Ask Wesley Mann ’13 what a typical Saturday night on campus is like, and he’ll tell you it’s a scene from the “Inferno.”
“When I walk into the Inferno Grille late, I usually see about 20 or so people staggering about, playing pool, foosball, watching SportsCenter reruns, and such,” he said. “But the best part is that most of the time, people who never talk to each other will bond over mozzarella sticks or how delicious the brioche rolls of the Domus Domus are.”
The Eliot House Grille — affectionately named “the Inferno” for, among other reasons, its basement location — has never been hotter. Thanks to recent enhancements, including leather sofas and chairs, a boss sound system, and dimmable lights, the beloved social space is welcoming more students and serving up more fun and snacks.
“Now the space is flexible and conducive to holding Stein Club, live music events, registered parties, and, perhaps most importantly, just attracting people on a weekend night to relax with whoever is there,” said Gail O’Keefe, co-Master of Eliot House. “Our grille managers are also really outstanding, and keep the food flowing well into the early-morning hours.”
The resurgence follows a fallow period for the grille. Hassles around setting up a new online ordering system kept the Inferno dark for much of the fall semester in 2010. In the spring, however, the management passed to Jordan Sessler ’13 and Elena Pepe ’13, residents with a passion for the grille.
“I first came here as a freshman with my bloc mates after we had been assigned to Eliot House,” said Sessler. “We randomly stumbled across the grille. We got Oreo milkshakes and loved them. As soon as we had the chance to take it over, we did. As soon as we could get it open, we did.”
Sessler and Pepe said there was great enthusiasm for the grille’s reopening. Residents were delighted to have a place to go for snacks long after “brain breaks” were over. The grille serves a menu of high-calorie, high-cholesterol treats that would make a Sumo wrestler blush: milkshakes made with cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream; french fries; and deep-fried mozzarella sticks. For most patrons, however, there is only one must-have item on the menu.
“My favorite order is definitely the Domus Domus,” said Mann.
You may think you’ve had a double cheeseburger before, but Inferno regulars assert that you really haven’t until you’ve tried the Domus Domus. The grille uses top-quality beef and cheese, but the sandwich is really all about the roll, as Sessler discovered by accident this semester.
“When we did our first order of food for the year, it had been a while because we were gone all summer,” he said. “I couldn’t find buns on the online ordering menu, so I just ordered brioche rolls. It turns out buns make the burger. They’re so good that people are often tempted just to eat the roll.”
With all due respect to the dominance of the Domus Domus, the most remarkable thing about the Inferno Grille is not what’s on its menu; it’s the space’s power to draw residents together. Sessler said that, soon after the Grille reopened, he saw people playing pool or foosball whom he had never seen speak to each other before.
“The Grille is a great place to bring the House together, and to bring different people together,” he said. “At Harvard, as you may know, there are so many different groups. There are the Final Club people. There are the really smart people. There are people who make their homes on athletic teams or social clubs and organizations. There are people who don’t go out on the weekends at all. There are people who go out to clubs and come back at 2 a.m. The grille is one of the few places on campus where all these groups come together.”
Pepe and Sessler are looking to leverage the recent enhancements to the Inferno to expand the grille’s patronage. There’s more seating than ever, so more students can join Mann for SportsCenter on one of the new leather couches in front of the high-def, flat-screen TV. With a roof-rocking JBL audio system and limitless selections on iTunes, the world is the grille’s jukebox. Improved lighting makes it bright enough to spot the eight ball on the far side of the pool table, or dim enough for a late-night snack with a sweetheart.
“The improvements have definitely increased the number of people who stick around after ordering their food,” said Pepe. “It really helps build the community down here.”
Suzy Nelson, dean of students, said the grille plays an important role in the River House community, which made its refurbishment a priority for the College.
“Undergraduates are asking for additional social space that is not necessarily programmed, but that can serve as a place to drop in, enjoy friends, and meet new people,” she said. “The Eliot Grille provides options for late-night dining, and also offers students from the River Houses an area to socialize safely. We have given a lot of thought to increasing social space for students, and the recent improvements at Eliot House are good examples of these efforts.”
Mann said he has a “special bond” with the space and sees it as a place to relax, connect, and have fun amid the hectic Harvard experience.
“The grille truly is a melting pot of Harvard social spheres,” he said. “Its’ really close to my heart — and we have really intense foosball games down there.”