Damon’s Out, Rathskeller In

Posted: July 22, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: July 21, 2009 at 3:32 pm

By Dave Andrews

The Rat is back – and it has nothing to do with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr.

After more than a decade-long hiatus, the Mason Rathskeller is moving back to Student Union Building I (SUB I). The sports bar, fondly known as the Rat, made its debut on campus back in 1988, but its popularity dwindled when the Johnson Center opened its doors in 1996. The Rat was later converted into what is now the game room in SUB I.

But a college campus just doesn’t seem complete without a good, old-fashioned sports bar. Damon’s, which was open from 2005 until this past spring, was an effort to bring it back, but Mason Dining officials acknowledge the concept was not wholly successful. They decided to keep the basic Damon’s appearance, but take the operation in a new direction.

By late August, the former Damon’s space will have gotten a slight makeover and re-emerge as the Rat. The restaurant will still boast 12 big-screen TVs, music and a good-sized selection of beer and wine. Eventually, the bar plans to double the current on-tap beer offerings from five to 10.

But the dining concept will change slightly to appeal more to student-aged customers while lowering costs and wait time. Food will be ordered and paid for at a front counter. Then, servers will bring the food out to customers’ tables.

“To get our customers their food as quickly as possible while still providing the same high-quality product, we’re trimming down the menu just a bit,” says Denise Ammaccapane, resident district manager for Mason Dining. “The menu still has a wide variety of options and, of course, all of our most popular items will still be there.”

By dropping the Damon’s brand, Mason can change up the menu whenever and with whatever it wants.

“With Damon’s being a nationwide brand, we had to use their menu with no wiggle room at all,” Ammaccapane says. “At the Rathskeller, we’ll be able to do our own specials and work together with Athletics and intramural sports, for example, to do various promotions.”

Despite Damon’s modest success on weekdays, it never met its full potential in the evenings and especially on weekends, Ammaccapane says.

“I’m confident that the Rathskeller will get a great reception here at Mason,” Ammaccapane says. “It affords us many new opportunities to work with Athletics and [the Office of] Student Activities, while at the same time it enhances campus night life.”

Burrito del Rey will take over the space left open by Damon’s Express. Ammaccapane compares the menu to Baja Fresh, a popular Mexican fast-food chain. Food will be made to order with fresh ingredients right in front of the customer. The menu will be smaller to increase the speed of service while still maintaining quality.

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu