The new student union space and dining facility, the LaB, opened on Feb. 3 in the Homewood apartments building. It joins a cohort of other student union spaces including Levering Hall, the Mattin Center and Nolan’s on 33rd that serve as social areas.
The LaB’s location has been empty for several years and was formerly a Ruby Tuesday restaurant. In the fall of 2015, design and renovation began. The University completed construction shortly before the Feb. 3 opening.
JHUnions, a program within the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement, has been heavily involved in promoting the LaB. JHUnions has led hard-helmet tours during construction and invited students to vote on elements such as tile and furniture design. They plan on using the LaB for programming events.
Coordinator of Union Programming for JHUnions Caitlin Tumey explained the purpose of the LaB and of student union spaces in general.
“A student union is a place for students to socialize, to be together. It’s very much the center of the social life of campus,” she said.
Tumey also touched on how the LaB is different from other student spaces on campus due to its distinct location and theme.
“The atmosphere itself is setting it apart from other spaces,” she said. “[It’s] kind of a fun, whimsical play on the idea of a lab.”
She also emphasized how there was a space available for more student events.
“This space in Homewood apartments had been sitting empty for years, and so this was an opportunity to revitalize that space and to transform it and bring this unique environment to campus,” she said.
The scientific lab theme is visible through the interior design and furnishings. The Bon Appétit workers wear navy lab coats. Beakers and chemistry-inspired posters adorn the walls.
Seating options vary throughout the LaB; In some sections there are colorful, cushioned ottomans and swiveling chairs. In other parts, there are bar stools and tables. A unique decorative element is the moving water wall, which features blue and purple lighting.
The LaB’s spelling also relates to the scientific theme; It is inspired by the periodic table of elements. Tumey stated that the student body was consulted when selecting the name.
“Student opinions and voices were asked throughout this entire process,” she said. “I wasn’t here for that whole process — I’ve only been here since the summer. But there was that in the design conceptualization process, going through and trying out different names.”
Freshman Coco Li, a member of the programming board for JHUnions, supported the idea of having non-academic spaces available for students to take a break from studying.
“Right now, unfortunately, the most sociable area is probably either the library or the AMRs,” Li said. “I don’t think it’s healthy to spend all the time in the library as much, as that’s probably where you’re going to meet people… I think it’s nice to have a little change of environment.”
Li expects that many students will go to the LaB for its late night dining services.
“It’s open later than any of the other [student union] spaces we have on campus,” she said. “Also paired with that it offers food until 2 a.m. I know a lot of students don’t go to bed that early for whatever reason, but none of the dining areas allow them to have food at that time. So I think it will be helpful.”
Junior Morris Mou, also a member of programming for JHUnions, appreciates the LaB’s location because of its proximity to Homewood and other University offices like the Counseling Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Office of LGBTQ Life.
“I feel like the new location and new setting bring the entire campus together,” he said. “A sophomore in Charles Commons has Nolan’s. You also have students living on campus in Homewood — what’s the closest on campus dining facility that you could go to?”
Although the University’s student union spaces are spread out over campus, Mou does not see this as a drawback.
“We really don’t have a central student union space. We don’t have a student union building, unlike other universities,” Mou said. “The disadvantage [is] that different classes — freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors — tend to mingle less because there is not a centralized location. But the advantage of having so many sub-spaces is that it really encourages collaboration between different student groups.”
JHUnions plans on using the LaB for various programming events such as a screening of La La Land on Valentine’s Day, an open mic night and talent show and a performance by local band The Milestones.
The LaB is open seven days a week from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Amenities include video and board games, multiple television screens, a portable stage and an outdoor terrace.
The LaB only accepts cashless forms of payment, so students can purchase food using Dining Dollars, J-Cash or debit/credit cards. The menu features snack-style items and utilize an à la carte kiosk system for ordering.
The menu features four categories: snacks and bites, sliders, sweets and beverages. Some examples include beignets, Oreo churro bites, milkshakes made with Taharka Brothers ice cream, vegan chili, falafel sliders and Thread coffee.
There are also daily specials like $2 milkshakes on Mondays and buy-one-get-one free coffee on Tuesdays.
The LaB’s grand opening is slotted for Feb. 10, although it has been open for business since Feb. 3.
On Feb. 4, the day after the soft opening, the Second Year Experience hosted Late Night at the LaB, where students could participate in glow in the dark Zumba and various arts and crafts activities.
Freshman Grace Windheim went to Late Night at the LaB after seeing the event advertised on Facebook. She was surprised by the ambiance and decor.
“During a building meeting, our RAs told us about [the LaB]. They described it as a no homework chill zone area where you can buy food and hang out,” she said. “I kind of pictured it as this room with some couches and regular fluorescent lighting with nothing to do. But this is way beyond what I expected.”
Other students like junior Mark Scotto Di Vetta, who is an RA in McCoy Hall, also spoke positively about the LaB.
He went to the LaB both for its soft opening and for Late Night at the LaB and particularly liked the menu.
“I got the Nitro Float and nachos,” he said. “It was actually really good. I was surprised. I didn’t think it was going to be as good as it was. Another friend of mine got the pretzel bread and it was super soft.”
Scotto Di Vetta encouraged other students to visit the LaB and to taste the food.
“I plan on coming again relatively often,” he said. “I recommend that all students try the space out because I think it’s really cool. The food options are great; The drink options are really good. Try the Nitro Float.”
Some students, like sophomore Matthias Gompers, view the LaB’s location as inconvenient.
“I haven’t been [to visit] and I don’t think I will be — not because I have something against it, just because it’s so far out of the way,” he said.
He also was not in favor of the University opening social spaces for students.
“I don’t know how much good it really does for the University to just open a University-sponsored place as a social space because I feel that students will make their own social spaces,” he said. “I feel like it’s kind of forcing the issue a little bit.”
Sophomore Jamie Shade attended Late Night at the LaB and enjoyed the recreational atmosphere.
“I think [the LaB] could serve as a great social space for Hopkins students, especially those living close to or in Homewood Apartments,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “It’s a little out of the way but pretty accessible for students living in Commons or other dorms. I would probably go there for certain events but wouldn’t stop by regularly.”
Shade also added that she would welcome the opening of more student union spaces in the future.
“It would be awesome to have more social spaces for students so that we could have designated places to relax and have fun,” she wrote.