Owner a part of history at local student hangout

Owner a part of history at local student hangout

Not everyone famous in the TCU microcosm needs to wear a tie to work.Known only as “Dave” by patrons of The University Pub, Dave Mitchell, 55, has been a regular face behind those wooden doors for more than eight years, with father-like wisdom and a third-eye that watches over all who enter.

Dry rot covers the wooden door outside his office. A faded sign in red and white paint reads, “The University Pub, Hours Mon-Sat 4 P.M.-2 A.M.”

Former bartender Jorge Davila described Mitchell with admiration. He said Mitchell’s advice handed down to all patrons and employees stems from Dave’s life experience in both the restaurant business and his days of being a college student.

Davila, 24, a 2005 alumnus, has been a fixture in The Pub as a bartender since the time of his graduation.

A Different View

When not shaking hands, giving high fives and tumbling drinks, Mitchell is sometimes sequestered to the realm behind the bar.

“I see people in a jaded way, because I look at them from back here,” he said as he motioned toward the wall of liquor bottles behind him.

What he sees is from a different perspective, where he is in charge, and everything that takes place can be seen. Though he is not atop a throne, his towering physique gives him a bird’s-eye view of all the goings on during a crowded night.

“I’ve always been pretty good about first impressions,” Mitchell said.

If he gets the impression there is a lack of respect for him and his position, he will give no sympathy.

“I know there are people I can turn my back on,” Mitchell said. “I can tell somebody that there are other places that will be glad to take their money, I’d want their money but there are other places to go.”

Mitchell’s prior careers have kept him working in bars and restaurants since his days at Texas Tech University, and he said that makes him no stranger to the different personalities who enter his bar.

“Sometimes there is a fine line between black and white, but if you have been here for a while, I’ll let you get away with some stuff,” Mitchell said.

When tempers flare and alcohol is involved, it requires a mediator to keep the evening running smoothly.

“Dave will get upset and kick somebody out, but for the most part he is the one on an even keel,” bartender Mary Wrench said.

The Facts of Life

Mitchell has been working around the TCU community since the winter of 1999, and since then he has seen his share of “Pub Rats” walk through the doors and sit on the frayed barstools. One policy that is constant through Mitchell’s tenure in The Pub is how he goes about letting his employees go. If a bartender has been working at the Pub for two years after graduation, he tells them to find a new career.

He said he doesn’t mean for it to be a harsh action, but he needs a constant turnover of TCU students to keep an eye on the bar.

“I try to hire TCU kids and in this business we can tell by somebody walking in the door whether or not they are of age and allowed in,” Mitchell said.

Wrench, 24, has been working for about a year and a half, and Davila is now a patron instead of an employee.

“I understand it,” Wrench said of the two-year rule. “We’re all in college and have degrees, and it’s a smart business move on his part. It makes you realize there is an end to the job.”

Davila said he realized the purpose of the two-year policy because some of the younger faces in the pub are already escaping his memory.

“It’s perfect, because in order to have a fresh face that connects with the people that come in here, we need to keep getting some new workers,” Davila said.

When the average age of a patron of The Pub falls into the 21 to 25 demographic, Mitchell said he needs to keep the younger employees there, rather than hiring from his own crowd.

“They can’t work here until they are 30,” Mitchell said. “I’m the only one who gets to be old and work here.”

Faces Rather Than Names

Polaroid photographs adorning the walls of The Pub tell a 26-year history of when the bar was run before Mitchell’s era. He doesn’t remember the name of the former owner, but the tradition continues with photographs still covering the wall, freezing moments that are part of the Pub Rats’ history.

Sometimes a local celebrity will pass through the doors of The Pub, but the people who stand out to Mitchell are not the professional athletes or local radio personalities. Instead, the ones who still have a place in his heart are the first crew of regulars.

“The most surprising thing I’ve learned is that my first group of Pub Rats are turning 30 years old, and I still see them as being 21 or 22 years old,” Mitchell said.

“I still think of them as students even though they are off in their own careers. I don’t remember their names, but I remember their faces. I see their souls (in pictures) on that back wall.”

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

The wood still flakes off the front door, but Mitchell said he will fix it next year.

“I wish it was a little bit flashier outside, and I don’t want the area to look like a dump,” Mitchell said.

Every year a small improvement or adjustment will be made to the bar, so that change is minimal, because he said the patrons like things as the status quo. Last year, Mitchell repaired the women’s bathroom, a couple years prior the back doors were touched up.

“My whole idea is to not change something unless it needs to be,” Mitchell said.

The wood still flakes off the front door, but Mitchell said he will fix it next year.

Flags from Texas Tech, TCU, Louisiana State University and the University of Texas at Austin still hang from the ceiling. The Pabst Blue Ribbon neon sign buzzes on the wall. Cigarette smoke hangs in the air, and the stools that have seen eight and a half years of Mitchell’s Pub Rats sit awaiting the newest group of regulars to come in and order their first drink.