Raise a Glass to the Namesake of Zinck’s Night

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Legendary Ithaca bartender inspired the annual celebration—and this year, it's set for October 20

By Alexandra Bond '12

When you hear the first few notes of “Give My Regards to Davy,” you can probably sing along with perfect recall—even if you’re a little fuzzy about the meaning of the last line: “We’ll all have drinks at Theodore Zinck’s when I get back next fall!”

As a Cornell phenomenon, Zinck’s Night traces its roots to the proprietor of a downtown Ithaca hotel bar in the late 1800s.

In those days—before Collegetown offered closer alternatives for imbibing—students would gather there after class for conviviality and five-cent beers served by the notable barkeep, a German immigrant named Theodore Zinck.

A vintage photo of Theodore Zinck
Barkeep Theodore Zinck, in an autographed photo.

"He was a character. He had a thick accent and was legendary for his memory of customers,” says Cornell history expert Corey Earle ’07. “Alumni would come back to visit years later and he would call them by name and say, ‘Hey, you still owe me a buck fifty!’”

Though that bar closed in the early 1900s, a handful of establishments around Ithaca bore the Zinck’s name over the following decades, until the last closed in 1967.

But its memory lived on, and eventually spawned a new Cornell tradition. In fall 1973, members of the senior class created a social club called the Spirit of Zinck’s.

Thirsty seniors could consult the Daily Sun for the location of that week’s meeting, usually a far-flung taproom like the Dryden Hotel or the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg.

Every Thursday evening, after attendance had been duly noted on a cocktail napkin, the revelers would get down to business—namely, selecting the location of the following week’s festivities.

Alumni would come back to visit years later and he would call them by name and say, ‘Hey, you still owe me a buck fifty!’

Cornell history expert Corey Earle ’07

“We wanted to bring seniors together in a casual setting,” says John Foote ’74, the society’s co-founder. “We appreciated that we only had a little bit of time left on the Hill and we wanted to get to know our classmates better.”

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Over the past few decades, that tradition has morphed into a much larger annual celebration: International Spirit of Zinck's Night.

In a typical year, some 4,000 alumni gather in roughly 100 bars, restaurants, and pubs for a Big Red happy hour on the third Thursday in October.

A black and white photo of two men outside Zinck's Grill
A popular watering hole, for students and locals alike.

The events are concentrated mainly in dozens of cities in the U.S., but also take place worldwide.

From Australia to Ireland, Japan to Djibouti, Hong Kong to Ithaca, Cornellians meet for a night of trivia, door prizes, singing Big Red songs, and celebrating East Hill memories with fellow grads.

“It connects alumni across the years,” says Foote. “It’s a wonderful way to meet and chat with Cornellians of every description.”

In 2020, due to COVID, revelers marked the occasion with a series of small gatherings and online offerings—shared on social media and unfolding in various time zones around the world—dubbed “24 Hours of Zinck’s."

The 2021 festivities were also a combination of in-person and virtual—but for this year's event, set for October 20, Zinck's returns to its real-world roots. Numerous regional celebrations are planned, including gatherings in Florida, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and more.

But never fear: alums who've always wondered what they'd look like with Zinck's trademark handlebar mustache can still mark the occasion with a custom Snapchat lens.

Top: Photo illustration by Cornell University; all photos in this story provided.

Published October 8, 2021; updated September 28, 2022


Comments

  1. Spaghetti aka Michael Clouser, Class of 1999

    Join Cornellians in Colombia for an grande night of Zincking outdoors in the coolest city of Party on the planet just now, Medellin. 21 October 21 5p, and on, at the Somos Rooftop Bar in Pablado. Sunset 5.45p, Hotel tour 6.15p, DJ comes on at 8p, Cornellia lights at 9p. More here https://alumni.cornell.edu/event/2021-international-spirit-of-zincks-night-in-medellin-colombia/
    Hosted by a Hotelie slash Johnsonite, forever inspired by Phil Miller, and former Student Agencies CEO.

  2. Larry Crockett, Class of 1969

    Larry Crockett ’69 ALS and Ellen Victoria Crockett ’69 ALS will raise a glass tomorrow night in Port Townsend, Washington.

  3. James Pfeiffer, Class of 1971

    Is there a designated restaurant / bar for Zinck’s Night in Manhattan?

  4. Eric Key, Class of 1977

    And one can visit his grave in the Lake View Cemetery.

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