t forsake their first love.

“It’s understandable to be angry about it,” Trevino said. “But it’s not about the legal issues. It’s about being at the Boat with your buddies.”