In Bars & Clubs

The Avalanche: a Marquette tradition and home of the naked beer slide. (PHOTO: Thomas Hagerty)

In Bars & Clubs

"Get your degree at Marquette, but your education at The 'Lanche." (PHOTO: Thomas Hagerty)

Naked beer slide memories immortalize The Avalanche

Most Marquette alumni who graduated before 1997 remember The Avalanche: a seedy staple; a last-stop bar on the Marquette campus that is, most likely, responsible for countless missed exams and possibly more than a few lost semesters.

In fact, there was an old saying among former students and grads that goes, "Get your degree at Marquette, but get your education at The 'Lanche."

The Avalanche was located at 1504 W. Wells St. for more than 60 years. It closed on April 24, 1997. Anyone who attended The 'Lanche in the late '70s until '97 has at least heard of naked beer sliding, a drunken phenomenon that usually happened at closing time.

To participate in the naked beer slide, a very inebriated person would remove all of their clothing while the crowd poured whatever was left of their cheap beers onto the floor and chant "Slide! Slide! Slide!" The naked person would then run, belly flop onto the floor and slide through the swill across the filthy floor. They would then put their clothing back on and often keep drinking.

"Think gross slip-and-slide," says Norman Carley, who hung out at the Avalanche in the early '80s and worked as a bartender from 1989 to '90.

"I never did it because the grossest place ever was the 'Lanche floor. It was concrete with a floor drain. The closing tradition was to dump all the 'dead soldiers' onto it, plus we would sometimes break all the Red, White and Blue beer bottles against the wall," says Carley, now living in California.

"So the turf for the beer slide was beer, glass and whatever other stuff was brought in by Marquette students. It was always entertaining, but I saw a couple of people smash hard into the wall."

Not surprisingly, when broken glass was part of the slide's slushy surface, injury would often occur.

Kelly McMahon, now living in St. Paul, Minn., witnessed this first-hand. McMahon had dropped out of Marquette at the time, but was still living near campus and participating in the extracurricular activities at nearby taverns. One night, she had to take her roommate to the hospital after a naked beer slide.

"The guys would line up and take a running start from one of the bathrooms and slide though the bar towards the front door. One night, my roommate connected with some glass and after much convincing, we stumbled over to the Mt. Sinai ER for a few stitches in his arm," she says.

The beer sliders were almost exclusively men. According to Carley, in June 1991, there was a woman who offered to pay to slide. When the Milwaukee Police Department caught wind of this, they stopped by The Avalanche to investigate the scene and issued tickets to the owner. After that, there was a sign hanging in the bar saying naked beer slides were against house rules.

"The police tried to bust us for 'pimping' beer slides for cash. To be clear, the naked beer slide was never about money, always just a drunk Marquette rite of passage and stupidity," says Carley.

Neither Carley nor McMahon remembers witnessing a female beer slider.

"Thank God, I did not participate in the actual sliding. Not many a lady was brave enough to propel herself across that nasty floor," says McMahon.

In total, Carley says he witnessed about 60 or more guys perform a naked beer slide.

"The concept of naked beer slides is far more appealing than the reality," he says.

The origin of naked beer sliding at The Avalanche varies. Some say it was a group of Marquette students' drunken invention, others think it was part of the hazing process for fraternities. Carley heard the tradition was started by the late comedian Chris Farley who often drank at The 'Lanche with his rugby team. Farley, who was born and raised in Madison, graduated from Marquette in 1986. He died of an overdose six months after the bar closed.

Michael Haley, now living in Memphis, Tenn., says it's entirely possible he did a naked beer slide in 1987 or 1988. "I woke up one morning with what looked like road rash on my stomach and my (male genitalia)," he says. "It was shortly after that that I quit drinking until 1995."

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