Breen: Hinman was the best thing this campus ever ignored

    The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.

    Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 12:05 p.m., I sat at a round table with my best friends. Succulents drifted in their hanging pods above us and light filtered in from all sides. We gossiped and complained, discussed and debated, all the while gorging ourselves on better-than-average dining hall food.

    This was my experience with The Hinman: a routine, a lifestyle and, most of all, a home.

    Now, Hinman is gone. While some students may regard the excessively long lines at Allison with a twinge of annoyance and general acceptance, there are many students, like myself, who know exactly what they’re missing, now that 1835 Hinman is closed for remodeling.

    Hinman Dining Hall had a bad reputation with freshmen like me almost immediately. My PA group skipped our dinner at Hinman during Wildcat Welcome in favor of a second meal at Plex West. Students who attended summer programs on campus such as Medill Cherubs or Bridge were forced to eat at Hinman for every meal, and apparently the food was devastatingly bad. These horror stories gave Hinman a terrible fame. It was small, dingy and unappealing by all popular accounts. Many were happy to see it on the brink of remodeling.

    But, upon my first, wary step onto the threshold of Hinman, I discovered a place entirely different from the one so many had described. In every imaginable way, Hinman was, for me, the best dining hall on campus, hands down, and our overcrowded, loud dining experience today suffers in its absence.

    Hinman was small, but it had plenty of options in terms of available food, accommodated dietary restrictions surprisingly well and always offered at least one decent entree. There were rarely lines at Hinman, so it was possible to scope out the menu and hop from station to station in order to get the ideal meal. While tacos and pizza were nearly constant fixtures, Hinman also rotated through specialty foods like the surprisingly tasty Korean pork bao, and every once in a while featured specialty items like crepes.

    Fran’s employees are famously kind (one gave me a free milkshake just last week, so that hasn’t changed, thankfully), and Hinman employees deserve the same renown. I have never felt so welcome at a dining hall, and part of that comfort came from the willingness of the employees to engage with students, to ask about their days and make sure that their plates were full and their taste buds were satisfied. They chose fun, quirky music and smiled when they swiped students cards. They created an atmosphere unlike any other.

    Aside from the outstanding service and food, the atmosphere inside Hinman Dining Hall fostered a unique community. The smaller area, combined with communal tables and a semi-regular cast at each meal, made Hinman a great place to meet or make friends. The sitting area was nicely broken up into regions, allowing the dining hall to feel cozy, but not fractured so much as to detract from the social feeling of the space. That being said, there was no shame in going to Hinman alone. It was just as easy to stake out a corner and eat alone as it was to sit facing the door to the kitchen and wave down a friend to join you.

    Of course, Hinman had its downsides, and the reasons for its remodeling are sensible. Some may not remember it so fondly as I do, but chances are the peace, quiet and above-par food that Hinman provided will come to mind when students:

    1. Are at Allison at noon for the half-hour lunch break between classes and find themselves waiting in line on the steps outside the doors instead of wandering in the doors of Hinman and walking right up to the trays of food;
    2. Survey the dessert options at Plex and find only disturbingly mushy cake instead of the perfectly balanced blondies served at Hinman;
    3. Leave lunch early in order to hustle to class in Fisk while still chewing their food instead of casually jaywalking across the road at the last minute;
    4. Struggle to find a place to comfortably sit with their friends in Sargent instead of locating a perfectly empty long table at Hinman;
    5. Consider dining at Elder for a hot second, just because they are running out of options now that Hinman is locked up.

    Or, if students are like me, the tears will start pooling instantaneously at the thought of the recent loss of Northwestern’s single best dining hall and place to connect: The Hinman.


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