With a flagging reputation among the student body, the Union has been working to re-establish itself as the place for students to flock to in the evening but, this year, the Vic has increased its stake in the Fresher festivities. Since the two venues are located almost opposite each other, a rivalry might have been inevitable and ultimately, aside from the Lizard, there does not seem to be much other choice for cheap drinks, live entertainment and a thriving party scene in St Andrews.
At first glance, there does not seem to be much distinguishing the two venues but each offers their own discounts, drink and deals as well as events and acts that will, in their view, keep students coming back night after night, week after week.
The Union has a unique position: part charity, part commercial venue. The Union recognizes that it also has a duty to the students as the initial hub of activity. Each year they run Freshers’ Week events, including long-standing staples like the Friday Bop, the Sunday ceilidh and the Foam Party, which entered the Union’s repertoire in recent years.
This year’s edition boasted a series of acts and performances that included big names like Radio 1 DJ Rob Da Bank, Canadian comedian Craig Campbell and indie-folk singer José González, who was a big draw on the Saturday. Rounding off the week was the Sinners Sports Party and a new annual tradition; hypnotist Chris James. Director of Events and Services, Rollo Strickland, made a gamble, spending more to bring in bigger names but, with every event selling out, the Union raked in £50,000, more than they made for the past few years.
Opinions on the events seem to range, with most students finding the events fun and a great way to be introduced to the university scene, although some of the press seemed to get ahead of itself. Rob Da Bank in particular seems to be drawing criticism for being well advertised but then not living up to the promise. The Sinners party also seemed exclusionary to anyone not on a sports team which, being Freshers’ Week, was the Freshers. Overall, the reaction was positive. Strickland believes that, by making such a strong impression on the Freshers, the Union can count on a strong returning presence throughout the year.
While the Union made a strong showing, the Vic has been working to transform themselves from ‘just another pub’ and into the new final destination. Making good use of its two rooms, the Cabin and the Café, they have put on Fresh-Fest; a mixture of acts and interactive events that differentiates them from their competition.
Fresh-Fest has been running for five years and each year the Vic has been able to make the stronger earnings. Calling on classics like a ‘Sloane Ranger’ party and a Rubik’s Cube party, they also brought in a Bacardi master-class mixer, turned their Café into a graffiti demo-zone and had a ‘Detox Day’ that included yoga classes and smoothie blending. According to supervisor Robert Webb, the Vic brought in more money than it did last year, having a turnover of nearly one thousand students most nights of the week. The profits are more than they brought in last year, which is no mean feat for this popular venue.
Freshers have already found that, more often than not, they find themselves at the Vic over the course of a night out. While the Fresh-Fest events were not always a hit amongst the students, they enjoyed the atmosphere enough to want to spend the night there anyway. With a little more thought, the Vic could put on events that play to their strengths more and win over a larger portion of the students, giving them the final push to being proper rivals to the Union.
For both venues, Freshers’ Week and Fresh-Fest provide a great bump in sales but, after that, how do they keep students coming back? The Union, based on the success of Freshers’ Week, will continue to bring in big names but will present a variety of acts that will appeal to different groups of students. Jeffrey Lewis, a big name in America who is known for anti-rock music and comedic comic books, is only the first of the big names that the Union is bringing in, having secured Mr. Scruff for the Saturday of Raisin Weekend and DJ Erol Alkan recently being signed to perform in December. With all these acts, it is easy to forget the Union’s drink scheme which offers some of the cheapest drinks; Tennents goes for £2 a pint, the cheapest pint in town, despite steady inflation, (three years ago, a pint went for £1.50) Boddingtons for £2.70, as well as bottles of Stella and Becks for only £2.20. Mixers now cost £1.80. If the plan is to go out for a simple pint then the Union is your best bet.
On the other hand, the Vic’s strength is in getting their crowds the ‘hard stuff’ for cheap. While a pint of Tennents goes for £2.70, with the next cheapest pint being Magners for £3.60, Jagerbombs sell for £1.50 Tuesdays-Thursdays, Messy Bombs for only £1 and Vodka Mixers and Gin for only £1.25 Tuesdays-Thursdays. They snagged Mini-Mood, a DJ who became popular performing at 1 Golf Place, as well as Full Moon Parties, an event where the café gets stripped down and given a rave treatment. For a night of indulgence and revelry, the Vic seems like the right place to be.
At the moment, the Vic has the misfortune of only holding a pub license. This only allows them to stay open until 1am on the weekends, leaving the Union as the ultimate destination more often than not but they plan to change that. With the Cabin, the Vic can apply for a club license which would allow them to stay open at least as late as the Union, giving them the ability to compete on an even playing field and possibly as the new place to end up at the end of the night.