Unofficial, 10 years in the making

By Jenny Winkler

Friday marks Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day 10-year anniversary. Since St. Patrick’s Day and the University’s spring break usually overlaps, Scott Cochrane, president of Cochrane Enterprises, invented Unofficial in 1996. Cochrane, who owns campus bars such as the Clybourne, Firehaus and C.O. Daniels, went on to service mark (one step below trademark status) Unofficial and is currently working to nationally trademark the holiday.

“I spent a lot of time, money and effort for it to be successful,” Cochrane said. “It took a few years. Now everybody out there is trying to rip me off.”

St. Patrick’s Day had traditionally been a big day financially for Cochrane’s business. After a few years of spring break keeping students from celebrating on campus, he, being Irish himself, decided to create Unofficial. He thought up the name that also includes the University’s initials (Unofficial) and teamed up with a distributor to make t-shirts to promote the holiday. Cochrane’s (formally Tonic), R&R;’s, C.O. Daniels and the Clybourne were the only bars to participate the first year. The four bars made up a four-leaf clover, Cochrane said.

“I love it,” Cochrane said. “You see kids walking down the street wearing green, white and orange. It’s our own holiday, the biggest St. Patrick’s celebration (in town).”

Unofficial has changed since 1996, however. Campus bars will not open until 11 a.m. on Friday, a change from the usual 8 a.m. opening of past years. Cochrane is concerned with the later bar opening since students will still start drinking earlier at apartments or houses and may be irresponsible with their drinking, but neither Cochrane or the city of Champaign will know the outcome until this year’s Unofficial is over. Cochrane, though an advocate of the “holiday,” does acknowledge there has been some less than responsible behavior.

“It never meant to be like this,” Cochrane said. “It’s kinda turned into a Senior Skip Day. All I want people to do is have a good time and be safe. Think before you drink.”

Cochrane worries that if students don’t act responsible with drinking and behavior, the city and University will try to make Unofficial disappear completely.

“I can’t believe this year, all the attention it’s gotten,” Cochrane said. “A lot is blown out of proportion in a negative way. It was meant to be a positive way (for people to celebrate).”

Cochrane works with the city in planning of Unofficial. He tries to make sure it doesn’t coincide with a University event, such as the Engineering Open House. Cochrane moved this year’s Unofficial from Mar. 10 to Mar. 3 to steer clear of incoming students seeing students drinking during Unofficial.

Irish Illini President Patrick Boyle focuses on celebrating his heritage, not simply going out on Friday just to drink.

“I am 100 percent Irish and I love my heritage and my culture,” Boyle, junior in LAS, said. “I would trade in Unofficial any day for St. Patrick’s Day to always fall on a day when we are at school. But because this doesn’t happen, it’s a way to acknowledge it with friends at school.”

Boyle understands the racial aspect of Unofficial and how some students skip class or drink too much, however the Irish Illini doesn’t promote underage or binge drinking, destructive behavior, or skipping class. Boyle plans to spend the day promoting Irish culture by playing traditional and modern Irish music, playing Irish culture trivia games and being proud to be an Irish American. He will celebrate by drinking as well, but he is of the legal age.

“This is what I think Unofficial should be about, and anyone, Irish or not, should be able to do the same,” Boyle said.

Students may think all campus bars are closed until 11 a.m. Friday, but Green St. Caf‚, 33 E. Green Street, will open 8:30 a.m. on Friday because of zoning differences. The crowd was slow on last year’s Unofficial, so owner Amit Chopra is hoping to attract more students by opening earlier.

“We do have a chance to open early, to introduce our food and show what we have to offer,” Chopra said. “We’re not trying to take advantage (of opening early). This is a chance for people to come and sample food. We are a caf‚, not just a bar.”

Green St. Caf‚’s specials are $2 hamburgers, $2.50 Irish car bombs, $3 Jameson’s Whiskey, and green beer, along with different food specials throughout the day. Because the caf‚ is better known than last year, Chopra hopes for a better outcome.

“If it takes something like Unofficial to do that, that’s great,” Chopra said.

While Unofficial is moving west across campus, Cochrane plans to expand it on a whole other level.

Cochrane wants to expand the holiday to other schools so people from other colleges won’t have to come to the University to celebrate. He said non-University students are less responsible and that could be a reason for the inappropriate behavior the city is worried about.

Cochrane also wants to stop people and businesses from stealing his idea. People sport t-shirts that say “Unofficial” without his permission. He plans to print up t-shirts commemorating Unofficial that he would originally have given away, but because of the popularity he will most likely sell them.

“Kids have such a good time, and it’s right before spring break,” Cochrane said. “I’ll be out everywhere, all dressed in green.”