Raise a Glass to the Namesake of Zinck’s Night

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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—before Collegetown offered closer alternatives for imbibing.

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

"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.

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

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.

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

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.

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“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.”

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

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.

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

Plus: did you know there’s an official Spirit of Zinck’s cocktail, comprising calvados, Prosecco, lemon juice, and tart cherry syrup?

(Learn how to make it—plus a mocktail—in this 2021 mixology video, hosted at the Statler Hotel bar!)

Numerous regional celebrations are planned across the U.S.—including gatherings in Ithaca, NYC, Chicago, Boston, Philly, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and many more.

And international events will be held around the globe, from Albania to London to Tokyo.

Z stands for “Zinck’s” (though spelled incorrectly) on this page from an early 20th-century booklet of Cornell toasts
A toasts booklet honors Zinck’s (though misspelled).

To add to the festivities: alums who've always wondered what they'd look like with Zinck's trademark handlebar mustache can mark the occasion with a custom Snapchat lens.

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

Originally published October 8, 2021; updated September 28, 2022 and September 29, 2023


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.

    • Joel Cisne, Class of 2004

      I drop by to say hello on occasion, and am always glad to see when someone has stopped by and left a marker of memory!

  5. RICHARD ERALI, Class of 1969

    Is your office aware of any plans for Zinks here in Winston Salem

  6. Alex (Suh) DeLorenzo, Class of 1989

    Come join local Cornellians in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia to toast all things Cornell!

  7. Pat Gallagher Orr, Class of 1970

    Join us on Cape Cod to celebrate Zinck’s Night at Sam Diego’s in Hyannis, 6-8:30!

  8. Emi, Class of 2009

    Portland, Oregon Zinck’s Night is at Von Ebert Brewing on NW 13th from 5-8pm! New folks who’ve graduated within the last 10 years gets their first drink on us! Hope to see you there.

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