While holding drinks, people in their early- and mid-20s huddle in groups, talking about their lives during the last few years. As the door to Garry’s Lounge opens, all of their eyes shift while they wait to see who walks in.
If they recognize the newcomers, some might yell greetings, while others run up to embrace their former high school classmates.
“It’s almost like a high school reunion,” said Peter Giammona, who graduated from Lodi High in 2004.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving has been coined “college night” throughout the country, and Lodi is no exception. University students return home and head out to the bars for a night of catching up and drinking.
College night has really spiked during the last 15 years, said Mike Simas, bartender at Garry’s Lounge. Aside from Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, it is the biggest night for the bar.
“We are expecting a big night. We are always prepared. Lodi seems to be the focal point before Thanksgiving, and we definitely do more business than Stockton,” Simas said.
It’s not just Friday; the entire weekend is busy, said Sean Guthrie, owner of Ollie’s Pub. He has noticed that there are a lot of out-of-town people on Wednesday, and more local college kids on Friday and Saturday.
Aside from eager bar patrons, the streets are also filled with police officers on foot, in cars, on motorcycles and on bikes.
The department assigned 17 officers to keep order among the crowds, Sgt. Fernando Martinez said. The police also used a prisoner-transport vehicle, known as a paddywagon, to take people who are drunk to the Lodi Jail.
“With the amount of alcohol being consumed, they have a lot of issues,” Lt. Tod Patterson said. “The bars are right on the edge of the number of people they should have in there. It gets pretty packed.”
During last year’s college night, Lodi police arrested 24 people who were drunk in public or fighting in Downtown bars and the surrounding area. This was an increase from 12 to 13 people arrested in 2009.
As of press time, there were no arrests.
The bars on School Street start to get crowded around 9 p.m., like Ollie’s, which is usually at capacity from about 9 p.m. to midnight, Guthrie said. He appreciates that the police are there to monitor the crowds.
“I definitely think it helps. It gives a person a second thought about whether they want to spend the night in jail,” he said.
In addition to the 17 officers in Downtown, there were 10 officers around Lodi for their regular shifts, four cadets and two Police Partners, Martinez said. The department adjusts the schedules of all of the extra officers, so there can be extra patrols without overtime costs, he said.
Officer Shane Davidson and Brannon Haro were in charge of Garry’s, Rosewood Bar and Grill and Lodi Beer Company. In past years, the main thing they have responded to is fights early in the morning, when people are drunk right before the bars close.
“Most of the people are law-abiding and out to have a good time, but there are a few people who get out of hand,” Haro said.
They both said it is important to have a large police presence on such a busy night.
“Our presence alone prevents a lot of fights from happening,” Davidson said.
At Garry’s, the atmosphere is friendly, and it is fun to see the locals bring their friends who do not regularly go out in Lodi, Garry’s manager Johnny Holly said.
“We get a lot of locals. It’s fun to watch friends who haven’t seen each other in a while,” he said. “It’s great exposure because the locals bring in their friends from college, so we get to introduce ourselves to the newly 21.”
Giammona, who graduated from Lodi High in 2004, said he makes it a point to be out on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Usually people post their plans to go out in advance on Facebook, he said.
At Ollie’s, Chloe Rogan said she is attending her first college night since graduating from high school in 2009.
“I’m just excited to experience it,” she said.
Jennifer Pena, who graduated in 1996, said she also likes to come out and see friends from high school.
“It’s hit-and-miss. Some years there’s a lot of people out here. It’s always nice to see what people are doing,” she said.