There was a time, approximately 10 minutes before my arrival at UCSD in Fall Quarter 2008, that there was no Loft. If you, like most students, haven’t visited the Loft up at Price Center East, I would call it a reasonably sterile alternative/indie performance space where freshmen and grad students are known to stand awkwardly/nod noncommittally while up-and-coming alternative/indie acts do their damndest to rile everybody up. The university’s marketers would call it a “performance lounge and social crossroads where emerging art and pop culture collide…a place where modern design, appetizing bites, and intriguing performance commingle.” (Hey, it’s true: they’ve got red Ikea chairs outside.)
What’s so special about the Loft, though, is that to me it signaled the dawn of a new day at UCSD. All that followed is astounding: first came Zanzibar, a wildly successful café/wine bar (yes: it is our campus wine bar); then the Bistro, a sit-down dining hall in the Village that boasts a seasonal menu and a sushi bar; and now, this quarter we welcome Roots, our campus’s first dedicatedly vegan/vegetarian eatery. If I didn’t know better, I might think Gwyneth Paltrow herself were waving a royal hand down at us from her castle in the sky, blessing us all with Alexander Wang T-shirts and warm croissants.
No corner of campus has gone untouched. The transformation is evident from the furthest reaches of the Village all the way to the School of Medicine, where apparently, the cheekily dubbed Club Med just opened, too. Most of us know that the real Club Med is situated eight or so miles south, and that it ordinarily calls itself the University of San Diego, but to USD, we say: “LOL, did you really pay $200K for that degree?” (But also: “Please, do try the Panini.”)
Desperate for a bathroom on a recent weeknight, I wandered toward the ambient lights and wall-length windows of the Bistro. First, I hesitated: it had been a long day, and I half-expected the hostess — a girl I recognized from one lukewarm Popov-fueled dorm party or another — to appraise my sneakers, wrinkle her noise and ask me to please come back later.
But before she could, I looked around and what I saw was sort of unbelievable: students laughing over mineral water. Students smoothing cloth napkins in their laps. Students so happy — so overjoyed at the sushi and friends surrounding them — that, for at least an hour, they had forgotten the bleakness of everything else.