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From the Archives: Dalloway’s Coffeehouse and the ’90s art scene at Saint Mary’s

, and | Monday, October 7, 2019

Diane Park | The Observer

In 1991, students at Saint Mary’s College founded Clarissa Dalloway’s Coffeehouse. Dalloway’s provided a communal location for students to enjoy food, drink, a cozy atmosphere and each other’s company. The coffeehouse became a popular location for musical performances and events hosted by student groups.

On Sept. 30, 2019, The Observer reported on the efforts of the Saint Mary’s Student Government Association to revive Dalloway’s on campus. This week, From the Archives takes a look at the history of Dalloway’s Coffeehouse and what it meant to its patrons.

Clarissa Dalloway’s Coffeehouse opens at Saint Mary’s College

Nov. 12, 1991 | Jeanne De Vita | Researched by Jim Moster

On Nov. 6, 1991, Clarissa Dalloway’s Coffeehouse opened for business in the Saint Mary’s Clubhouse. Accent writer Jeanne De Vita reported on the grand opening Nov. 12, 1991. Named after the Virginia Woolf novel, Dalloway’s was “an attempt to bring members of the Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame communities together,” De Vita wrote. 

An illustration that accompanied an article announcing Dalloway’s opening. | Observer archives, Nov. 12, 1991.

Peggy Abood, founder and then-coordinator of the Coffeehouse, called Dalloway’s “the essence of what Saint Mary’s is.” It provided students with a communal space to study, meet friends and enjoy the performances of musicians. At the time of the Coffeehouse’s opening, a volunteer staff worked to “to sell cappuccino, espresso, flavored mineral water and baked snacks.” 

But Dalloway’s was also a place of artistic expression. Students contributed to the vibrancy of the Coffeehouse by drawing on the tablecloths. The Sister Chain, a six-woman group of Saint Mary’s students, performed “original songs and Irish love ballads” to a large crowd on opening night. According to the article’s author, the artistic freedom of Dalloway’s meant it could be “something different to each person.”

Dalloway’s signature musical group records demo 

Sept. 9, 1992 | Mara Divis | Researched by Evan McKenna 

The Sister Chain, an acoustic-based musical group composed of Saint Mary’s students, gained a following after its formation in the fall of 1991. The band performed frequently at Dalloway’s Coffeehouse and throughout the South Bend area, playing original songs as well as “covers of Sinead O’Connor and Indigo Girls music.” 

The group originated in Ireland — four of the members participated in the same folk music group during their year abroad. They frequently convened with the locals and sang “traditional Irish songs, classical folk songs, Indigo girls and originals,” the article said. Following the students’ return to campus in the fall of 1991, the group officially assembled: Kate Beck, Erin Hardin and Meghan King on guitar, Michelle Godwin on bongos, Erin Grefernstette on percussion and Maureen Richerson on keyboard. All six contributed to the vocals. 

On Sept. 9, 1992, “[a]fter months of planning and rehearsal,” the band recorded a live performance at Dalloway’s in front of a small audience, with plans of making a master tape for distribution. The night’s setlist primarily included original songs in a stripped-down indie style, from the fun and playful “Seamus and Shoelaces” to the melancholic “Night Is Blue.” The performance, like many others from the Sister Chain, brought a large and diverse crowd into Dalloway’s. Percussionist Erin Grefernstette commented on the group’s appeal to a “wide range of musical tastes,” speaking further to the communal and unifying nature of the Coffeehouse. 

Listen to a live album from The Sister Chain:

Dalloway’s Event Showcase

Researched by Marirose Osborne

Dalloway’s to host murder mystery night

Oct. 4, 1993 | Lynn Bauwens

In October of 1993, the Student Activities Board at Saint Mary’s College brought the Funny Business Agency to Dalloway’s. The touring theatre group prepared a murder mystery performance called “The Legend of Saint Mary’s College” based on a string of unsolved murders.

The Funny Business Agency stated audience participation would ensure the show was “different each time.” According to SAB cultural chairperson Raquel Mitchell, the first person to solve the mystery would be awarded a $50 prize. Other prizes included “t-shirts, squirt guns and cash.”

The event was part of a series of programs hosted at Dalloway’s. Marlene Johnson, assistant director of Student Activities, credited the event to increased activity fees paid by the Saint Mary’s students. 

“Terrifying Tales and Ghoulish Gru” at Dalloway’s

Oct. 21, 1994 | Patti Carson

On Oct. 24, 2994, Dalloway’s co-sponsored a Halloween event with The Saint Mary’s Student Activities

An illustration of Dalloway’s Coffee House | Observer archives, Oct. 21, 1994

Board, Residence Hall Association titled “Terrifying Tales and Ghoulish Grub.”

Activities at the event included a costume contest, pumpkin carving and “a husband and wife team who tell their scary stories.” Marlene Johnson, then-SAB assistant director, said “the couple has been [to Dalloway’s] two or three times.”

Dalloway’s provided a smorgasbord of Halloween-themed treats along with its usual drink selections.

Spanish guitarist to perform at Dalloway’s

April 13, 1992 | Erin Brown 

During the week of April 12, 1992, a student-led cultural awareness event called “We Are Family” was hosted for three days at Saint Mary’s. The event began with Tina Buchanan,  then-commissioner of the M.I.N.T. (Minority, International, and Non-Traditional student life) organization. Each day had its own theme aimed to “encourage cultural exploration” on campus.

The final event of the week, “Party All Over the World,” took place at Dalloway’s. Benito Salazar, a Spanish guitarist, performed that Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. Following Salazar’s show, Dalloway’s featured “live music and folkdancing” from countries including Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and South Africa.” 

A note on the closing of Dalloways:

An Observer article from Dec. 9, 2009 briefly mentions rumors amongst students that Dalloway’s would close. However, no news stories on the official closing of Dalloway’s could be located.

On Oct. 4, 2019, The Observer reported on the relationship between Dalloway’s and Sodexo, the food service provider at Saint Mary’s College. According to Katie White (’07), a previous operations manager at Dalloway’s, the complicated relationship between students and Sodexo might have contributed to the coffeeshop’s end. Jim Risacher, interim general manager of Sodexo at Saint Mary’s, suggested Dalloway’s closed due to low sales.

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Evan is a senior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently serving as the Managing Editor of The Observer and believes in the immutable power of a well-placed em dash. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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