Big Physics IV: Faculty Clubs


Today I was treated to a very nice lunch at the Berkeley Faculty Club, so I thought this was a natural subject to append to my “Big Physics” series:

Faculty clubs are interesting things that I don’t quite understand. The primary function which I am familiar with is dining, especially when a slightly fancier meal is in order compared to what is readily available on campus. As the name describes, the primary clientele are faculty and administrators along with their guests, so it’s a bit of a special occasion when students are invited there. (Though this may be a school-dependent thing.) At Stanford, I once mentioned that one could use the number of times one has eaten at the faculty club as an index of one’s undergraduate experience.

In the following I’ll compare my observations of the UCB and Stanford faculty clubs, though this is necessarily an unequal comparison since I’ve been to the latter much more than the former.

UC Berkeley Faculty Club

I’ve visited the UCB faculty club three times. Once as a prospective student, once today, and once two days ago when I was confused about when today’s lunch was being held. It’s located in a green corner of the campus (the Faculty Glade), nestled between several trees and the stream that meanders through campus.

The club was designed by Berkeley’s most famous architect, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, but the architecture and furnishings are very reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prarie Style and the space is very welcoming. It’s very easy to feel like one is in a lodge at Yosemite, far removed from Berkeley’s urban atmosphere (…and undergrads).

The food was quite nice, though I was a bit sad that I didn’t get a chance to put my leftovers in a takeout box (true Grad Student Gourmet). I also didn’t get much chance to try their desserts, which today consisted of plates of baklava.

The service is caffeteria-style, with trays that one can place dishes on before cheking out to the main dining areas. Alternatively, there is a bar with a flat screen television where a group of physics professors has met to play poker every week for the past forty years.

Stanford Faculty Club

And in this corner, the Stanford Faculty Club. I should note that the above photo is a stained glass window from the UCB faculty club depicting a stylized version of the Stanford crest. While other university crests were featured, the Stanford crest was highlighted with its green banner background.

Nestled in between the humanities center and the Tressider student union, the faculty club is an unassuming building that blends in with the nearby Kingscote Gardens. Perhaps Kingscote lends some of its magical mystique to the club, as few undergrads are aware of the existence of either. 

The hidden gem is a proper restaurant complete with waiters, menu or buffet option, VIP rooms, cloth napkins, and little mint candies when you leave. The meals there have set my standard for restaurants; I cannot find better words to describe them than status quo.

However, Stanford shines when it comes to sweets. Goblets of fresh strawberries, french vanilla ice cream, creme brulee, and other treats await one at the dessert table. The club charges by plate, so physics students having lunch with their advisors have learned to combine dishes onto a single plate (creme brulee with a scoop of ice cream and strawberries!).

I have heard that faculty are requried to join the club (and pay membership dues), much to the chagrin of junior faculty who don’t use the club often. On the other hand, it appears to be the dining location of choice for VIPs, as I’ve been privileged to rub elbows with Fred Kavli, Steve Chu, Burke Knapp, and John Bravman on the few occasions that I’ve been able to dine there.

So, for any hungry undergrads (or even grads) out in one of the Bay Area’s fine academic institutions, don’t turn down the opportunity to dine at one of these faculty clubs.

2 Responses to “Big Physics IV: Faculty Clubs”

  1. There is, if I remember correctly, also a women’s faculty club at Berkeley, which, I believe has a waited lunch which is quite good.

    The best faculty club I’ve been to is the one at Caltech, the Atheneum. If you ever get a chance to eat there, don’t pass it up and make sure you get the Berry’s Atheneum for desert (although if alcohol goes straight to you head, be warned!)

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