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Friday Drankin’: The Neon Cactus

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Let’s pour one out for our departed watering hole.

Budweiser Parent Company AB InBev Continues Efforts To Purchase Rival Miller Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The Neon Cactus is gone.

Long live the Neon Cactus.

If we were in football season today would mark the return of our usual Friday Drankin’ column where we would profile a brewery in the local market of our opponent. Since we have no football, however, we’re going to try and keep it local for as long as we decide to mine this sweet, sweet content vein.

Let’s kick it off with the Neon Cactus, the bar we all know and love. I asked our fellow H&R writers what their go to drink was and their best Cactus story. Here is what they had to say, including Juan coming out of retirement briefly!

Andrew Ledman, Esq. (Jumboheroes)

My go to drink at the Cactus was always the Rum and Coke. Or, if I’m feeling fancy, have them add grenadine and make it a rum and cherry coke. My brother deemed this drink “The Elitist” for when you’re just too good for a rum and coke.

As far as top Cactus story that’s something you don’t share with people. However, I will tell you a fun story that’s acceptable for all audiences. One night my friend Jess and I (no, not my future wife) stayed until closing and went around at the end of the night and each walked out with approximately 10 cups. It’s amazing the amount of cups people just leave. We were one of only a handful of people left in the place. Being in college we thought it was smart to take these cups and wash them and make them our own. I’m pretty sure I still have some of those cups to this day.

Jace “Dub” Jellison

(We are putting his response here for legal reasons, as advised by our lawyer, Jumboheroes)

I’ll be sitting this one out because I’m not 21 and have never been to Cactus lol.

Andrew Holmes

Um...I have a confession...I don’t think I ever really went to the Cactus. By the time I was 21, I wasn’t trying to meet chicks any more. I was always more of a house party guy and the few times I went to the bars I stayed around Chauncey. I have had more bar experience at IU bars.

Holmes was immediately fired after this.

Casey Bartley

I’ve slept in my car in the parking lot of cactus at least 5 times. The Cactus was the best place to randomly make out with a chick. Was big enough in space to never feel locked into a place. Had the piano bar. It really was the closest thing to an actual fun place on campus.

Kyle Holderfield

Go to drink - Strong Island or Vodka, Water, Lime

Top Cactus Story - Casey jogged my memory on this when talking about his friends sleeping in their cars. I had a good friend, a name we will not mention. Who would sleep in his car after a Thursday night at the Cactus. After one night, his car was towed, while he was still asleep in the vehicle. Once he got to the impound lot, they woke him up, which was actually more convenient than anything, as he was there to pay his fine and get his vehicle back. After a hefty fine, he was on his way. He did not make another Cactus Thursday that year.

Dr. Juan Crespo (Emeritus, and he is very much a real doctor unlike what certain radio boys would say)

I am not going to lie, I had a love/hate relationship with the Cactus. I didn’t turn 21 until the first week of my senior year at Purdue, where I also happened to be an RA at Hilltop. To make things better (worse?), my two buildings were at the very top of Hilltop. So any drunken walks home from the Cactus involved climbing up two of the five hills Indiana has north of Indianapolis. At least it was one way to burn off the calories from all the rum and cokes consumed. Some people say they would regret their trips to the Cactus the following morning. Well, I would regret it the second I stepped out and drunk me realized the journey that was ahead. Though after living in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains for two years now, I’m sure I could do that walk with ease now. The cheap liquor though…I think my liver is already hurting just thinking about it.

Being the boring college student that I was, my go-to drink was rum and coke. I think I could still smell the cheap liquor in my Cactus cup on Wednesday when I drank out of it for the first time since 2013 (yes, I washed out all the dust and crap that it had accumulated over the years). But as Travis mentioned in our group chat yesterday: “Rum and coke: It gets ya drunk!” There were trips where nerdy me would push up my glasses and say I needed to “pace” myself. Other times I just said fuck it and lost count of how many drinks while having a blast with friends. Most of my memories at the Cactus were generally positive (not counting the walk home), but the last trip there did leave a sour taste in my mouth...literally and figuratively.

It was early August 2013, 3 months after I graduated. I just finished working a summer job on campus before leaving Purdue for good. To celebrate, I went out to the Cactus one last time. I did my usual rounds of drinks, but something just wasn’t sitting right in my stomach as I drank my 2nd rum and coke. Mind you, at this time I could easily drink 3 or 4 of those in one night, so I thought it was a little odd. Already stumbling, I figured 2 drinks was a good place to stop and I stumbled out of the Cactus for the last time. After all, I had an early start the next morning where I was supposed to give a speech at a luncheon. As I crossed River Road, the Golden Arches called my drunken name. My stomach still felt odd, but maybe it was because I was hungry, so idiot me got myself a Big Mac.

Well, you can probably fill in the rest, but let’s just say that my body rejected that Big Mac 15 minutes later when I got to the apartment I was spending the night at (thankfully just behind Harry’s). Let’s just say my body also decided to purge the drinks from that evening as well. I honestly felt terrible that evening and I couldn’t believe just 2 drinks did that. There I was, sleeping in the bathroom thinking, “Only 2 drinks at the Cactus made me throw up? Fuck, I AM an adult now.” I felt like I had been betrayed by the one place we were all supposed to love, and that it would love us back. Much like Ben Wyatt when the Calzones betrayed him, I too swore off the Cactus.

If the Cactus had closed in 2016, I might have said “good riddance!” knowing I could never be hurt from it again. But the cliché is true: time really does heal old wounds. For the last 7 years, I kept my two Cactus cups and used them in my kitchen to hold my cooking utensils and knives. Every night when I cook, I looked at those cups and often remembered that terrible night. But over time, the other positive memories slowly came pouring in. The nights with friends you don’t want to forget (and the nights with others you do want to forget). The Cactus was an influential piece of our Purdue careers.

We would all go to Harry’s the rest of the weekend, but Thursday night WAS Cactus night (or also Chumleys but we’re not talking about them right now). We would all pack in on their dance floor or the piano bar for the night, ignoring what we now call “social distancing” and have a blast with each other for the night. Nothing united us more than cheap booze and Bruce on a Thursday night. Even just one Thursday night visit would be memorable and unite yourself with every other Purdue alum that walked through those doors. While the Cactus is closed, those nights and hazy memories will live on with us forever.

Rest in Peace, you glorious, ugly, drunk, and beautiful bastard.

T-Mill

My go to drink was the High Life because it, like me, was cheap. As the old man here my last visit to the Cactus (2005, I think) was before many of the others even made their first visit (My God, Jace may not have been born before my first visit in October 2000). When the news broke I called my mom to see if I still had a Cactus cup at my parent’s house because I don’t recall one making the move with me from Kokomo to Indy when I got married. The good news is that I did still have one and it was found!

(Cue Old Man voice) Back in my day the Cactus was really, really cheap. It was $5 to get in and your Crock N’ Rock cost only 10 cents (!) to fill with that sweet, sweet High Life. Now 20 years later I love to try new craft beers from all over the country. Whenever I go on vacation one of the first stops is to find a grocery store or liquor store and browse the local selection. Back then? Five bucks and a handful of quarters was enough for a good time.

My senior year (2001-02) I was fortunate enough to live in Williamsburg on the Wabash (now Launch, managed by my day job company). That allowed for a nice, safe trip home afterwards. I was a Thursday night regular, and occasionally went on Fridays when prices skyrocketed to the outrages 25 cents for a 24 ounce Bud Light after another $5 cover.

I think there is a reason that I graduated and almost immediately lost 20 pounds after leaving West Lafayette.

I don’t really have some outrageous story from my time there. Like many, I spent most of my time bouncing in and out of the Piano Bar, walking the dance floor to see who I knew, and braving the restrooms before they were renovated. Even in my time it had a seldom used mechanical bull from its days as a country bar on Wednesday nights. I seem to remember being there the night Bruce recorded his live album, but it is also entirely possible this is a figment of my foggy imagination. I was also there the night of Bruce’s “bachelor party”, which was wild even by his standards. Finally, I was there on September 13, 2001, when the general attitude was, “Shit, we just need a damn distraction” and we all sang the Star-Spangled Banner in the Piano Bar with tears in our eyes.

I do remember getting engaged the night before the 2004 Michigan game after a night at the Cactus, mostly because I was too overzealous at getting engaged and decided in that moment that waiting a few weeks to initiate my initial plan of getting engaged on the beach in Florida. We were going down there for my good friend’s wedding at Eglin Air Force Base. I planned to do it while we were down there, but for some reason that night I couldn’t wait.

Yes, I am not a smart man. At least she has kept me around for 15 years and we have a kid, so there is that. Plus she encouraged me to start this misadventure in 2006.

The Cactus is still beloved though. I haven’t been in many, many years but when Bruce had his quarantine shows it was amazing to see thousands of alums tuning in from across the country. I remember watching on my Facebook feed and it was telling me 15-20 Purdue people I personally knew, but who had never even met each other, were there too. Some I had spent many nights there with, others who visited long after my time. We have all dispersed all over the country, but for those quarantine shows it was like we were all back. It warmed my heart to see that. We had a Fort Wayne TV personality, a physician’s assistant, a doctor of meteorology, a lawyer, and several other people that are now professional adults that I knew, but for one night we were all dumb college kids again.

That is what the Cactus was. If you were there and enjoyed the Piano Bar, it became a bonding experience. It was our shared community hour and it lasts many years later all across the country online. And forget those Wabash interlopers. If you wanted a good bar with women you shouldn’t have gone to college in Crawfordsville without women. Go DePauw.

When driving through Lafayette this weekend I might have to take a short detour, go to Village Bottle Shop, get a 40 of High Life, and pour it on the curb in front.