“The Cambridge Queen’s Head is a learning environment,” says David Friedrich, assistant dean of Harvard College for student life. The pub’s mission is to support campus social life and to give students valuable management experience: “Undergraduate employees get the opportunity to develop important leadership skills.”

Justin Ide/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

A pub of their own

7 min read

For play and work, students flock to the Queen’s Head

Josh Woodruff’s job is to show his fellow undergraduates a good time. As the senior student manager of the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub at Loker Commons, Woodruff  ’11 is in charge of programming and promoting the space. If things are a little too quiet on a given evening, he and his fellow student employees are happy to get the party started.

“Friday is karaoke night,” he said. “I round up the people who are working at the pub, and we all do a song at 11 p.m. We talk about it for hours before, so by the time we get up there, we’re really excited. When the patrons see that we’re having such a good time, they get into it too.”

Undergraduates have been getting into the good times at the Queen’s Head ever since it opened in 2007. Patrons flock there for fun programming, affordable pub grub, and, for those over 21, a great selection of beers from local microbreweries. To keep the customers happy, Woodruff says that he and his staff try to keep their fingers on the pulse of the College’s student body.

“We’re reactive to what students want,” he said. “We take surveys and try to mold the events and activities to the demands of undergraduates.”

By day, students grab a lunch at their House dining hall or at the flyby in Loker Commons and meet up at the pub to study, surf the web via Wi-Fi, or play a game of pool. At night, they test each other’s knowledge on Team Trivia Thursdays, belt out one of more than 100,000 songs on Karaoke Fridays, and dance into the wee hours on Live Music Saturdays.

“There is really no other venue on campus like it,” said Crystal Coser ’12, student manager for programming booking and College student group outreach. “The pub is a safe place for students to gather and enjoy a variety of activities or use up their Board Plus on our popular 25 Cent Wing Wednesdays.”

Undergraduates have good reason to feel comfortable at the Queen’s Head — they’re in charge.

“We’re completely student-staffed,” said Scott Smider ’01, the general manager. “I help direct them and provide experience and professional support, but they operate and manage the place. They have full authority to make decisions, from our programming to our menu.”

David Friedrich, assistant dean of Harvard College for student life, said the pub’s mission is to support campus social life and to give students valuable management experience.

“The Cambridge Queen’s Head is a learning environment,” he said. “Undergraduate employees get the opportunity to develop important leadership skills.”

Woodruff started working at the pub during his freshman year. He was looking for a job on campus, and his brother, a senior at the College, said the Queen’s Head was the best place to be. Now in the final months of his own College career, Woodruff said he couldn’t imagine working anyplace else.

“Because the pub is run by students and our customers are students, you take ownership of this place,” he said. “You get to make choices about everything from the menu to the bands that play on Saturday night, and you’re working in a great environment with people you go to section with. It really builds a sense of community.”

The involvement of undergraduates in the day-to-day operations is appropriate, given their level of engagement in the pub’s creation. According to Zac Corker ’04, Loker Commons project manager during the space’s redevelopment, College students were involved in virtually every aspect of the pub’s planning.

“From day one, it was seen as critical that students lead the project,” he said. “Undergraduates worked with the design committee, helped choose the food and beverages, researched Harvard tradition and lore, and suggested many of the physical elements of the pub.”

Corker says that the students were the driving force behind the pub’s “Hogwarts” look and feel, from the wood-paneled walls to the gargoyle that hangs behind the bar, formerly a fixture on Memorial Hall’s first tower, which burnt down in 1956 and was reconstructed in 2000.

“The idea was to reinforce University traditions,” he says. “Students wanted access to a space that looked and felt like the mythical Harvard that many had in mind when they came here.”

Friedrich said the Queen’s Head also is a place where of-age undergraduates can enjoy alcohol in a healthy way.

“Cambridge Queen’s Head is a vibrant social space where undergraduates can build community through the enjoyment of food, games, entertainment, and student-initiated programming,” he says. “The pub is designed to encourage responsible consumption of alcohol in a safe and fun environment.”

The Queen’s Head boasts an impressive array of local microbrews at affordable prices, including the 1636, described on the pub’s website as a “well-balanced, medium bodied beer with a moderately bitter hop finish,” and produced exclusively for Harvard by Boston’s Harpoon Brewery.

To foster appreciation for their libations, the pub periodically hosts “beer school.” Local brewmasters such as Sam Adams Founder and Chairman Jim Koch visit the pub to talk about their craft and what makes one beer different from another. For $10, participants can try various brews and get advice on beers to pair with food.

“It’s an hour or two when a brewer can come in and talk about their process,” Woodruff said. “Jim Koch came in and walked through Sam Adams’ seasonal beers. It’s a great way to get some knowledge and see things from the point of view of the beer maker. It’s also a good excuse to sit around and chat with your buddies.”

Faculty and administrators get into the act too, courtesy of the pub’s guest bartender program. “It’s fun to have your econ professor serve you beer,” said Woodruff. Benedict Gross, the George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Mathematics, said that tending bar was more of a challenge than he anticipated.

“It was wonderful, but it’s not easy,” he said. “I’m a professional mathematician, but I had trouble keeping track of the tabs.”

College alumnus Smider says that the Queen’s Head is remarkable because of its ability to bring together people from different parts of the Harvard community — students, faculty, staff, and their families and friends, all of whom are welcome at the pub. In so doing, the Queen’s Head is an important part of a network of campus social spaces that give undergraduates a place to meet and engage with each other, while preserving the House system that makes Harvard so distinctive.

“A lot of schools have student centers,” he said. “At Harvard, we have the Houses, but also the elements of a student center in different social spaces around campus: the Women’s Center, the Student Organization Center at Hilles, and, of course, the pub. I don’t know of a model like this at any other school. All in all, we’ve been very successful.”