(The original Grad House, at 211 Stuart Street, opened in 1963 photo courtesy of Queen’s Archives)

The Grad Club at Queen’s has long had a reputation for being a social space for the university’s graduate student community and a place to host everything from meetings, tutorials,  fundraisers and live music events. But the Club’s current location is actually the third incarnation of a campus home for graduate students, and its history illustrates the Grad Club’s importance to the student community at Queen’s.

After the founding of the Queen’s Graduate Student Society (now the Society for Graduate and Professional Students) in 1962, the group began seeking a space to hold cultural and social events for the school’s 350 grad students. The following year, the GSS was offered the use of a small university property on Stuart St. that was the home of the “Grad House” until 1969. Furnished through donations from students, faculty and staff, the building also housed several grad students in its upper floor bedrooms. Of the greatest importance for many students, however, was the installation of a vending machine stocked with bottles of beer sold for 25 cents each. The new space also provided a social atmosphere for Queen’s grad students, and was home to impromptu guitar jams and dancing on the House’s ground floor.

Yet as the Queen’s graduate student community grew, the Stuart St. House started to feel a bit cramped and the search for a larger location began. In 1969, the Grad House was moved to 157 King St. East, a former residence for Army commanding officers. The larger space could accommodate 11 residing students and featured a room on the ground floor set aside exclusively for live music. The beer cooler remained a fixture at the House (albeit with a slight price increase – although three bottles for a dollar still isn’t bad!) and, for the first time, the Grad House began serving food and draught beer.

While the extra space was nice, the King St. location was not centrally located and needed extensive renovations. When the lease expired in 1976, the Grad House moved to its current location on Barrie St, a classic Victorian house that was granted heritage status in 1994. It was here, across from the historic Kingston Courthouse and City Park, that the space took on its now legendary “Grad Club” name and continued with many of the traditions initiated at its previous two locations.

A photo of the current Grad Club on Barrie St. (Photo courtesy of Kingstonist.com)

With the sounds of guitars and pianos from the old Houses still echoing across campus, the new Grad Club rekindled the tradition of live music as a major part of grad student life. An open mic night has long been a staple of the Club’s weekly schedule, and its ground floor concert space is renowned as a venue to see up and coming Canadian acts, as well as established artists looking to play smaller and more intimate shows. In fact, CBC Radio listeners named the Grad Club one of the Top 10 Canadian music venues in 2009, which is not surprising given that the Club has played host to some of the country and Kingston’s most celebrated acts !

A visit to the Grad Club’s third floor is like walking through the venue’s musical history

Of course, the days of 25 cent beer from a vending machine are a thing of the past – these days, the Grad Club is renowned as a place where guests can always find an excellent selection of lagers, ales, pilsners and stouts. When it comes to beer, the Grad Club has always been ahead of the curve – it began showcasing beer from microbreweries long before it was trendy and still features a rotation of draught beer from some of Canada’s finest microbreweries (including many from Kingston and surrounding area). This outstanding assortment of craft beer is paired with an extensive menu of fresh, home-cooked food options that make the Club a prime destination for both the Queen’s and Kingston communities. In spite of its humble beginnings, the Grad Club has become a local institution with a proud history of providing a welcoming and inclusive social space for students and non-students alike. Be part of this Kingston tradition – stop by the Club today and see what’s on tap!

*Want to read more about the history of the Grad Club? Check out this excellent article by Andrea Gunn from a 2009 edition of the Queen’s Alumni Review!