First Solar Bear relaxes in the sun

By Gus Bode

Terry Muhammad, right, a senior from Chicago studying aviation, and Nick Romanus, a junior from Peoria studying industrial technology, drink before they go to Solar Bear Saturday outside a friend’s house. This was the first Solar Bear event, located at various bars, and mirrors Polar Bear, an annual event that occurs in February. Steve Matzker | Daily Egyptian

Carbondale may have moved one step closer to its party-heavy past with the first Solar Bear party, though James Karayiannis says it’s too soon to tell if it will grow to the proportions of February’s Polar Bear.

“To compare it to last year’s Polar Bear party is not fair,” said Karayiannis, owner of Pinch Penny Pub. “The first Polar Bear party was nothing like the one we have now.”


Pinch Penny and other bars opened their doors early Saturday to offer a number of summer-themed specials and a beach party atmosphere. Nevertheless, the event did not draw the huge daytime crowds of its February counterpart.

Aside from the fact that it hasn’t had the time to grow such as Polar Bear, Karayiannis said there may have been other factors which contributed to the turnout.

“At the end of the day, it’s one of the last weekends in August, it’s warm out, there’s a lot of things people want to do,” he said. “Sitting in a bar all afternoon is not necessarily always going to be at the top of that list.”

That wasn’t a problem for Mark Kaszian of Johnson City.

“Honestly, this was my favorite because it wasn’t as crowded,” he said. “If a lot more people had heard about it, this would have been just as crowded as Polar Bear.”

Ben Renken, a senior from St. Charles studying kinesiology, said the event was a good idea and could become as popular as Polar Bear.

“This is a pretty good start,” he said.


Nate Ecker, a senior from Wheaton studying finance, said he, Nick Kenny, Arin Thomas and Mitch Mlacnik came up with the idea. He said he approached Karayiannis with it one night.

“I get ideas offered to me by customers all the time,” Karayiannis said. “Some of them are really, really bad. This one’s pretty good.”

Karayiannis said the idea was for people to go straight from their pools to Pinch Penny, wearing their swimsuits and bringing the pool party atmosphere with them.

Ecker said he and his friends stayed in Carbondale for the summer and thought it would be good to have a major party while the weather was nice. He said he thought the event was a success and will hopefully carry on into the future as people see its potential.

“Everyone I know was in the bar mid-afternoon, which is pretty rare,” he said.

Melissa Emerson, right, a junior from Chesterfield, Mo. studying speech communication, and Casey Wood, a Sprint employee from Mehlville, Mo., sunbathe at The Reserve pool Sunday amidst the bottles and cans left behind from Saturday’s Solar Bear. Emerson said she was surprised it was not cleaned up sooner. Another sunbather, Jessica Butcher, a junior from Mahomet studying social work who was at the event, said more people partied at The Reserve because it was cheaper and less crowded than Pinch Penny Pub. The parking lot for Solar Bear was empty for most of the day, a factor Butcher said could be from lack of advertising. But by the end of the night that all changed. “It was too crowded,” Butcher said. Steve Matzker | Daily Egyptian

Karayiannis said he’s not sure if he would want Solar Bear to become as large an event as Polar Bear, as the logistics of running it are a lot of work. He said he also isn’t proud of some of the things that happen at Polar Bear such as arrests and irresponsible drinking.

“I’m always a little leery about how big a success things get,” he said.

He said there hadn’t been any such problems with Solar Bear.

However, Karayiannis said Carbondale’s party culture and major events like Polar Bear are important because it gives students something to be proud of and an identity to the school. He said it’s important, though, to maintain a balance.

“I don’t think you just want to be some party school, which is maybe where people felt like Carbondale was going a number of years ago,” Karayiannis said. “It’s definitely not just a party school, but it’s a school where people like to party.”

Renken said SIU has party school reputation, but no more so than schools like Northern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University.

“We want to have a good time, but we want to do as well as we can academically,” he said.

Karayiannis said only time will tell if Solar Bear will become as major an event as Polar Bear, but it’s fine if it doesn’t usher back Carbondale’s partying heyday.

“Carbondale’s nothing like it was when I was growing up,” he said. “To have just a bit of what Carbondale used to be like is a good thing.”