The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The history and legacy of Brennan’s Pub

Courtesy of UVM PhotoShelter
UPB’s Pub Quiz in Brennan’s Nov. 12, 2018

Since the beginning, Brennan’s Pub has remained a comfortable space that values sustainability and serves as a hub for the UVM community. 

When the Davis Center was built in 2007, the space adopted the name “Brennan’s Pub” in honor of donors Carolyn Curry Brennan and Robert P. Brennan, UVM alumni of the classes of ‘82 and ‘83 respectively, according to Davis Center Facilities Coordinator Richard Barry.

While the name has remained the same, the vendors inside the space have not. 

“With the opening of the Davis Center, Brennan’s was actually a WOW Cafe and Wingery,” Melissa Zelazny, director of UVM Dining and Sodexo district manager said. “This was an internal brand that was very popular with pubs and late nights for students.”

Additionally, because Brennan’s fits under the umbrella of dining at UVM, the space has always been managed by Sodexo, Zelazny said.

Pre-pandemic, it was one of the only dining options on campus open past 8 p.m., so many students used it as a space to decompress and grab a bite to eat late at night, said an anonymous UVM alum.

“You just had people chilling there, always doing homework,” said the anonymous alum. “Music was always being played, whether on the overhead speakers or, on some event nights, bands would come in and play.”

In addition to Brennan’s dining options, the Book Nook was also created in a cozy corner of the space in 2010, according to a May 3 article from Seven Days.

The idea was created by Jacques-Paul Marton, who was a Davis Center custodian since the building’s opening, recently retiring in 2023, according to the article. 

In the Book Nook, students are encouraged to read any of the nearly 1,500 books that reside on the shelves, according to the article.

Students can also utilize the nook’s “take-a-book, leave-a-book” policy, Barry said.

“There is nothing cozier than a book nook,” said sophomore Celie Kreilkamp.“Having it be there for so long shows how community-oriented Brennan’s really is.”

After the WOW Wingery left the space after three years, UVM Dining managed Brennan’s as a space for the UVM community to get comfort food such as wings, milkshakes and avocado toast, the anonymous alum said.

During the transition between dining options, UVM Dining began serving beer and wine in the space. Alcohol could be served to anyone with a valid ID over the age of 21, Zelazny said. 

However, the selling of alcohol is no longer allowed in the Brennan’s space. 

“The sales were very low for beer and wine prior to COVID,” Zelazny said. “It was decided to eliminate the alcohol. Alcohol is no longer allowed in the space due to the new Halal concepts.”

Brennan’s was closed due to the March 2020 COVID shutdowns, a noticeably large change in comparison with the rest of those made on campus.

“The retail locations were the ones that really took the hit, and Brennan’s didn’t reopen immediately when we came back in the fall,” Zelazny said. “Not everyone was on campus all the time, and people were wearing masks and not dining together.”

The absence of Brennan’s pre-COVID energy was felt on the first floor of the Davis Center.

“Having [Brennan’s] closed during COVID, or even having that seating space being restricted, just killed the vibe on the first floor,” Zelazny said. “It’s a critical part of the students’ experience—it is their space.”

Finding food options during this time, especially late at night, was especially difficult, the anonymous alum said.

With the extended time it took to reopen Brennan’s, the UVM Dining Advisory Committee was able to rethink their intention of having Brennan’s as a space.

“We had a more focused educational intention at [Brennan’s],” Zelazny said. “With our focus on sustainability and health, we felt that we should change up the concept, and so we turned Brennan’s into more of a local farm-to-table restaurant.”

From this, Brennan’s started on its track towards supporting and maintaining local and sustainable initiatives. 

“Last year we reopened Brennan’s with the food truck pop-up events on campus,” Zelazny said. “We launched the weekly pop-ups in the spring of 2022.”

These pop-up events supported local, Burlington-based restaurants, and gave them a space to showcase their food on UVM’s campus. Last year, the Burlington-based restaurant Farmers and Foragers filled the space fall semester 2022 through spring semester 2023, according to a Jan. 26 UVM Bored article.

Now, at the beginning of the 2023 fall semester, Brennan’s is now occupied by Jamal’s Chicken and the Halal Shack.

The Halal Shack provides students with diverse cuisine options that accommodate vegetarian and Kosher dietary needs while sourcing their ingredients locally, according to the Halal Shack website.

“Bringing Halal food was one of our goals—bringing an authentic and diverse offering into the dining platform,” Zelazny said. “When it’s open and alive, you see so many people in there dining; it’s just a whole different feeling.”

Along with the reworked dining initiatives that resulted in the Brennan’s that students are familiar with today, the space also supports local initiatives in other ways.

Student performing at a concert in Brennan’s Pub Sept. 25, 2018
(Courtesy of UVM PhotoShelter)

“All the ceiling lights were made by a local business called Conant,” Barry said. “The wood tables were also made by a carpenter, and were re-freshened by Sterling Hardwoods in Burlington.”

The shelves of the Book Nook are also sourced locally, being made of donated wood from Shelburne Farms, according to the Seven Days article.

Additionally, all of the decorated chairs in Brennan’s were painted by different UVM student clubs or organizations, Barry said. 

The inclusion of students’ artistic marks through the chairs adds to the inclusionary, community aspect of Brennan’s.

“I remember thinking all the chairs for the clubs were really cute,” Kreilkamp said. “It just seemed like a very welcoming space.”

These personal, community-based details of Brennan’s don’t go unnoticed by the students utilizing the space today.

As Brennan’s emerges from its dormancy, and as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is rediscovering its presence in the Davis Center that it had pre-March 2020.

“[Brennan’s] has a uniqueness that I feel like Burlington really has as a town,” Kreilkamp said. “It just feels a little bit more personal than a lot of the spaces on campus. Students have really left a mark there, and it’s made for the students in mind.”

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