Across from Gund Commons and between the firehouse and Gambier’s main drag, in a small, slightly grungy building, lies the Gambier Grill and Pizza. On any given Wednesday, Friday or Saturday night, students and community members can be found talking, drinking and smoking outside of Gambier’s late-night bar and restaurant.
The Grill’s owner, Andy Durbin, has been looking to sell the business for over a year, according to Fred Linger, Kenyon’s manager of business services. This would be just the latest development in the establishment’s storied history. Known colloquially as “the Cove,” the Grill’s moniker comes from another restaurant and bar, the Pirates’ Cove, that occupied the space from 1978 to 2002.
Nowadays, students who are of age flock to the bar late, when parties begin to wind down and they are left with a dilemma in a village with only a handful of watering holes: “Where to next?”
On the flip side, underage students often order the Grill’s greasy bar food to their dorm rooms to cap off their night, or mill around outside the Cove over the din of rowdy voices and pumping music emanating from inside.
The building now occupied by the Cove was originally a private residence. Later, a small restaurant called Larry’s Pizza opened its doors on the site. Finally, in 1978, Will and Marilyn Corrigan founded the Pirates’ Cove. In 2000, Kenyon junior and Cove waitress Emily Murray disappeared from outside the bar after leaving her shift at 3 a.m. She was found dead over a month later. Murray had been murdered by a Gregory Knight, who worked in the Cove kitchen. Two years later, the Pirates’ Cove became the Gambier Grill.
Their son, Tom Corrigan, now owns the Pirates’ Cove’s new location in Mount Vernon. Although the restaurant became the Gambier Grill over a decade ago, its prior nickname has stuck. “The Cove,” in one form or another, remains the Village’s classic college dive bar.
Despite students’ general enthusiasm for this rowdy bar and restaurant, the long-term future of the Cove remains uncertain.
For now, however, Durbin owns and operates the business. Regardless of Durbin’s ownership, however, the College owns the property and the Master Plan shows the building eliminated, with no indication that the business would be replaced or relocated.
For now, Marilyn Durbin, the Cove’s head cook, said about 60 orders go out on weekend nights, and delivery driver Bob Burwell said just about every one of those deliveries includes an order of the Cove’s famous fried macaroni-and-cheese wedges, served with a side of ranch dressing. Their extensive menu also includes quesadillas, milkshakes, pizza and salads.
Before starting his delivery job a few weeks ago, Burwell, who also works on his local family farm, had only been to the Cove a few times. He said not that many people from the area come to the Cove, and some see the students as too rowdy to hang out with, though some will go to the bar or at least come to the restaurant earlier in the evening.
Aside from the mac-and-cheese wedges, Burwell thinks Andy and Marilyn Durbin are what make the Cove unique. “Andy’s kind of a jokester and a real nice guy,” Burwell said. “I think that kind of helps the students feel … more at home. Usually, each night, there’s a couple students that’ll poke their head in the kitchen and say hi to Marilyn or just talk for a minute.”
Gordon Loveland IV ’19, a former employee at the Pirates’ Cove in Mount Vernon, has a plethora of connections to the Cove, both the original and current iterations. Last year he worked under Tom Corrigan, the current owner of the Pirates’ Cove. Loveland’s uncle before him worked at the original Cove in Gambier, and his parents — both Kenyon alumni — frequented the establishment.
Based on family lore, Loveland painted a picture of the rowdier Cove of the ’80s, with employees in the kitchen tossing pizzas in the air, trying to catch them in boxes.
“My uncle would go out on delivery and people would just offer him bong hits,” he added. “It was controlled chaos. … [They] kind of just did the best they could and kept going.”
The Cove has also employed Kenyon students like Zac Caputo ’15, who worked as a bartender there his senior year.
Caputo remembers the hardest part of the job was constantly having dozens of patrons in his face for hours at a time. He said that because Kenyon is such a small place, many Cove-goers recognized him as a fellow student. “When I was working there, it’s not uncommon to have 30 people at the bar all yelling, ‘Zac, Zac, Zac,’” he said.
However, even after he began working, Caputo said he would go to the Cove on his off nights. “I just always liked the Cove more than the VI, mostly because the drinks were cheaper,” Caputo said. “Also, people know exactly what they’re going to get when they go to the Cove.”
Members of the alumni group on Facebook called “Kenyon (1980s) — The 500 Challenge” sounded off on their Cove memories when Gordon Loveland’s mother, Lisa Loveland ’89, posted asking for anecdotes for this article. In all, alumni left 77 comments, reminiscing about drinking with their buddies, devouring chocolate pizza and seeing professors at the bar.
“At the time it seemed like the center of our universe,” Chris Blackburn ’88 wrote on Facebook.
For many, the Cove remains a destination even after graduation. Alumni weekend is one of the busiest weekends of the year, according to Marilyn Durbin, with many grads, both old and young, though mostly young, crowding in to relive their college days. Kenyon alumni who come back to the area even visit Corrigan at the Pirates’ Cove in Mount Vernon. Corrigan said he often wears a Cove or Kenyon T-shirt at music festivals around the country and has had many a Kenyon grad approach him and chat about the Cove.
As for Caputo, if and when he comes back to Kenyon, the Cove is definitely a place he’d want to revisit. “It would be my first stop,” Caputo said.