Beer and wine sales take off at Welsh-Ryan Arena — at more than $8 per glass


Esther Lim/Daily Senior Staffer

Welsh-Ryan’s cheapest offering is Bud Light at $8.49 per glass.

Maia Pandey, Senior Staffer

More than two years after City Council voted to allow alcohol sales at Welsh-Ryan Arena, fans can finally grab a drink while cheering on the Wildcats.

The drink stands debuted on Jan. 1 during the men’s basketball evening match-up against Ohio State. Alcoholic beverages will be available at wrestling matches and all basketball games throughout the winter.

Jillian Hansen, an energy and sustainability master’s student, attended her first-ever Northwestern sporting event Wednesday night to see the Cats face off against Rutgers. Hansen said she enjoyed drinking with other students in her program while watching the game.

“As graduate students, it’s kind of nice to be able to just continue having a fun night,” Hansen said. “I don’t know if (the alcohol sales) change the experience, but it’s a nice addition.”

Northwestern is the tenth Big Ten school to offer beer sales to the general public, according to a December news release from the Athletic Department. Alcohol was previously only sold in Welsh-Ryan’s Wilson Club — an area in the stadium open exclusively to fans who have donated $6,000 or more. 

The department hopes the sales will bring the NU fan experience one step closer to “world-class professional venues” across the Chicago area, Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Operations Tyler Jones said in the release.

“Bringing our gameday experience in line with those facilities is an important step as we strive to offer the best sports entertainment value in the region,” Jones said.  

The arena’s liquor license states that Welsh-Ryan may only serve alcohol on days when there is a “sporting event, recreational activity or other entertainment event.”

When City Council began discussing the license in 2019, many residents were heavily critical, citing concerns about community safety and noise levels.

In response, Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) proposed and passed two additional restrictions: alcohol sales must close at least 30 minutes before the end of an event, and attendees can purchase a maximum of two drinks per transaction. 

Debate about future NU liquor licenses is ongoing as the University breaks ground on its reconstruction of Ryan Field, Revelle told the Evanston Roundtable last month.

“There’s some arguments to be said that it’s safer to sell alcohol indoors,” Revelle said. “But we will be revisiting that whole discussion when Northwestern comes to seek permission to sell in the (Ryan Field) stadium.”

With beers starting at $8.49, Revelle also said supporters of the liquor license have argued that arena prices will discourage excessive drinking. Welsh-Ryan’s cheapest offering is an $8.49 Bud Light, followed by Bud Light Seltzers, premium beers and red and white wine at $9.49. Evanston craft beers are the most expensive option at $10.49.

The University determined pricing in collaboration with its concessions partner, Levy Restaurants, an Athletic Department spokesperson told The Daily. Drink prices are also benchmarked against “other similar venues in (NU’s) marketplace,” they said.

Lily Walker, another energy and sustainability master’s student, said the steeper arena prices weren’t surprising, but she hopes to see more local breweries featured.

“I always expect to pay a lot for beer at a sporting event, so that’s normal, but it would be nice to have more local options,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of local breweries in Evanston, and (you can) drink beer that tastes good.”

Glenview resident Ryan Andrews, a men’s basketball season ticket holder, said the addition of alcohol has been “excellent.” Aside from the slightly high prices, Andrews said he has no complaints.

Though he enjoyed the Evanston craft beer, Andrews also said he hopes to see more options on the menu soon.

“Non-alcoholic beer,” he said. “Oh, and whiskey.”

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Twitter: @maiapandey

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