For such a small town, St Andrews is a cornucopia of event venues: from the myriad of rooms at the Union, to the abundance of local pubs, to the sudden appearance of a marquee on Lower College Lawn, our choices are never very dull. Some would say that the venue of an event can make or break it, and I can’t say I disagree with that. There is nothing more awful then trekking all the way to Kinkell Byre, trying not to trip over my heels while climbing into a bus, and then arriving at an almost empty event. Or even worse – struggling through teeming masses of sweaty bodies at a sold-out night in the Vic, being stepped on and pushed over. Both of these situations have me limping home, shoes in hand, annoyed at the make up I had just wasted.
Besides the issue of over or under-populated venues, there is also always the determinants of aesthetic – which venue will suit your events functionary and decorative needs the best. Club 601 at the Union could not do justice to an upmarket event like FS, for example, while the marquee on Lower College Lawn would overwhelm a Throwback Thursday. Every event needs a location that will create an alluring atmosphere.
How, then, do you choose the location that will be the perfect stage for your event, especially in a town like St Andrews where there are plenty of pub-like venues, but not anything that presents you with a proper club or underground space? Creativity is definitely in order, and careful consideration of the number of people likely to turn up. Ticket sales, if it is a ticketed event, provide a pretty good reflection of this. Beware of Facebook event numbers, not everyone who clicks on ‘going’ actually will.
If you’re going for a larger event like a charity ball, the two most commonly used options are Lower College Lawn and Kinkell Byre. Kinkell Byre can house about 800 people at any given time, more if the outside space is utilised. The venue can, for the most part, be decorated as you please, meaning there can be a flexible atmosphere for a variety of events. The Kate Kennedy Charity May Ball uses it as both dinner hall and ballroom, and the outside area as a ferris ground. The Mermaids’ Christmas Ball, on the other hand, transforms the Byre into a themed wonderland for their event, different each year. The latest adaption of Kinkell is Szentek’s transformation of it into a ruin bar, similar to those in Budapest. The space was utilised for art, music and film areas.
What all these events have in common, however, are high ticket prices, and also the necessity of a larger number of attendees. The committee has to hire the venue (which can be quite expensive), arrange buses to and from St Andrews (which can be a hassle, and expensive once again), and then decorate the entire space (which is rather large). This can therefore prove quite daunting. Then you also have to contend with students not willing to pay exorbitant prices for tickets to an event they might not be familiar with.
The tent on Lower College Lawn is a prominent feature of typical St Andrean balls and fashion shows. When you see workers starting to set it up, it’s a sign that you might be missing out on something. Walking down Butts Wynd or the Quad at night, all dressed up, can be creepy yet beautiful, and it usually creates the idea of a magical night. The tent is generally big enough to accommodate a few hundred people, including a stage, dressing room, and pretty much anything else you need for a successful event.
The cherry on top of the tent package is that transport for attendees does not need to be arranged. Every person can easily walk the distance (or catch a cab if they are lazy) and make it to the event at no additional costs to the organisers. This could also lower the ticket price to induce more people to attend. The risks of this choice, however, is the fact that you are hosting an event on University property and must therefore abide by the rules set aside for such occasions.
Looking at smaller societal events, your choices are limited to Club 601 or the Vic, now that the Lizard is closed. The Rule, after its refurbishment, has also become a quite popular location. Club 601 always works out well, because it was designed for student use. The club can accommodate both larger and smaller events thanks to its room divider. It does away with the need for additional planning, as there are already bars and a coat room in place. It also offers access to the Union Main Bar, should attendees wish for a change of pace.
One of the issues of this venue, however, is that students don’t always want to pay extra just to go the the Union. Many events that aren’t as established as the Bop or Hot Dub Time Machine tend not to have very many participants. However, it does have the benefit of being attached to the Union – so if drunken students at the Main Bar suddenly decide they feel like dancing, it becomes easy access for them.
The Vic is also a favourite among students. It’s easy to get to, offers both cocktails and beer, and has the ease of two separate music rooms. This is great if you want to use two DJs at your event. The Vic’s decor also lends itself to an eclectic retro atmosphere that is lacking at the Union. Like the Union, the bar and DJ stands are already available, which makes planning easier.
One of the limits of this venue, however, is the fact that it is not run by the University or Students’ Association, and therefore you will have liaise with the management. This defines an entirely different set of rules to the Uni-run locations. It does, however, mean that the venue is equipped to deal with drunken students. The Vic can become very crowded and uncomfortable, should all the rooms be filled to capacity. It also allows access to non-students, which is something that will have to be taken into account.
Finally, the Rule has recently been used for more alternative, non-society events such as Goat House and The Tournament, and I have to say it lends itself quite nicely to that kind of event. The space gives off a laid-back, almost conversational atmosphere that parallels that of a good house party. The wide spaces, and the balcony effect, make the Rule feel less claustrophobic, especially when the venue is sold out.
St Andrews is one of the towns with the most pubs per square mile in the United Kingdom. This is great when going on a pub crawl, but makes the choice of pub for pub-events a bit more daunting. I am sure every student has their favourite pub in town (personally, mine is the St Andrews Brewing Co.), but that does not necessarily mean that it is the right venue for an event. Both Whey Pat and St Andrews Brewing Company offer separate rooms that can be booked, depending on the number of people involved. Whey Pat’s back room can take up to forty people, and they do nacho sharing plates (this is the time to emphasise that Whey Pat Nachos are most definitely the best in town).
Brew Co., on the other hand, has a smaller space upstairs that can be booked for up to twenty people, or you can hire the entire upper floor, hosting about eighty people. Brew Co. also serves food and a variety of craft beers, which can act as an incentive for people to come. It becomes a great place for a pub quiz, or society meet-and-greets.
Aikman’s is another great pub for events. You have the option of two rooms, and access to sound equipment. It’s the perfect place for open-mic nights and any other musically-inclined themes. Pubs are generally very easy venues to arrange. Most of the time, all that is required is a reservation and an explanation of the event you are hosting, making them the perfect locations for smaller fundraising events.
There are many more options besides those that I have listed hiding around every corner in St Andrews. The key to a successful event is finding the location that fits both the event and the event attendees the best, preventing the annoyed, mid-event limp back home.