This is a two-part story examining how Vermillion’s downtown businesses prep for the madness of Dakota Days. To read about R-Pizza and Dakota Brickhouse stocking up for the long week, click HERE.
John Guagliardo used a short phrase to describe Dakota Days, USD’s annual homecoming celebration, which this year begins on Sunday: “A 72-hour party.”
Guagliardo, who tends bar at Carey’s, is among dozens of bartenders who mix drinks throughout downtown Vermillion’s six bars. Just a month ago, they wrapped up the slow summer season as the student community returned to town; now, they’re preparing for their busiest week of the year and the wave of visitors D-Days brings to the downtown scene.
D-Days is the biggest of Vermillion’s three liveliest weekends downtown, Guagliardo said, ahead of graduation weekend in May and USD-SDSU football game day in November. So big, in fact, Carey’s staff rearranges its space to accommodate the influx of customers.
“If it’s not already bolted down, we move it out,” Guagliardo said. “We need the room for the bodies and to keep things from getting busted.”
It’s not the actions of the bargoers that add to the craziness of the week — Vermillion’s inhabitants are “pretty docile,” Guagliardo said — it’s the mere number of them. Alumni return to relive their college days, parents celebrate with their enrolled children and denizens and students from surrounding counties and schools unite in Vermillion for one of the state’s liveliest events of the year.
“If you’re not used to high numbers, it’s not gonna work,” Guagliardo said. “You’re making two drinks while four people are shouting orders at you. I’m making a vodka tonic and I hear ‘can I get two vodka crans,’ and you’re like ‘ope, nope, tonic first.’”
It sounds taxing, and it is — Todd and Molly Radigan, owners of Main Street Pub roughly 50 steps across the street from Carey’s, know. The Radigans have operated Pub for almost a quarter of D-Days in USD history (24 of 105) at the small brewpub.
“When I think of D-Days,” Todd Radigan said, “I think of really hard work. It’s a lot of money, but it’s a lot of hard work for everybody in the industry. ”
“A young man’s game,” he called it. Students and residents flood the scene for five weekdays in a row, punctuated by a 36-hour weekend workday. Radigan said he orders two to three times more food and alcohol compared to a normal week and plans to have four people behind the bar day and night during the weekend. The only reason there isn’t five? A fifth won’t fit.
“Pub’s only so big, you can only be so busy,” he said. “Your whole team needs to get together and be there with you. That’s what D-Days is to me.”
Bars with bigger buildings use their space differently during D-Days. Last D-Days, Old Lumber Company introduced its rooftop patio stocked with fire pits overlooking downtown Vermillion. Charcoal Lounge is opening a second bar and its kitchen to serve concession food (cheese curds, pizza) during the weekend.
Kimberly Klein, a senior psychology major who began working at Charcoal Lounge in June, will be a face behind one of those bars during D-Days. She said working D-Days is actually a requirement for employment and it’ll be her first behind the bar rather than in front of it.
“You feel a little like you’re missing out on it, but you’re still ‘out’ and you’re still with everyone and you can still feel that fun atmosphere,” Klein said. “Your friends are here and they come up and talk to you. I’m happy to be working here.”
Klein is scheduled to work Wednesday night, Friday night and a double shift on Saturday. Balancing that with her school schedule will be “exhausting,” she said, but the money will be worth it. Klein’s fellow “Chartenders” who’ve worked past D-Days told her they’ve walked out with $500 to $700 after the week is over.
“It goes by so fast. There will be parts of the night where you don’t even look up from the bar and you’re continuously making drinks,” she said. “You sit in that corner and you’re like ‘who’s next, someone give me your drink.’”
Money isn’t the only perk, however.
“It’s so funny watching people interact,” Klein said. “You can see when people come in, they’re more quiet, but by midnight everyone’s significantly happier.”
That’s the magic of D-Days, said Chad Grunewaldt, owner of OLC. Vermillion’s population “basically doubles” and a somber face is harder to find than a parking spot on Main Street during Saturday’s parade.
“Everyone that comes out is already in a good mood,” he said. “You don’t have grumpy people. Everyone wants to have a good time and support the Coyotes.”