Balk: Northwestern should bring Norris to life at night


Tim Balk, Opinion Editor

Most weeknights, some time late in the evening, I wander downstairs from The Daily office to the ground floor of Norris University Center and dig into a slice of North Shore pizza or a salad from Subway.

Norris is always pretty dead, a few scattered students hanging around munching on dinners of their own, the lights dim in the passage behind Frontera Fresco and a gentle hum radiating from Dunkin’ Donuts.

Things are usually a bit livelier at Norbucks upstairs — but only a bit. After around 7 or 8 p.m., Northwestern’s student center starts to fall asleep. By 11:45 p.m, the whole dining operation is closed for the night. Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, the C-Store, everything. And before that, starting at 8 p.m., the ground floor of Norris is a virtual graveyard.

It’s pretty sad. Our school’s student center should be a vibrant hub on campus all day and deep into the night.

To be sure, there are hopping late night options at NU and places where students can meet and hang out. Fran’s Cafe rocks until 2 a.m., and it truly is a hub of South Campus, with students studying, chilling and munching well after midnight. Lisa’s has a similar, if more low-key, late-night vibe for the North Campus crowd.

These are cool spots. But there is no reason Norris should shirk its student center responsibility when the sun goes down. If Fran’s is the unofficial capital of South Campus, Norris should be the official 24-7 capital of the whole university.

The problem, at least as it relates to dining, comes down to closing times and selection. Food options are limited at Norris even before Cat Shack closes at 7 p.m. And when I head down to dine, my options are severely limited. The assemblage of eateries is bizarre. Why does Norris need a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Starbucks? Why is Frontera Fresco allowed to occupy central space when it closes after lunchtime each day?

I’m not sure, but I know the end result is a disappointing dining venue and a lackluster atmosphere. There used to be a bar on the ground floor of Norris, open until 2 a.m., but it closed back in 1992.

Nowadays, Norris is still the spot to be in the afternoon, and the ground floor bustles at lunch time. Finding a table can be difficult, and students meet there just to hang.

Chilling in Norris at night though? Forget about it.

There are logical explanations for Norris not being a late night hot spot for NU students. It is far from dorms, and accessibility is surely valued when determining where to hangout and stuff your face in the middle of the night. But the biggest issue is the whole building is more or less shut down by 9 p.m.

With plans for a new student center in the works and a groundbreaking scheduled for 2017, the somber, utilitarian Norris is certainly on its back nine. Hopefully, its replacement will have a livelier atmosphere after dark and a wider array of dining options.

In the meantime, there are plenty of improvements that can be made to the current student union. While certain problems are unfixable, such as the fact that the Norbucks space is too small, others are not. Dining options can be improved, the overpriced Frontera can be replaced and Subway’s prison quality meat can be blasted into the stratosphere.

There is a lot I love about Norris. The staff at the ground floor eateries is friendly. The view of the lake from Norbucks is sublime. And I have collected many treasured college memories at Norris.

But I nonetheless think Norris at night is a huge bummer. NU deserves a student center that stays up late.

Tim Balk is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.