The University of Pennsylvania Has a Drinking Problem

With Penn cracking down on student drinking, the closing of the 41st and Market state store may be more than mere coincidence.

My dad got his Ph.D. at Penn back in the ’60s, when he already had a wife and family. Which makes it sort of strange that we kids grew up knowing all of Penn’s drinking songs, but none of Temple’s, where Dad had been an undergrad (on the GI Bill). He would sing us to sleep at night by strumming the ukulele and soulfully crooning: Hurrah! Hurrah, Pennsylvania! Hurrah for the red and the blue!

Perhaps he thought this would someday give us a leg up in getting admitted to the Ivy League. It worked, I guess; my sister went to Penn. Now my daughter is a grad student there. When she started last fall, she called to tell me about the first “mixer” (they still call them “mixers”!) she’d attended. She and her fellow students at the School of Social Policy and Practice (99 percent female, by Marcy’s report) were invited by the graduate students of Penn Engineering (99 percent male) for drinks and snacks. The engineers aren’t stupid. Those studying to be social workers are, generally, big-hearted women who care about underdogs. Nonetheless, Marcy told me, without the open bar, the evening would have been a bust.

She isn’t much of a drinker, but lately she’s taken an interest in wine. “I found out I like riesling,” she’ll tell me, or “My new fave is sauvignon blanc.” At least, she used to tell me, when there was a state store at Penn where she could buy wine to experiment with. But in January, the Penn state store at 41st and Market—“sort of a scary place,” she’d said—abruptly closed. There was no warning, and Marcy didn’t even realize it until she saw an article in the Daily Pennsylvanian. “Well, hell,” she grumbled, “where am I supposed to buy wine now?”

The online version of the Daily Pennsylvanian article, no doubt thanks to some engineering student, featured an interactive map of area state stores. There’s one at 49th and Baltimore, about two miles from Marcy’s apartment. There’s one at 19th and Chestnut, also two miles distant. And there’s one at 24th and South, likewise two miles away. “I am not walking four miles in the dead of winter to buy a bottle of wine!” Marcy, who doesn’t have a car, declared. “Can you come drive me, please?”

So after work one night, before I headed to the suburbs, I took her to the liquor store at 24th and South—the one I frequented when I first moved to the city, in the ’70s. The area has changed. So has the liquor store. “They’re so nice in there!” Marcy marveled, hauling her bottles into the car where I waited. “These Penn frat guys were in line, and they were laughing and saying, ‘The LCB lost a lot of business when our state store closed!’ And the clerk said, ‘Nah, the business just moved.’”

“When I used to shop here,” I told her, “they kept all the bottles in the back, behind a counter. You couldn’t see them. You had to tell the clerk what you wanted.”

“Why did they do that?”

“Because liquor is sinful.”

She snorted. “I bought a pinot grigio to try.” Then she turned thoughtful. “Some people are saying Penn wanted the state store closed, to cut down on student drinking. You don’t think they’d do that, do you?”