Flights of Fancy
"The club acted as a real intellectual hub," recalls longtime biophysics professor Michael Beer, who serves on the club's board. "We talk today about cross-fertilization and crossing disciplinary boundaries-there it happened. People asked naive questions from others in different fields, and it turned out that the naive questions were often very important ones."
Today, the Johns Hopkins Club still does a brisk noontime trade. (During a recent lunch there, I looked up long enough from my salmon omelette to find that every table in the main dining room had been filled.) And the faculty table is still a fixture, but in recent years it's drawn fewer and fewer younger faculty members-something that Beer and other colleagues of his generation find lamentable. Club administrators are hoping to turn that trend around with the recent renovation and reopening of the Tap Room, a comfortable-looking pub nestled down in the lowest level. The Tap Room's selling points-inexpensive fare like soups and subs, served quickly and informally-are targeted specifically at today's 30- and 40-something alumni and academics, many of whom are loathe to take more than a few minutes away from their desk or lab bench, much less don a coat and tie during the middle of the day.
As the venerable club this year celebrates its 60th anniversary at Homewood, the Tap Room's re-opening is just one of many steps being taken to draw in younger members. (Membership committee chair Doug Warren '77 tells me that senior citizens account for slightly more than half the current membership, which totals about 3,900.) For one thing, the once-vaunted dress code has undergone some liberalization, devolving from jacket and tie required for men at dinner, to "appropriate attire requested." Membership plans have become more flexible, and thus less expensive; it's now possible, for example, to buy a lunchtime-only plan. And special events-like a Microbrew and Chili Tasting Night, and a Halloween party for kids-are proving popular among young singles and families.
While it's still too early to tell whether the Tap Room will catch on with the faculty, I, for one, am hoping it succeeds in getting those cross-disciplinary conversations flowing again-just imagine the great story ideas we'll get for the magazine!
Michael Beer is hopeful, too, for the university's sake. In an age of ever-increasing competition for research dollars, he says, it's easy to look at taking time to chat with people outside your discipline as a bit of a luxury, when in fact, those seemingly "irrelevant" conversational browsings make for the most "intellectually exciting atmosphere of all."
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