Williams and other Massachusetts college students in the 1960’s who hailed from urban places like New York and Washington, DC, where the drinking age was 18, found the drinking age of 21 in the Commonwealth to be not merely quaint, but puritanical. Indeed, it seemed to be an annoyance and an impediment to their social life. Just as we reached the age when the consumption of alcoholic beverages was legal at home for some of us freshmen, the repressive restriction of the state (or commonwealth) of our student residence came into play. While far from an insurmountable obstacle on campus, it was a potential problem on road trip dates.
For Williams guys seeing someone at Smith or Mount Holyoke, the answer was taking a date to the Satire Room in Northampton, or the alternative, Rahar’s. Why? Because the places served alcohol after seeing a college ID, nothing more. Only when the ABC Board inspector was snooping around did the establishment signal that the coast was not clear, and that the law would be observed. This was an occasional inconvenience, and a serious one, but it could not be predicted or readily avoided.
Obviously, the “enlightened” policy of the Satire Room on the critical question of who should be treated as a minor, in contrast to the matter of whom the law treated as a minor, was a major factor in its popularity. Anything and everything else about the place—its ambience, the effectiveness of its heating system in the dead of winter, the quality and cost of drinks, the proper functioning of its rest rooms, etc.—was secondary or even irrelevant.
While its name exuded a certain bohemian ambience, the Satire Room–the actual establishment—was decidedly not Left Bank, despite its location in a college town. What was it like? A Princeton student publication from 1965, Where the Girls [sic] Are, described the Satire Room in brief but positive terms, leaving out the key ingredient of its success: “Crowded; usually band; better than Rahar’s; also juke box; very popular.”