College students over the age of 21 can teak a break from the monotony of a studious Thursday evening with “college nights” at the new downtown bar, 55 Below. Although the temperature may be cool, bartender Derek ‘Spit-fire’ Haddix heats things up when the crowd gets too rowdy.
Haddix gained his nickname from an attention-grabbing act he does at the bar.When too many people are at the bar, making his job chaotic, he takes a shot of alcohol, puts some on his hand, and lights the alcohol-covered area of his hand on fire, resulting in a large burst of flames.
“It buys me about three and a half minutes, which is enough time to do a round of drinks,” he said.
Located only one mile off campus, 55 Below brings renewed energy to the Hillsdale nightlife. Last May, 55 Below opened its doors where the bar “The Underground” formerly existed.
Since that time, the bar has catered toward students and residents with commonly-themed nights.
55 Below is underneath 55 Broad Street, which is the patio bar outside of the liquor store Broad Street Market. The building is all one entity.
The market is open during the day, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days, but the bars are only open from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Haddix bartends at the lower level bar, working alongside manager Elena Ledesma and patio bartender Amber Campbell.
“It’s a team effort,” Haddix said, “which is what makes it fun.”
The Underground went out of business a few years ago. Ledesma said 55 Below is trying to deviate from the reputation of The Underground since the two are so different.
The Underground was only a below-ground bar, whereas 55 Below is part of a larger entity.
Owner Ben Baldwin bought the building two years ago and opened 55 Below during graduation week for the class of 2019.
Since then, the bar has developed and expanded what they offer, including a cornhole league on Thursday nights.
Ledesma said they are also constantly expanding what they offer. There’s a pool table and typically live entertainment in either section of the bar, but Ledesma plans to add more.
She said they are potentially creating a Wii bowling league to be played on the large screen in the lower bar. They are also in the early stages of crafting a menu for their patio bar.
Since its opening, the bar has been available as a space for people to eat, drink, and be merry, even if they don’t offer food there. People are allowed to order food to the restaurant, Ledesma said, and they often do.
“The guys from Hungry Howie’s come here all the time, so he knows exactly where he’s going,” she said.
Certain nights of the week they have specials, including last week’s “Friday the 13th” party. All events are posted to their Facebook page. Ledesma, who is also a graphic designer, designs all of their advertisements.
She also designs for Here’s to You Pub & Grub and the Hillsdale Brewing Company, all of which she said are very different places.
“They’re great atmospheres, but it’s all different from us,” she said. “We have the biggest dance floor, it’s always cool down here, and it’s just a great area for people to spread out and dance.”
Customer service is important at 55 Below, Ledesma added. It’s important to her that everyone serving and being served has a good time, so if a bartender isn’t in a good mood, she will send them home.
Ledesma, who worked as a bartender for many years, said she stops serving people alcohol when they become too intoxicated and does her best to ensure people who have been drinking do not attempt to drive.
Almost every Friday and Saturday night there is entertainment either on the patio or basement, but never both so the artist can receive full attention.
Acoustic singers perform on the patio, matching the more relaxed, casual vibe, Ledesma said, and DJs or bands take over the basement, adding to the “fun, exciting vibe.”
Junior Clayton DeJong said he enjoys going to 55 Below for its music, which is unmatched among other Hillsdale bars. He plans to attend Thursday college nights.
“At other places, there is no music if you’re not paying the jukebox,” he said.
55 Below also hosts private events, including Pi Beta Phi sorority’s 2019 spring formal. In this case, anyone over the age of 18 is allowed in the venue.
Ledesma said it is easier to manage groups than an entire crowd comprised of random people.
For any college students seeking Thursday night fun complete with cornhole, dancing, and drinking, 55 Below is open for business.