Four years ago, a group of freshman women, clad in their Sunday best – or at least the fanciest Adidas wind pants they could find – walked from Thurston Hall to J Street every night at about 7 p.m.
They trekked through snow, sleet, rain and hail and all the while made sure their hair looked pretty and their faces were made up like princesses.
This was not merely dinner. This was the social equivalent of The Main Event. At an urban campus, J Street serves as more than a cafeteria – it’s a student union and a social mecca.
The women from four years ago always sat at a prime table in what they called the big room – the area past Viva Java with the big television screens. They were sure to have full view of pretty fraternity boys and athletes who grabbed four or five tables and dragged them across the floor so they could sit together. They even had nicknames for a few of them.
Current sophomore Bryan Kraft said he goes to J Street about three times a day for meals, and he too prefers the big room.
He was a far less-devoted fan of the gents who pulled tables together than the women of four years ago.
One time I had dinner with the rugby team accidentally, Kraft said.
Though he refrains from primping for his trips to J Street, Kraft sometimes seeks company at mealtimes.
I might see my friends in here, he said as he sat at a table on the left side of the big room. He said he always seems to sit on that same side of the room too.
It’s like a classroom where everyone sits in the same place, Kraft said.
His friend Marina Ioffe argued that the small room, which includes the area near Taco Bell and the room with the cushioney booths, was her favorite place to sit.
It’s more personal, she said.
Kraft noticed the link between food and ambiance.
He said the food has degenerated since last year because of the fast-food chains that recently arrived.
Cafeteria-style food with mashed potatoes and gravy would be great, Kraft said. He said the cafeteria atmosphere would be cozier and make it easier to make friends.
Kraft said, cafeteria or not, he would like to see a return to the Mexican station that was replaced by Taco Bell – another way to maintain a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Grub lures Kraft to J Street, but other students see J Street as GW’s version of the piazza.
Freshmen Aanchal Jain and Amrith Mago and sophomores Jaspal Singh and Rishi Desai said they spend huge chunks of the day lounging in J Street, especially between classes. The sophomores said they spent about two to three hours a day there, and the freshmen said they can spend up to six hours a day in J Street.
Singh and Desai said the allure of Fresh?n’s, an ice cream booth located in the basement of the Marvin Center, attracts them upstairs to J Street, where they often meet friends.
This crew of four leisurely loafed about and conversed about the hot topics of the day. They represent a cross section of J Street patrons who spend their free time people watching and talking.
They said they often talk about funny things that happened in class. But relationship debacles often dominate conversation, Singh said.
Singh and Desai said Jain and Mago delighted in the view of college men that J Street offers, but the women were reluctant to admit to that.
I don’t think so, they both said at various points in the conversation.
Unlike the four friends, freshman Matthew Timmerman dined alone and said he saw J Street simply as an eatery.
Timmerman said he sometimes meets friends there but he only spends about an hour or two a week in J Street.
He likes eating anywhere but Taco Bell, he said. Timmerman likes going to J Street but prefers going to the social mecca during off hours to avoid the lines.
Those who want to see and be seen by GW’s elite should go between noon and 2 p.m., according to first-hand observations. Students tend to have dinner at all different times, so peak hours are more difficult to define, Ioffe said.
The freshman women of the past were willing to face brutal winds and arduous walks to make it to J Street by 7 p.m. But Timmerman, who lives in the Hall on Virginia Avenue, said he is not quite as dedicated to the cause.
The food is better at J Street, he said. But I don’t always feel like walking that far.