James Hale" />
side bar
Sunday, October 1, 2023

Life + Arts


Opening just in time for finals last December, The Den is a friendly place for students and faculty to get a beer or cocktail when the stresses of work and study demand release.

‘I find it’s more of a tension release, like after an exam,’ Ana Rivers, a post-baccalaureate geology student, said.

Ben Phares, a political science senior, has made a trip to The Den a weekly ritual.

‘I meet a couple friends here every Thursday,’ Phares said.’ ‘It’s a good way to close out the week.’

There are also many benefits to the campus adjacent bar that students cannot enjoy anywhere else.

‘It’s easier to get to, and it’s a whole lot cheaper than most other bars,’ Phares said. ‘You run into people from your classes here.’

Phares and many other students are glad to have The Den and say they believe it is a long overdue addition to UH.

‘I’m just glad we finally got a bar on campus,’ Phares said. ‘All other big universities you go to have bars on campus, or at least within walking distance.’

Of course bars do not just appear near large bodies of students; it requires an enormous input of time and money.

‘When you start a bar everything goes wrong,’ Geoff Neal, one of The Den’s co-owners, said. ‘If you don’t like to work nights and weekends twelve hours a day, you’re in the wrong business.’

The owners were looking to open a bar in the Heights before the location across from the recreation center became available. Neal and three of his friends, Jason Kendall, Steve Berron and Matt Steele, had already accrued plenty of experience in bartending and management when they opened The Den.

‘All told, we have about 45 years experience in bars. We’ve all been bartenders and I’ve been managing for quite some time,’ Neal said.’ ‘It’s good to have buddies (when) you want to open a bar, who already have experience.’

Neal and his co-owners want The Den to become a long-standing icon of UH.

‘What this vision was is to have a pub on at the University of Houston that will be here for quite some time,’ Neal said.’ ‘We’re looking at longevity.’

The bar primarily serves students before or after classes, almost the reverse of most bars, which see their largest crowds over the weekends.

‘We’re typically busy on the week nights,’ Neal said. ‘Friday and Saturday haven’t really hit for us yet because it’s such a commuter campus. Thankfully, UH is trying to change that perception.’

Improvements to the bar are already on the horizon, from an indoor balcony area to the addition of a food menu once The Den’s kitchen opens before the fall.’

The owners said they want to be careful when opening the kitchen. Neal said if a restaurant serves a customer bad food once, they will lose business.

‘We’re getting food in after the summer, but it has to be right. I don’t want to serve a bunch of crap,’ Neal said. ‘I want to serve decent food at a decent price. I don’t want to push it through and have it come out half-assed.’

Future plans for The Den also involve becoming a part of the Cougar sports scene on campus.

‘We’re working with the Athletics Department,’ Neal said.’ ‘We’re going to try to do some advertising at football games, and we’re going to be a rally point for Coog Crew.’

UH also supplies The Den with a major source of headaches for any bar owner, underage students trying to slip past security.

‘We’ve confiscated fake IDs, and we card everybody unless I see them in here every day,’ Neal said.’ ‘It’s not worth it to anybody because they’re gonna want this bar here when they become 21, so if they want to get us shut down by trying to get in when they’re underage and not be here when they’re 21, that’s kind of stupid.’

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