Cavernous halls, stuffed sharks, cork message boards, classrooms … and beer?
It seems like an odd mix, but marine life, education and brews find perfect harmony at Wetlab, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s campus bar. Founded in 1979 by Walton G. Smith, this waterside hangout is a place for students, professors and even dogs to come together.
“One of our founders had this vision that it’s best to talk science over beer because you can loosen things up,” said Angela Colbert, president of the Marine Science Graduate Student Organization. “That’s why it got created.”
Colbert said that she runs into her professors all the time at the Wetlab, and she will often host MSGSO events in the cafeteria area with the bar.
“It is always student-run, which makes it nice,” Colbert said. “They’re always in touch with current students’ wants and needs.”
Graduate students Mark Fitchett and Dan Holstein manage the bar, which is made up of grad student bartenders. After completing his undergraduate degree at North Carolina State University, Fitchett began working at Wetlab in 2005 because he thought it would be a good way to get to know people.
“It has become like a rite of passage for some people to work here,” Fitchett said.
It is also a place where students can celebrate other rites of passage. According to Fitchett, grad students will often open a bottle of champagne or buy a pitcher of beer for their thesis defenses.
But what’s really gotten people talking about Wetlab outside of the marine campus are the bar’s low prices and wide selection. Wetlab has four beers on tap – a rotating Indian Pale Ale (right now Hoptical Illusion for $3.25 per pint, $10 per pitcher), a cheap domestic beer like Yeungling ($2.25 per pint, $10 per pitcher) and Bells Oberon and Magic Hat (both $3 per pint, $9.50 per pitcher). The bar also carries up to 30 bottles that range from stouts and porters to PBR tallboys and Miller Lite, along with a selection of wine and liquor.
“Our purpose is to sell to UM students and friends,” Fitchett said. “Why pay $3 for a Stella Artois that you can find anywhere when you can get a porter or a saison for the same price?”
Beer gets even cheaper if you bring in a toll receipt. Although the price of getting onto Key Biscayne is $1.50, Wetlab will discount your toll fee after your first beer with the receipt.
Customers also get a discounted price on the view, a panoramic scene of Biscayne Bay that can be experienced just by stepping onto Wetlab’s balcony, according to Fitchett.
“We’re very fortunate to be on Virginia Key,” Fitchett said. “No one else has a research island to themselves, and we have a billion-dollar view.”
Although not many undergraduate students have been to Wetlab, those who have been heard about it through word of mouth.
“I had mentioned it to a few other students and no one had heard about it,” said recent motion pictures grad Max Schloner. “A couple of friends who had been there before were the ones that told me about it.”
While the crowd that Wetlab draws in is made up mostly of grad students, locals and NOAA researchers who work across the street, Fitchett wants to make it more accessible to undergrads. This fall, he plans to play away football games on television and host an open bar, along with some beer tastings, pool tournaments, karaoke, Wii and food truck nights.
“We’re hoping to reach out to more undergrads,” Fitchett said. “This is their school too.”
Alexandra Leon may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Virginia Key, Miami
When: Open 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 4:30 p.m. Fridays
What else: Dogs are allowed on the balcony outside; no smoking inside.
WWW: Find them on Facebook by searching The Wetlab.