Delta Chis from the 50s to the 70s

H. Keith Hellems, Jr. ‘62

21 beers for 21 years – A phrase that may spark great memories for the members of Delta Chi Fraternity at Michigan after the opening of the Pretzel Bell in 1934. The brothers candidly noted that this led to many great memories (or lack thereof when considering the beer consumption). The timely opening of the Pretzel Bell may have fed into its popularity after prohibition ended in December 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment, at a time when student-friendly bars were few and far between [UM Bentley Historical Library]. This was considered the bar of choice and was a stark contrast from most other establishments featuring white tablecloths and dress codes during this time. Instead, bar-goers were encouraged to consume pitchers of beer and carve their names into beer-soaked wood. Many recall popular local Blue Grass band, the RFD Boys, who held regular gigs at the bar in the ‘70’s and became nationally renown. 

The Pretzel Bell also established a new tradition – a free pitcher if you chugged while standing on a table if you were there to celebrate your 21st birthday. When the pitcher was completed, a staff member would sound the bell. The brothers of Delta Chi have vast memories of the Pretzel Bell – ranging anywhere from a casual college hangout to almost ending up in the hospital after a 21st birthday celebration. Some even still have their souvenirs from the bar to fondly reflect back on those college nights. 

Siglin ‘64 mentions, “I know that I went there with every intention of drinking 42 beers but didn’t come close. I don’t remember anything after 26. I know I’m still alive, so there is that. I’m sure Michael Kennedy ’63 could have drunk 42 if challenged, but I was a mere amateur.

Herb Koenig is urged on by Frank Spies ’61, unknown, Howard Wiarda ‘61, Dave Falconer ’62, and Mike McGuire ‘58.

David Falconer ’62 and Joseph Matt ‘72 recall going to the Pretzel Bell for his 21st birthday with all of the Delta Chi brothers as well. Joseph says, not only did he have the traditional 21 glasses of beer served from a pitcher but his loving brothers snuck in a couple of shots of whiskey which made matters worse. He remembers filling up an empty pitcher at least twice and still has the souvenir to show for it, the yellow piece of heavy paper in the shape of a bell that everyone present signed. Kenneth Brier ’72 additionally remembers being a “successful” participant in this long standing drinking tradition, and compared the paper bell signing to the likeness of a yearbook of sorts. 

On the other hand, there were also experiences like Boyd Bosma ’56 who mentioned ordering a pitcher of beer at the P Bell for his 21st birthday in October 1956, however he was 20 when he graduated so the times at the Pretzel Bell were few and far between. He feels as though he missed that as part of his experience while on campus.

Some have memories of even more peculiar traditions at the Pretzel Bell. John Nicoara ‘56 mentioned there was another P-Bell “tradition” that was discussed which included breaking a hard-boiled egg on the ceiling.  No one did anything like that on his birthday, however everyone looked up at the ceiling as it was mentioned and perhaps pondered the possibility. Bill Thewalt ‘58 remembers partaking in the hard-boiled egg tradition where one ate a hard-boiled egg after cracking its shell on the ceiling and he also mentioned that it was also proper at some point to carve initials into a table top. 

John Levinson ’73 says the tradition was 21 seven ounce beers but Frank Morrey ‘64 doesn’t hesitate to bring up the shocking revelation that he was quite certain that the Pretzel Bell served 10 ounce glasses, making a total of 210 ounces, or 1.64 gallons of beer that the brothers would peer pressure one another to drink for their 21st birthdays. Morrey didn’t make it past 12 or 13, but vividly remembers Dave “Otto ” Gerisch ’65 drank all 21 and then said, “Let’s do some serious drinking”, and he did just that. 

Other brothers recall the aftershock of the evening more than they can recall their 21st physically at the bar. Al Knaus ‘66 recalls, “The first few drinks were easy and then it became harder, so they made me stand on the table and chug against someone else.   After about 16 glasses I started to go to the bathroom a lot…The last couple were torture for me but I made it.  I still have the beer pitcher from my final few glasses and a P-Bell card signed by all the brothers.  I think I needed a lot of help walking home, maybe I was carried.” 

Lane Kendig ‘62 mentioned he became 21 the year Delta Chi decided to become a jock house and compete in every sport.   He had to paly a basketball game so he got to the Pretzel Bell late and made it to 18 beers before getting sick just before closing at midnight. Scott Leak ‘77 said he took his time drinking on his 21st and didn’t try to hurry, but still ended up getting sick in the movie theater across the street afterward. 

Dave Siglin ‘64 says, “Rumor has it I threw up into an empty pitcher at the table.  Thank God it was not a time of digital recording to haunt me the rest of my life.”   Keith Hellems ‘62 shared very similar sentiments about his first legal birthday but he did have proof that he threw up in the pitcher at about the 16th glass and in true Delta Chi spirit he persisted to the 21st glass. Later becoming a physician, he relates that he never came as close to dying of alcohol poisoning as he did on that Pretzel Bell visit.    “It took 24-36 hours before I could even get up and 3 days before I went to a class.  I have never been so sick and still don’t like beer – give me a martini anytime.”   

Keith Hellems ’62 donating back to the pitcher and showing the results of 21 beers. 

 The Pretzel Bell was fondly remembered for the beer and the crowd who frequented the bar, however the health standards were not as desirable. With the timing came different health laws, and the restaurant had no issues re-steaming the bread, using the same big tub of butter, and had a reputation for overly rare ribs. With that being said, most people don’t remember the food being all that bad – as they say, what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Frank Spies ‘61 remembered having fond memories of the Pretzel Bell and that the food was not bad because the brothers did occasionally eat there. Unfortunately, these health code violations did catch up to them in the early 1980s and unpaid payroll taxes led to closing permanently in 1985.  By the time it closed, there were cockroaches running around freely and the restaurant was filthy.

The Village Bell

After the Pretzel Bell closed its doors, the Village Bell on South University, owned by the same family, became a popular campus watering hole for many years as well.  In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the lines waiting to get in extended down the street.   The Village Bell, or “V-Bell” as many called it, had a downstairs bar with its unique arched and unforgettable carpeted ceiling. Many traditions which began at the Pretzel Bell were carried on seamlessly when brothers began celebrating their 21st birthday at the V-Bell. 

Rick Mouseau ‘79 and Joe Gradisher ‘79 recall the 21 beer tradition at the Village Bell on South University who admitted they needed assistance walking back home afterward.  Rick sent a picture of his pitcher from that day at the Bell.

Standing on the table with brothers shouting encouragement – Rick Mouseau’s pitcher

John Levinson ‘73 recalls carrying a sorority girl over his shoulder to help get her home after she decided she wanted to complete the challenge with 10 shots of tequila instead of beer. 

As a side note, Mark Voight ’66 in the early 1970’s met Win Elliot, goalie for the U. of Michigan hockey team and sportscaster in the 1960’s and 70’s who was the first waiter at the Pretzel Bell when it opened in 1934.   He paid one dollar per WEEK for a room and basically ate scraps at the Bell.  

The Pretzel Bell – Current Day 

A few years ago, Bruce Elliott and Fritz Seyferth, football players, got together with a local restaurant group to bring back the Pretzel Bell. Their new location is one block down and across the street on Liberty and Main Street. The new P-Bell’s pretzel-crusted macaroni and cheese and mustard pretzels are more in line with our modern standards of home-cooked comfort fare. The prime rib is still on the menu but it is now fully cooked. The bell does ring for your birthday, and you do get a free beer at 21, however you’re not allowed to stand on the tables anymore. There is now a much larger beer selection, and televisions and the sounds of various college football games have replaced the RFD Boys’ banjos. They’re paid up on their taxes and earned an A+ in their health codes, but the new Bell’s wood tables do feature an entirely new generation of pen knifed signatures.  ( 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This article reflects a historical past in the life of the Michigan Delta Chi.   Times have changed over the years with fraternities and universities becoming more concerned about the use of alcohol.   Deaths have resulted and with it the use of alcohol in hazing has been outlawed.   Also encouraging such events as mentioned in this article, the celebration of excessive drinking on ones 21st birthday, has been discouraged over the years.  



  1. I don’t remember saying “Rumor has it I threw up into an empty pitcher at the table.” That must have been Bob Todd.

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