UW’s Unofficial Town Hall

Der Rathskeller has evolved from a boys’ club to a welcoming campus gathering spot.

Black and white 1930s photo of male students sitting in the Rathskeller

UW Archives 2017S01449

Der Rathskeller opened in 1928 as a gathering place for male students. Though modeled after a German beer hall, it would be five more years until der Rathskeller sold its first beer, making the UW the first public university in the United States to serve beer on campus.

 

Black and white 1940s photo of students in Der Rathskeller

UW Archives S16705

Barred from the boys’ club of the Rath, women established der Catskeller in the Paul Bunyan room in 1934. It wasn’t until 1941 that women were allowed in the Rath, and only after 2:30 p.m. In a small act of protest, Kathryn Clarenbach ’41, MA’42, PhD’46 famously made a point of passing through der Rathskeller on her way to the Paul Bunyan room.

 

Black and white photo of rock band playing at Der Rathskeller

UW Archives 2017s01070

“Der Rathskeller” translates roughly to “the basement of a town hall,” a common place in Germany for the public to come together and unwind. Since the Rath’s inception, the campus community has convened there for everything from sharing leisurely coffees or beers, to cheering on Badger athletes, to following the news of history in the making.

Band plays under colored stage lights at the Rathskeller

Sam Molinaro

Some early features of the Rath, like its jukebox, have fallen away in favor of new staples such as live music. Others, like the food-service line, have seen many an upgrade. Still, the arched doorways, German decor, and cozy atmosphere endure in the warm, amber glow that’s filled the hall for nearly a century.

Published in the Winter 2021 issue

Tags: Campus buildings, Campus history, Food, rathskeller, Student life, Wisconsin Union

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