Brown for the Rest of Us

10+ things you didn’t know you could do at the Ivy League school

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Whether you’re old or young, a new resident on the East Side or a lifelong inhabitant, you are fully aware that you share a community with an Ivy League school. Brown University buildings are sprawled out everywhere on College Hill – some stand tall and conspicuous, while others blend in with the rest of the residential hillscape. Many neighbors observe the daily ebb and flow of university life at a distance without ever being enrolled. The colder months bring out the cafeteria tray tobogganers rocketing down College Hill, whilst the less outdoorsy pupils continue their intellectual and artistic education inside. When it’s warm, the Main Green is teeming with students handing out flyers, sunbathing, and playing frisbee. You may even attend a lecture or swing by the Blue Room to grab a sandwich on the way to a meeting.

What if we told you there were ways to get more up close and personal to the Brown experience without paying tuition? Brown University is home to a plethora of hidden gems like art collections, obscure objects, and interesting buildings, to say the least. Many of these spaces and activities are open to the public. Here are ten worth a visit.


For Macabre Endeavors

When you think about Brown, rarely does your mind conjure images of a crypt. From the outside, the Annmary Brown Memorial looks like an ominous block of concrete hiding in plain sight between Wriston Quad and Health Services on Brown Street. The structure was commissioned by Civil War veteran General Rush C. Hawkins after his wife Annmary Brown (descendant of founder Nicholas Brown) died of pneumonia in 1903. Don’t let the austere facade and morbid history fool you. If you are brave enough, climb the steps and venture into two curated rooms with a collection of the couple’s European and American paintings dating back as far as the 17th century. The memorial also houses the Cyril and Harriet Mazansky British Sword Collection, and the back of the building, you can visit Annmary and General Rush’s burial site where they are entombed together. The Annmary Brown Memorial is open Monday-Friday 1pm-5pm during the academic year. For more, contact Hay@Brown.edu

For the Green Thumb

Have you ever wondered if there was a way for advanced technology and nature to work in harmony? The Brown University Conservatory is the amalgamation of these two very things. Perched on the top of the Building for Environmental Research and Teaching, the greenhouse is a jungle of various plants ranging from tomatoes and peas to orchids and succulents. The conservatory is also used for projects like climate change research, where different plants are exposed to warmer temperatures to simulate the effects of global warming. Take a stroll inside this lush oasis, and ask the staff any questions you may have about their research or helpful tips to grow your own plant life. Fred_Jackson@Brown.edu, 863-3077 

For the Dive Bar Enthusiast

You’ve heard rumors about this place. Of-age undergraduates, graduate students, university faculty, and staff frequent it – even some community members have been to the elusive bar that East Side newbies struggle to find. The Grad Center Bar is literally an underground watering hole tucked away in a fortress of modern buildings that make up the Grad Center dormitories. The entrance to the “GCB” (as it’s called by its patrons) is located just off of Charlesfield Street. This laid- back “dive-ish” bar has almost everything you’d want at a local hang out. Funky art and dart boards hang from the walls, rag-shag furniture, booths, and billiard tables set the relaxed mood, inviting guests to stay a while and enjoy $5 cocktails and well-priced pitchers of beer. Drop in on a day when the GCB hosts a cocktail napkin drawing contest or trivia night. There’s a small cover fee at the door for non-members, and a membership for the year is $35. 421-0270

For the Gym Rat

A run down Blackstone Boulevard or a quick tabata workout at the Hope High School track will satiate your need to exercise, but what if you are a squash player, boxer, or avid swimmer? The Nelson Fitness Center membership is open to the community and houses an Olympic-sized pool and a 10,000-square- foot fitness loft with over 85 machines and PE classes. For those who would rather play a sport for their workout, membership to Brown’s gym also includes access to the tennis, squash, and basketball courts. Community memberships start at $65 per month for adults, $35 per month for kids, and $150 per month for families. 863-5100

For the At-Home Cook

Purchasing your groceries at Whole Foods or Eastside Marketplace can be an enjoyable experience, but sometimes there’s nothing better than buying fresh-picked vegetables straight from the person who grows them. Every fall and spring on Wednesdays from 11am-2pm, Farm Fresh Rhode Island convenes on the Sciences Quad (across from Soldier’s Arch) to sell produce and other goodies to students and the surrounding community. At the market, you can find well-known Rhode Island vendors such as Knead Donuts, Seven Stars Bakery, Mello’s Farm Stand, Borealis Coffee, and Harvest Kitchen.

For the home cook on a budget, Brown Market Shares offers a food distribution program that partners with regional producers to provide the College Hill community with weekly shares of sustainable produce, eggs, bread, and meat. For a reasonable fee, you get to choose from in-season, local foods during the winter and/or spring each week for 10 weeks. The Brown University farmers market opens again September 4 on Sciences Quad on Thayer Street.

For the Toy Collector

From the outside, the John Hay Library might look like intimidating slabs of stone at the beginning of the downward slope of College Street. But, within the confines of this impressive building lies a playful and whimsical installation many people don’t know about. If you venture up to the third floor, you’ll find the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, a display of over 5,000 various toy soldiers that represent armies around the world, ranging from the ancient Egyptians to the British military of Queen Elizabeth II. Originally, Anne’s soldiers were commissioned to decorate the house she shared with her husband, John Nicholas Brown, on Benefit Street. Now, her expansive collection is a permanent fixture at the Hay, shown in 96 cases with the soldiers marching from left to right in each of the boxes. For hours of operation visit the website or contact Hay@Brown.edu, 863-2146.

For the Stargazer

Visiting the Ladd Observatory combines the experience of a museum with the interaction you’d find at a science center as you walk through a historic building to get to the observation room. Get a closer look at the stars when you peer through Ladd’s telescope on Tuesday nights, weather permitting, and learn about the ways that Brown scientists practiced exact time keeping. A trip to this East Side destination is a perfect date or an educational way to entertain your curious children. On clear nights, the facility is open on Tuesdays from 8pm-10pm.

For the Foodie

If you are enrolled at the school, you may know about the delights of the Faculty Club, Brown’s dining club and event venue. In the past few years, the culinary staff has upped its game, serving up lunch items like sesame glazed salmon and gourmet burgers. Normally, membership is reserved for students, parents, alumni, and special friends of the University only. However, on special nights (usually once per month) the chef will have a multi-course tasting dinner with different themes that are open to the public. Visit online for pricing and details.

For the Historian

For many years, the University has been dedicated to recognizing and exploring its connection to the Atlantic Slave Trade. The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice was founded in 2012 to study and educate the public about the legacy of chattel slavery and human trafficking. The Center, located in a yellow house on Waterman Street, houses a gallery that is open to the public. Here, free exhibitions pertaining to anything from research with primary historical documents to contemporary art remind visitors about the negative impact that slavery had and continues to have on our society today. 94 Waterman Street, 863-5863