People lined up by the dozens outside downtown San Luis Obispo bars soon after sunrise Saturday for the annual Cal Poly pre-commencement pub crawl, despite an unsuccessful attempt by the university and the mayor to end the tradition.
The massive turnout included Cal Poly graduates, friends, parents, grandparents, and others delighting in the festivities that began when bars opened at 6 a.m., several hours earlier than usual to cater to revelers before the commencement ceremony at 9 a.m. on campus.
“I’m here with my family who came all the way out from Sweden for my graduation,” said business marketing major Madeleine Fransson, 23. “I don’t think you’re going to get too drunk because you’re with your family. I’m going to buy a beer for my mom and dad to say ‘thank you.’”
Tanner Duncan, a doorman at Bull’s Tavern on Chorro Street, which typically opens at noon on Saturdays, said a graduate’s mother held her daughter’s place in line at 4:30 a.m. to make sure they’d get in right away at 6 a.m. The line at Bull’s was at a virtual standstill by 6:30 a.m. with the maximum occupancy capped at 91.
“It’s one in and one out,” Duncan said. “We can’t go beyond 91.”
People had lengthy waits at other bars, including Marston’s Bar and Grill, where a queue took up much of the 600 block of Higuera Street. At SLO Brewing Company on Garden Street, which fits around 700 customers, a line extended half a block to Higuera.
Toting a sign congratulating the graduates, Alecia Ekholm of Thousand Oaks said she didn’t think the 6 a.m. tradition of drinking before the commencement ceremony was a problem. She came to celebrate her daughter Lindsay Ekholm’s degree in recreation.
“It’s impossible to get too drunk because it’s hard to even get in anywhere,” Ekholm said. “… I’m on four hours of sleep. I was a firm believer that my daughter wouldn’t wake up, but she did. Woohoo.”
An attempt to end the early morning drinking tradition, which has existed for years around graduation, was made in an April 16 letter by the university’s vice president for student affairs, Keith Humphrey, and San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx, to the SLO Downtown Association.
They asked the bars to delay opening until 9 a.m. when the commencement ceremonies start on Saturday and Sunday. They cited past unsafe, disruptive behavior at commencement as the reason for their request.
But after meeting to discuss the matter, bar owners opted to keep alive the tradition of opening at 6 a.m. while agreeing to support a campaign to promote responsible drinking.
Cal Poly posters reading, “Have a Safe Commencement — Please Celebrate Responsibly,” appeared on the portable bathrooms the Downtown Association sponsored to serve the weekend crowds.
“These posters are all around campus, as well as on university websites and social media,” Humphrey said in an email. “Students have made a video about how they want to celebrate this important weekend. It is important to our students that the message about celebrating their last official Cal Poly experience be present in as many places as possible.”
San Luis Obispo police Sgt. Janice Goodwin said the morning went smoothly with only one arrest for public intoxication.
“It’s pretty uneventful compared to years prior,” she said by midafternoon. Goodwin said downtown was staffed with its normal patrol officers, plus two additional officers on foot.
Their presence appeared to be low-key, with no officers positioned outside Mother’s Tavern — a spot where police typically are visible on busy weekend nights.
Jeff Ekholm was part of the group celebrating his daughter’s big day; they assigned a designated driver, he said. Waiting in line, expressing pride for his daughter’s accomplishment, Ekholm said he wished the bars could offer more opportunities to get an early morning drink.
“They might as well close off the street and open up outside stands so everyone can get a drink,” Ekholm said. “This is a big event with a lot of people. Why not do it right?”