Bear Necessities at 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday night is a cacophony of sound and excitement. The limited space is packed to the gills with giddy, ravenous students inhaling mounds of greasy comfort-food by the fistful. The restaurant is roaring with freshmen and seniors alike, proudly recounting their nights and comparing stories with their friends. Bear Necessities, or Nasties as it has been aptly nicknamed by Cornell students, is a landmark destination for Cornellians after an evening out. The chaotic hotspot is the perfect crescendo to wrap up a night.
Before you enter the Robert Purcell Community Center, that houses Nasties, you are greeted with a massive red sign displaying an abridged version of Cornell’s motto: “any person… any study…” This sign encapsulates the crowd at Nasties. People from all walks of life, all majors and all ages congregate there. It is a place where social standing is disregarded, where differences dissolve and similarities emerge and where strangers become friends. Food is worshipped at Nasties. The culinary experience is almost spiritual. Everybody seems to have their own ritual. Some peruse the menu intently before carefully placing their orders. While others confidently step into line without even glancing at the offerings. After describing their edible blueprints to the cashier, students join hordes of their comrades at the two pick-up windows in anticipation of their orders. These throngs of students quickly thin, as the employees behind the pick-up counter utilize their thunderous voices to bark the names of students whose orders are ready.
The reaction of someone whose name is called is one of sheer joy. Students bound happily towards the pick-up counters and lovingly cradle their food close to their chests. Some take deep whiffs of their subs, others hesitantly lift open their calzone boxes as if they were unlocking a treasure chest, some even victoriously lift their chicken fingers into the air in celebration. Subsequent to obtaining their meals, students settle into their tables and begin eating. People don’t use silverware at Nasties, hands are the utensils of choice. Similarly, food is not served on plates or in bowls. Instead, monstrous sandwiches and burgers are cloaked in grease-spotted paper, steaming calzones and pizza are held in flimsy, white boxes and fries and chicken fingers overflow out of red/white checkered scoops. The unusual vessels that are used in presenting the food, encourage customers to eat in rather than take out. When someone sits down to satiate themselves at Nasties, they typically ingest everything that they order. On the rare occasion that this is not the case, the leftover food is seldom thrown away; it will be brought back to the dorm to be eaten the following morning.
The built environment of Bear Necessities is surprisingly inviting. To enter Nasties, you must first pass through a convenience store replete with mountains of chips, endless rows of candy and just about any other snack food you could possibly dream of. The well-stocked aisles are adjacent to the two ordering stands. Above the cashiers, there are several digital menu displays. The menus perpetually cycle through the restaurant’s offerings. Students gaze in wonderment at these tv screens, as they craft their ideal order. The prices range from a measly $2.49 for a scoop of fries to a reasonable $6.49 for a calzone and a whopping $24.99 for a Bear Pizza Pak (18 inch pizza, 1 pound of wings and a 24oz fountain drink). To the left of the ordering stands and the digital menus, there is a small passageway that leads to the seating area and the pick-up windows. The seating area has a short row of round tables and beside those tables are four booths. Additionally, there are several high-top round tables scattered around the space. Near the exit of Nasties, there are three gargantuan containers of ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauce. Next to the condiments, there are two all-important napkin dispensers that will likely be depleted by the end of the night. Lastly, the walls of Nasties are decorated with four colorful murals.
Bear Necessities triggers, in equal measure, all five of the fundamental senses. Sight, sound, taste, smell and touch are all stimulated at Nasties. As soon as you enter Nasties, your sense of vision is piqued. From the vibrant packaging of the snack foods at the entrance, to the buzzing crowds of smiling students, to the sizzling fries in the fryer, there is something to see at every corner. In terms of your auditory senses, Nasties is hub of conversation and storytelling. Lean your ear to the right and you may hear a harrowing tale of someone escaping from a fraternity once the cops arrived. Lean your ear to left and you may hear an individual describing his painful night in the library studying for a prelim. The whole place is abuzz with stories of victory and failure. With regard to your sense of smell, Nasties bombards your nostrils with pleasants aromas. In addition to the wondrous smells of maybe a juicy burger on the grill, you may also pick up less pleasing aromas: stale beer on clothing, lingering cigarette smoke, etc. Lastly, your sense of touch is aroused most of all at Bear Necessities. Whether it is the juices from a fried chicken sub dripping down your hands and face or the feeling of crusty calzone between your fingers, your sense of touch is always engaged.
It is nearly impossible to enter Nasties and not be tempted to indulge in some form of culinary satisfaction. As previously mentioned, Nasties constantly engages all five senses. Whether it was intentional or not, the space is constructed in a way that encourages the consumer to believe that they require perpetual sustenance as soon as you enter. At every turn, you are greeted by something related to food or drink. Whether you have a birdseye view of the grill, you are face to face with the rows of convenience store snacks or you even spot a vending machine in your peripherals, the environment is such that you are always enticed to purchase something edible.
Overall, Nasties offers its patrons an experience unlike any other. The food is wonderfully comforting, the environment is magnetic and the friendships it sparks are ever-lasting. I would give it ZZZZZ – 5 Z’s – One of a Kind.