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For nearly 50 years, it was a Davis staple. Now, the Graduate bar and grill is closing

UC Davis men’s basketball senior guard Darius Graham, left, holds the Big West Conference Tournament title trophy while standing with his father, Sebastian Graham, on Sunday, March 12, 2017, at the Davis Graduate sports bar and restaurant.
UC Davis men’s basketball senior guard Darius Graham, left, holds the Big West Conference Tournament title trophy while standing with his father, Sebastian Graham, on Sunday, March 12, 2017, at the Davis Graduate sports bar and restaurant. lsterling@sacbee.com

James Fender had just finished watching the Golden State Warriors lose the fourth game of the NBA finals to the Toronto Raptors when he saw a Facebook post that “sent my heart to my ankles.”

The popular Davis bar and restaurant, the Graduate, where Fender had worked off and on for nearly 15 years in the 1980s and ‘90s would be closing at the end of June.

“How can this be?” he wondered, recalling all the memories he created at the Grad.

From Queen’s performance at the internationally-televised Live Aid benefit concert in 1985 to the Los Angeles Police Department’s pursuit of ex-football player O.J. Simpson down the 405 freeway in 1994, Fender watched it all at the Grad.

Owner Charlie Swanson announced the beloved business was shutting down in what he called the “hardest post ever” last Friday night.

“Thanks to all and I mean all of the amazing people that made a simple bar and grill special,” he wrote. “So many life-long friendships and connections.”

Swanson did not give a reason for the Grad’s closure in his Facebook post and did not respond to several requests for comment from The Bee. The Davis Enterprise reported last summer, though, that the restaurant’s landlord at the University Mall shopping center had plans to redevelop the complex and add 174 residential units.

The Graduate has a franchise location in Stockton, which will not be closing, according to a restaurant employee.

The Davis Graduate opened in University Mall in 1972, according to Swanson. It’s filled with booths and long tables that can easily be moved out of the way for events like Salsa Night, which the Grad hosts every Thursday and Saturday. TVs are plastered to the walls for watching sports matches like the World Cup, and arcade games sit in the corner.

Fender, who went to UC Davis and now works in New York City as a freelance writer, had many more memories of the Grad to share.

He said he fell in — and out— of love there, watched the finale of M*A*S*H, a TV comedy from the 1970s and 1980s, and was working a lunch shift there when he heard that singer Kurt Cobain had died.

“Multiply these stories by a few thousand and you get an idea of how large this place looms in many of those who lived it,” he said.

The Grad is synonymous with home for many other Davis natives.

Eva Spiegel grew up in Davis, graduated from Davis Senior High School in 1987 and went to UC Davis for her undergraduate degree. She now lives in Davis with her young son.

And while she said she hasn’t been to the restaurant much since her years in school, she remembers it as “a fun place to be.”

“It was the place to go on a Saturday night if you went to Davis High,” Spiegel said, reminiscing about her favorite song from the ‘80s, “How Soon is Now?” by The Smiths.

She recalled the lyrics, “there’s a club if you’d like to go, you could meet somebody who really loves you, so you go and you stand on your own,” and said the song was something of “an anthem” for those years - one that now reminds her of the nights she spent at the Grad.

Davis native Tim Groth graduated from Davis High in 2004 and currently works at the school as a campus safety supervisor.

He also remembers the Grad as “the place to hang out” and said he couldn’t believe it when he learned it was closing.

“To me, the Grad is a part of Davis,” he said.

Also an assistant cross country and track coach for the high school teams, Groth helped start a Davis High tradition nearly a decade ago of going to the Grad after an alumni mile event the running team hosts every December.

“I don’t know what’s going to go in its place,” he said. “But I doubt it’s going to be as good.”

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Meghan Bobrowsky, from Scripps College, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee, focusing on breaking news and school funding. She grew up in nearby Davis.
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