College Night in Town: Students, L/A make it a date

A Bates crowd at the Courthouse Plaza on Lisbon Street listens to the all-college a cappella performance that concluded "College Night in Town." Photograph by Mikey Pasek '12.

Walking from Park to Lisbon Street through Lewiston’s downtown Courthouse Plaza, students, staff and faculty waved and swapped “hi’s” on their way to and from adventures in food, drink and music.

It was the inaugural “College Night in Town,” and the overwhelming participation of local businesspeople and student contributors made it possible to sample and celebrate, in just a few hours, the diversity of what downtown Lewiston and Auburn have to offer.

Reporting for Bates Communications: Elana Leopold ’12, Erica Long ’12 and Elizabeth McKean ’12.

More than 400 students, faculty and staff from Bates, Lewiston-Auburn College, Kaplan University and Central Maine Community College bustled along the main streets and the mill canals of these red-brick cities in pursuit of Greek gyros, French bistro dishes, wine and beer tastings, and discounted spring rolls; poetry readings and displays of student art; and performances including jazz, Bollywood dance and an a cappella finale that packed an open plaza.

College Night in Town began what’s hoped will be a long tradition, likely to take place each fall and spring from now on. The event is designed to cultivate strong social and economic ties between local students and businesses downtown. How does it work? The businesses offer discounts and special programming for student customers, while the organizers drum up interest, as well as student artists and performers, on campus.

Isaiah Rice '15 performs at the Courthouse Plaza on Lisbon Street during "College Night in Town." Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

“It’s meant to be a spark that reminds students of all of the amazing attributes in the Twin Cities,” says co-organizer Mikey Pasek ’12. “Streams of students realized the important connection between the college and the community. We wanted to create the college town environment that Lewiston-Auburn can be, and that students hope it will be.”

The evening’s only hardship was having to decide what to skip. One popular dining option was Mother India, on Lisbon Street, whose tangerine-hued interior and spicy flavors provided the perfect antidote to an overcast evening. Savory crowd-pleasers included the saag paneer, tandoori chicken and garlic naan.

Chopsticks Restaurant in downtown Lewiston was the place for some shared appetizers — special-offer $3 crunchy spring rolls and sweet teriyaki chicken skewers — and a well-attended 45-minute set of folky originals and covers by Sawyer Lawson ’12.

“I like the friendly restaurant environment, a little less formal than a concert,” said Nina Slote ’12. “Sawyer’s music is great to hear in a low-key space with food and other friends to chat with.”

Some of us dressed smartly to dine at Fuel, where delicacies like poached salmon sous vide and steak au poivre — usually reserved for parents’ visits — were discounted. Others opted for wood-fired pizza at Forage, the new foodie-oriented market on Lisbon Street, or sampled Narals, another new restaurant, which serves Middle Eastern cuisine in Auburn.

Narals was another of the many venues that hosted back-to-back student performances, along with the Lisbon Street plaza, the Lyceum Gallery and She Doesn’t Like Guthrie’s, as well as Chopsticks. Ska’d For Life, an energetic group powered by horns and the soulful voice of Olivia Norrmén-Smith ’13, kicked off the night. Their 30-minute set served up covers like Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” and Spoon’s “Underdog” to an excited audience on Narals’ dance floor.

Those of age were beckoned into The Vault, a specialty wine and beer store, by a complimentary beer tasting and a friendly shop dog named Malcolm. Students flocked to the old bank vault in the back of the store to sample distinctive brews, including one with a faint smoky flavor, a hoppy double I.P.A and a tasty pale ale. Others browsed bottles of specialty red and white wines.

She Doesn't Like Guthrie's is full up for a Strange Bedfellows performance during "College Night in Town." Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

Guthrie’s, the eco-friendly restaurant and performance space, incorporated artwork from Bates students into an already appealing décor featuring cozy lighting, wooden tables and guitars hanging on the wall. Students munched delicious burritos and panini while awaiting the main event: a stand-up comedy routine by Bates’ Strange Bedfellows.

Playing to an SRO crowd, the Bedfellows worked up audience enthusiasm to such a pitch that the owners of Guthrie’s inquired about bringing them back in the future.

About 20 people attended the Multifaith Chaplaincy’s weekly nondenominational service {Pause}, transported for the occasion to Kimball Street Studios. For {Pause}, which asks attendees to focus as much on the silences as the performances, moving to Lisbon Street offered a poignant opportunity for campus-dwellers to meditate on the sounds of downtown. Car alarms, sirens and passersby were not a distraction, but rather a complement to the readings of original poetry and a cello performance, all by Bates students.

The evening concluded in the Lisbon Street plaza with a well-attended address by Mayor Robert E. McDonald and an a cappella concert featuring the Merimanders, the Deansmen, the Crosstones and Take Note. McDonald thanked participants for the impressive turnout and involvement in the community. He cited the evening as a great success.

Cody Tracey '15 of Baltimore, Md., performs in the Lyceum Gallery in Lewiston during the inaugural “College Night in Town," May 9, 2012. Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

Next year co-organizer Megan Murphy ’13 will lead College Night in Town, building an even better town-gown connection onto this strong foundation. While younger students gained a much better idea of just how much downtown has to offer, the fellow seniors we talked to regretted that they’d only enjoy this event once.

But they were gratified that they managed to check a few hotspots off the “things to do before I graduate” list. Anyway, we can always come back: L/A will be waiting.