On almost any pre-pandemic Friday night, High Street is filled with students ready to have fun. Although High Street is full of options, the bar voted best on campus is tucked away near the corner of Summit Street and Chittenden Avenue. If this proves anything, it’s how loyal Ugly Tuna fans are.
Lantern readers voted Ugly Tuna 2 best campus bar with more than 30 percent of votes. However, its roots as the Ugly Tuna Saloona are not forgotten, as the defunct Gateway location took home best deceased bar with more than 40 percent of votes. The new dance and nightclub opened in spring 2019, a year after the original’s closing, and regained a quick following, known for its drink deals and enjoyable atmosphere.
“We’re all about fun, safety and making sure everybody has a good time,” Liam Van Vorhis, managing partner of Ugly Tuna, said.
The Ugly Tuna Saloona was a South Campus staple, originally located in the Gateway complex, just an escalator ride above what is now Cazuela’s Mexican Cantina’s second location. The location made the bar a favorite among students living on South Campus, Ashlyn Pissini, a third-year in human development and family science and an Ugly Tuna fan, said.
“The location was great since I lived on South, and it was more fun than the other bars,” Pissini said.
Ugly Tuna Saloona operated for 14 years before it shut down during spring 2018 when Campus Partners, the university’s real estate arm, did not renew the lease.
“I’m glad they found a way to reopen. It’s not the same as the original Tuna, but anything’s better than no Ugly Tuna,” Pissini said.
The location’s accessibility was the initial draw for Ugly Tuna fan Lexi Mossing, a third-year in biomedical engineering who said she frequents the newer establishment multiple times per week.
“I live extremely close to Tuna, so we started going there out of convenience,” Mossing said. “We also love being there on weekends because it is not nearly as crowded as the other campus bars.”
Although Ugly Tuna is not centered on High Street, its popularity pulls customers the extra distance to Chittenden Avenue. Van Vorhis said he believed in the brand’s strength to continue attracting crowds.
“We found this location risky, but thought the name would hold strong and be a good reopen to Ugly Tuna,” Van Vorhis said.
A claim to fame for the bar — old and new — is Ugly Hour. From 7 to 10 p.m., well drinks cost $1, which is a fan favorite among students and invites the crowd to come out early.
“Ugly Hour is the biggest reason why I love going to Tuna,” Pissini said.
Van Vorhis said Ugly Hour has been an Ugly Tuna tradition for 15 years and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
There is more to the bar’s appeal than the deals, however. The bar is run like a family, Van Vorhis said, and the company takes pride in creating an environment that guests want to join.
“Our success is because of the staff,” Van Vorhis said. “Most of the staff are tenured, and a couple of them worked at the old Tuna and came back. It’s just how we operate and our standards.”
Mossing said the atmosphere and staff is part of what makes the bar so great.
“I just want to shout out all the bartenders because they’re my favorite people on the planet,” Mossing said.