Steven Galanis is hungry.
“Starving,” he sighs, and then motions to one of the Taverna Nikos waiters—there’s a nod and he turns toward our table, with a sort of wink, too, as if the server knows Galanis personally—before placing an order for an appetizer. “Get us some Saganaki,” Galanis instructs the waiter. He reassures me: “It’s flaming cheese, which is great. Have you ever had that? It’s good.” At once he breaks into a big grin, glances to the waiter, and playfully slaps the table. “I know my Greek food pretty good,” he laughs.
We’re eating a bit on the early side; Galanis has to squeeze in Club Hockey practice before Spartan Entertainment, the organization he founded and operates, hosts its weekly event at Shooters: Wednesday Night Beer Pong. It’s the middle of midterms, but Galanis is still expecting an impressive weekday turnout—about 400 to 500 people—simply because, well, that’s what happens every week. “We’ve had as much as 800 people there on a Wednesday night before,” he says, “which is just staggering.
“Behind the scenes,” he says, “people don’t need to know how many nights I’m actually throwing parties, because it would kind of blow people’s minds.”
Galanis—who, in his four years at Duke, has transformed Spartan Entertainment into the dominant force in nightlife during the post-Lacrosse era of Duke’s social scene—is slouching, but his expansive build still rises prominently from the table. His smile is generous and frequent. His speech is tinged with a lightness, and he peppers it with a “you know” every other phrase or two. He may have the reputation of being a Falstaff, but after just a few minutes with Galanis, it’s clear he’s much more of a Prince Hal. When you see him and talk to him, you eventually come to the same conclusion three years of Duke students have: if Steven Galanis is throwing a party, you want to be there.
The waiter arrives with the Saganaki—a block of mixed Greek cheeses soaked in brandy and spices—and promptly lights it on fire. “Oooh-pah!” he yells over the woosh of the flames, and sets the platter down on the table. “So, Spartan Entertainment actually evolved out of a couple different things,” Galanis starts telling me while plopping a Mt. Olympus-sized chunk of seared Saganaki on my plate. But he’s interrupted by an imposing figure making his way toward our table: George Kastanias, Nikos’ co-owner and executive chef, who sports a fine-cropped goatee, and has an apron wrapped around his considerable girth. They know each other. Galanis throws Spartan parties at Nikos and, of course, they’re both Greek.
Kastanias sits with us and asks what happened to my forehead. (It’s Ash Wednesday, and I stopped by Catholic services at the Chapel on the way to dinner.) He nods in understanding after I explain. “The Greek Orthodox”—he takes a quick glance at Galanis—“we do the olive oil.” Kastanias articulates this ritual by flicking some imaginary drops of EVOO toward my head. Then he segues into a conversation about a recent party that Spartan held at his restaurant. It was a benefit party for Haiti—“We raised some really good money, raised about $800 dollars,” Galanis tells me after, “which was awesome”—and though Galanis had promised an impressive turnout, when 11 p.m. rolled around, Kastanias was still sitting in his office, fretting over the emptiness of his restaurant. “Then, all of a sudden, I come down here and it’s like 700 fuckin’ people!” Kastanias laughs. He’s happy—the recession has hit his restaurant, and he knows that packed wallets show up to Spartan events, and that they will become emptier as the night goes on.
The Spartan Entertainment social calendar has become an increasingly feasible model for how Duke students can take advantage of local venues: high-end restaurants have found themselves in an unprecedented financial crisis and are forced to shift their identities accordingly. A bistro with $35 entrees is not the conventional venue for a packed dance floor full of browned-out and blacked-out college guys grinding on heel-wearing sorority girls until the wee hours of the morning, but with the sustainability of the establishment on the line, an extra burst of profitable transactions at the bar may prove too good to pass up. And even if places such as Parizade have ended their policy of hosting events that allow under-21-year-olds, thus ending the Spartan parties at their venues, Galanis believes that Spartan helped keep these places afloat. “With Parizade, that’s a restaurant,” Galanis tells me later in the dinner, after George has left. “Yeah, the parties are, like, huge there, and frankly, it saved some of those restaurants from going out of business. Like Taverna Nikos—if we didn’t throw parties here, it’d completely be out of business.”
After joshing with Kastanias about the success of their recent party, Galanis casually polishes off his first piece of Saganaki, and he adds another generous portion to his plate. Then—confident that Spartan can both help venues weather the nose-diving Dow and also give students drink deals that keep them from busting their budgets—he offers George a look of assurance. “At this point I think I have this down to a science,” Galanis says, juicing a lemon over his hunk of sautéed cheese. “I think I know how to do this.”
Steven Galanis grew up in a Greek home in Glenview, Ill. He played football at Glennbrook South High School, a public school with a student population of more than 2,500, and he insists that, as a result, he’s “one of the least elitist people you’ll ever meet.” He cites this upbringing—set against the posh prep school backgrounds that many Spartan Entertainment patrons, and Duke students in general, can own up to—as something that defines him, and something that carries over to his vision for the Spartan brand. “There’s always gonna be a place for elitism at Duke,” he says. “That’s part of what this school is built on—it’s a tobacco baron school. But I’ve tried to shape Duke in kind of my own image. I’ve tried to shape my Duke experience in my own image. It’s funny, in high school, when I was throwing parties at the house, it would be the same fucking criticisms. Like, ‘Why’re you inviting everybody?’ That’s just me. I’m not saying that, ‘Oh, Duke is just a reflection of Steve Galanis,’ but on some level that social scene, which has been crafted by myself to some extent, has taken on my personality. I wanted to make Duke the most fun place for me to spend four years.”
In Glenview, Galanis became close with a family friend, Zach Maurides, Trinity ’07. “He was a senior when I was a freshman, we lived in the same town back home, we’re both Greek, our families grew up together,” Galanis tells me. “I’ve known Zach my whole life—he’s always been like my big brother, so when I visited Duke, you know, I stayed at Zach’s house.”
The visit as a pre-frosh convinced Galanis to matriculate to Duke the following year, but he was conscious of how his demeanor was at odds with Duke’s seemingly unshakable reputation as a school for the snotty. “The fact that I go to Duke is funny,” he says. “My football coach told me, ‘This is the complete worst fit for you ever.’ Because I didn’t grow up like that. My family is the most inclusive people. They meet someone for the first time and they take them in…. I don’t care who your dad is. I’m not here to fuckin’ schmooze. I’m here to find people I like and have a good time.”
Galanis stuck to this mentality when starting Spartan Entertainment in the spring of 2007. Once the three-week bender that is rush transitioned to the blistering hangover that is pledging, the once-cohesive group of Galanis’s freshmen friends became instantly fragmented. Galanis—who, as a freshman, accepted a bid to join Delta Sigma Phi—wanted to carry on the populist spirit that thrived pre-rush, and he set the groundwork for an organization that could bring different campus organizations together. Social stratification is the stigma Duke just can’t seem to rid itself of. “The whole crux of it is this unaffiliated model,” he says. “And that was my dream—going back to foundations, what we started out with is beer pong, and that started up second-semester freshman year. What happens? You’re a freshman, and everyone’s going to Theta Chi Wednesday night at Erwin. Everybody’s doing the same thing. Then, suddenly, rush comes around and 60 older guys decide, ‘You’re gonna be in this frat and your boy’s gonna be in this frat,’ and you don’t have control over that. A lot of people just don’t cling behind their letters. It’s like, man, everybody liked each other first semester. So why don’t we all go to the same place?”
Galanis enlisted the help of Maurides to form a campus organization that would throw parties reminiscent of those that went down pre-rush. In addition to his personal bond with Galanis, Maurides had another quality that would prove invaluable in getting Spartan Entertainment off the ground: He had spent his previous years at Duke garnering the respect of students and bar owners in Durham and Chapel Hill, making him the perfect person to partner with in such an undertaking. “Five years ago Zach was the ‘me’ before there was a ‘me,’ essentially,” Galanis says. “Zach was already known by this point. He was the one who founded Iced Out—he was the first one to do that. On his own, you know, way back, he had thrown the biggest party that Duke had ever seen, in Chapel Hill, that was over, like, three clubs or something like that—something ridiculous. So Zach was always the go-to guy with that. But at the same time, he was a senior.”
Realizing that he would soon be leaving Duke, Maurides arranged for Galanis to carry on the same relationships he had established, starting with a partnership with Shooters II that would allow for weekly parties on Wednesdays. By shifting the mentality of weekend partying from fraternity-oriented events in sections or at an off-campus house, Spartan has made it possible for events to at least aspire toward an open-door policy. “It’s changed dramatically over the last seven years,” Maurides says over the phone. “We’re changing it from ‘This is a frat party’ to ‘This is a Duke party.’”
The idea behind the first such event, Beer Pong at Shooters, seems reasonable enough, but at the time it came off as a bit cavalier for a weekday. But Galanis saw the un-colonized day on the social calendar as an opportunity. He knew the universal appeal of beer pong, especially if it was played with $5 pitchers of beer. “There had to be a concept that was just different than anything else going on,” Galanis says. “Taking Shooters—which up to that point was just the place where you’d go, a big sweat-fest—and suddenly you’ve got beer pong tables out there, and the lights are turned on, so it’s a completely different feel.”
At first, the event was a depressing caricature of what Shooters has come to represent in the minds of Duke students—on those first Wednesday nights the infamous dancefloor, with its denizens usually pressed closer than matches in a fresh matchbox, was turned into a cold and empty beer pong arena. But as the word spread, the crowd began to grow. “And it didn’t matter who you were, or what frat you were in, or what sorority you were in, or what color you were—if you go to Duke, you can come here, and there will be people you can play beer pong against that also go to Duke.”
Since Wednesday Night Beer Pong took off three years ago, the Spartan name has become increasingly prevalent. The Facebook group has ballooned to reach more than 1,700 members—or about a quarter of the undergraduate population. The Spartan Entertainment events at Shooters can attract 800 people on a Wednesday and 1,300 people on a Saturday.
And Spartan’s personalized planning services seem equally ubiquitous. Fraternities, sororities and even non-living groups such as Dancing Devils and Hoof ‘n’ Horn have reached out to Galanis in hopes of tapping into his particular recipe for a good time. Any group that e-mails Galanis asking him to work his magic on its upcoming event—and many do: His BlackBerry rarely lasts a minute without that nagging buzz-buzz of a newly filled inbox—will be treated to a rager equipped with a reliable local venue, music provided by one of Spartan’s roster of crack DJs, limo services, catered food by one of the restaurants Spartan has a relationship with, and bulb-snapping photographers. Spartan was hired to host nearly every sorority bid night.
Galanis is the center of this circus, combining his natural charisma with a breakneck work ethic in order to create a business that can succeed financially. But whether the model is sustainable in the future remains to be seen. The reality of Spartan may fall short of Galanis’ vision—a seismic force that does away with its caste system in favor of truly diverse open parties. And judging by the highly Greek makeup of some Spartan events, it seems likely the stratification will prevail.
Maybe these Spartan events are doing nothing to bring a wider range of social spectrum into the mix. Even worse, maybe they’re contributing to the problem. I walk into Shooters for tonight’s edition of Wednesday Night Beer Pong and the place is filled with smoke. Cigarettes are everywhere—people are lighting up like it’s 2009. Looking around, I can sense the excess, the exclusion by cliques, the students obviously awash in affluence. Maybe that girl’s purse actually is an Hermès Birkin bag (retail value: $5,000) and not a knock-off, and maybe she flew up to the City last weekend to buy it. Maybe this girl actually is paying for 10 of her friends to go to the BVIs for Spring Break, as she claims loudly in slurred syllables. Maybe Spartan isn’t combating the caste system that supposedly exists at Duke. Maybe it’s facilitating it.
But there’s no doubt that Spartan Entertainment is providing exactly what it prides itself on: value. The value a guy gets when he strikes up a conversation with the cute girl who sits next to him in Shakespeare class. The value of $5 pitchers of beer—beer cheaper than bottled water, beer cheaper than soda. The value of debasing yourself at the dingiest bar in Durham on a night that should be spent in Bostock—and loving every minute of it. Maybe—hopefully—this is what matters.
After a few minutes I find Galanis, drinking a beer in one of the wooden booths, surrounded by a revolving cast of skinny swooning girls in dresses, and sloppy-drunk guys edging their way in, trying to secure a seat, trying to talk to them, too. But the girls are talking to Galanis. He waves me over to the bench, and makes room across from him. “Not a bad turnout for midterms, eh!” Galanis yells in my ear. He’s holding court tonight at Shooters—letting the people come to him. We’re surrounded by girls, gorgeous girls, on all sides, and everyone’s smoking a cigarette.
Galanis comments on the diversity he says he sees in the crowd. “This is the epitome of what we’re built on,” he says to all of us. I take out a cigarette and Galanis lights it for me. The ashtray is overflowing. He starts to say something else but a girl cuts him off, so he puts his arm around her. He takes a drag and finishes what he was saying. “I think this brings out the best cross-sections of Duke. This event. Period.”
When Spartan Entertainment first held this event, three people came. The second week, seven people came. The third week, 15 people came. Now, despite the threat of midterms, there are hundreds of people at Shooters II.
To ignore the skill with which Galanis runs his enterprise would be silly.
“You know, it’s funny—my nickname my whole life has always been ‘The Mayor,’” he says. “That came from kindergarten. And no matter how hard I try to put that behind me, sometimes it just keeps coming back. I was the mayor of Glenview, and now I’m the mayor of Durham.”
Steven Galanis cut his teeth in the world of politics—perhaps an unconventional path for a man who prides himself on his drink specials, but it was in the world of elections and ballots where Galanis began to find his voice.
The summer after he graduated high school, Galanis joined the campaign team of Alexi Giannoulias, a community banker from Chicago and former professional basketball player in Greece, as he attempted to become the youngest state treasurer in the nation. That November, Giannoulias won the election. He is currently the Democratic candidate in the race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.
“My aunt and [Giannoulias’s] mom were roommates in college, at U of I. For my whole senior year she was saying ‘Oh, you have to got meet Alexi!” Galanis said. “The first day I go in the office I expect, ‘I’m an 18-year-old, I’m gonna be stuffing envelopes, making phone calls.’ I go to the office, and the very first day, it turns out the night before his old driver had got too many speeding tickets so he couldn’t drive anymore. So suddenly it was, like, ‘Hey kid—take the keys. You’re my driver.’”
Galanis became Giannoulias’s body man, the Reggie Love to his Barack Obama, and drove him around in a Yukon XL Denali—“black tinted windows, everything like that”—to every one of his campaign stops. The non-stop exposure to the candidate gave him the chance to not only meet with many of the high-ranking personalities that Giannoulias worked with—including Obama, who Galanis claims is Giannoulias’ “best friend in the world,” having been the president’s frequent basketball companion since they met on a pick-up court in the late 90s—but he also found a mentor in Giannoulias. “It was a short time, but it also happened to be a big time in his life,” he says. “He found out his father died while we were in the car together. He had a heart attack in Greece. I drove him to his dad’s funeral. There were a lot of things like that where you really get to have this close bond. I think the other similar thing is you have this older Greek mentor.... Obviously, it’s like if I screw up my job my thea Kiki is gonna know about it, and she’s gonna tell my mom and my yiayia and everybody’s gonna be all ‘Alexi said you did bad things!’ But on the good side if you do a good job, then that gives you a leg up and suddenly it’s like ‘Oh yeah, this kid was loyal to me, he was great, he helped me at a great time in my life.’”
This deep involvement in Chicago politics gave Galanis a chance to have real conversations with some of the most influential people in the world, including the sitting commander-in-chief. Galanis had attended the Next Generation Initiative forum, a prestigious meeting where select students from each archdiocese of the Greek Orthodox Church meet with Greek leaders on The Hill. After meeting with John Negroponte, George Tenet and other important players in government, Galanis saw then-Senator Obama boarding the same plane back to Chicago. “He’s walking down, and he ends up sitting right across from me on the aisle, and he’s wearing his sunglasses—I swear to God he’s wearing these black sunglasses—and even then that guy had this aura. I’d seen him—I’d seen him at the East Bank Club, I’d seen him at fundraisers, we had small talk, but here we are sitting on a plane, he’s right across from me, and the one thing I was able to say was, like, “Barack, how you doing?’ And he’s, ‘Oh, how you doing?’ He knew I looked familiar and I’m, like, ‘Oh, I’m AG’s body man, you know Alexi.’ He went ‘Oh,’ and we just went on in conversation.”
Galanis says he’s planning to adapt the skills he’s developed while running Spartan to organize fundraisers this summer for Giannoulias’ campaign for Senate. The service would be akin to a thank-you to the Senatorial candidate, as Galanis says that the poise and calm with which he rules the Spartan empire can be traced back to his exposure to Giannoulias’ political acumen.
“It’s a lot of the same skills,” he says, comparing working on the campaign to his role at Spartan. “I’m driving around and he’s on the phone the entire time, doing fundraiser calls. I don’t have to make those fundraiser calls, but I listened to how he talked to people, I listened to how he’s cold-calling people. When he’s out in a crowd with strangers I watched him, I saw what he did, I saw how he interacted with people. Frankly, I think a lot of that stuff is natural—you either have it or you don’t. Then again being around someone that’s polished, and being around people who are better at that than you, at that point in your life, can only help.”
I arrive at Shooters on Wednesday, a few hours after my dinner with Galanis at Taverna Nikos. It’s just before midnight. The lights are nearly blinding until I realize that they are simply on, and, having never been to Shooters this sober, I can see the dirt climbing the walls.
A few people are scattered around, and the row of booths—usually hot property—are totally unoccupied. This isn’t exactly surprising—it is, as everyone knows, entirely gauche to arrive this early to Shooters—but I can’t help but think that perhaps the night would be a failure. It is, after all, midterm week. Still, Galanis predicts a big night.
The scene doesn’t exactly bode well for the evening’s prospects. The radio pop that always wails across the dance floor has lost its vitality, pathetic and formless without the presence of Aristocrat-empowered ids to embody it, and so the songs become just a cheap reminder of those majestically hazy Saturday nights when the music somehow had so much more meaning. And the beer pong tables, flanked by T-shirted bros tossing pong balls back and forth, are weirdly desolate, surrounded by piecemeal clumps of bored-faced coeds in dresses. Instead of a Technicolor blur of faces—the predominate impression of a typical night at the notorious bar—the turnout makes possible the existence of the “individual” at Shooters and enables the patrons to appear as something more than a cog in the undulating amorphous dancefloor. I immediately go to the bar and purchase a $5 pitcher of beer.
Galanis is there, of course, but he hasn’t yet joined the burgeoning party—he’s held up with Kim Cates, the manager of Shooters II, and a white-bearded local with a Southern drawl that bubbles from his mouth like molasses. Galanis has his BlackBerry in his hand, and it’s buzzing.
It takes no longer than five minutes for the rest of the party to arrive, and when it does, it’s a cavalcade of girls who move their feet timidly, wobbly like sailors on shore leave, just off the boat and still not over their sea legs, and they sport prominent “P’s” on their hands etched in black Sharpie. It takes a few more minutes for Shooters to completely fill up, and when it does, it has the distinction of attracting what can only be called a beautiful sample of Duke students. In the course of 10 minutes’ time the landscape has changed, and the Wednesday night Shooters identity begins to emerge. And then the whole club erupts—it’s soon no different than a Saturday night. Girls dance with each other in the cage or on the platforms, while the guys hover by the beer pong tables, waiting in line, and being watched by the girls who watch them. The playlist segues to a new song, and everyone mouths the words to themselves.
Galanis is only nursing his beer. He says he rarely gets drunk at Spartan events; he has to help tie up financial matters after the last attendees leave. As he posts up next to the beer pong table that I’ve been playing on, a girl hovers by him, until she leaves, when another takes her place—they come and make quick sloppy conversation with the man who made this all possible, before moving on to someone else. They all have mixed drinks in hand, limes groping the rims of their cups.
“Kim was yelling at me earlier, like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me it was midterms!’ and I was, like, ‘Don’t worry,’” he told me in a voice loud enough to be heard over the music. Popping all around are the clinks of a pong ball hitting the floor and the clunks of a pong ball splashing into a Solo cup. Another girl makes her way toward Galanis. The DJ switches to something new and the crowd responds with a feverish high-pitched roar.
“People will come,” Galanis says to me.
A phenomenon like Spartan Entertainment could not exist if not for the Facebook Generation. Galanis wields the power to simultaneously contact more than 1,700 students—all of whom joined voluntarily, unlike, say, the recipients of a DSG blast e-mail—giving Spartan a wide advantage over the fraternities and sororities who spread word of their parties via less-inclusive means. “Facebook is the single best way,” he says. “And this is the other thing, too—we were completely ahead of the curve on this. Frats used to do Evites. That was the big thing. They have their own, like, e-mail listservs, right, and they’re sending out things during the week…. There’s certain targeted people these frats want at these parties. And there are certain people who aren’t on that list.”
Facebook also acts as a barometer to measure the buzz surrounding a certain event, and the raw number of people connected to the Spartan group helps ensure that this buzz is louder than anything else in the Duke network.
The capital Spartan has built up on Facebook, and on campus in general, has made it possible for Galanis to plan events even when he is thousands of miles away from Durham. “I can make a Facebook event from Namibia,” he says. “I’ve done it before. That’s what I did on [Semester At Sea]. I literally made an event in Namibia and got 1,000 people there at Shooters on a Saturday night.”
Some consider this modus operandi the antithesis of the ultra-selective parties frats are wont to throw. And it is just one of the ways that Spartan Entertainment has rubbed some members of the Greek scene the wrong way.
A common perception persists among students: Many believe that Spartan Entertainment is some sort of extension of Delta Sig, started by one of its brothers as way to do little more than get the frat drunker than they usually do. Galanis assures me this is not the case. “If you go back to the old Delta Sig fratmail, you’ll see the animosities the older guys had for my attempt to make things more accessible and less exclusive,” he says.
This sort of response to the affiliation-blind approach to nightlife extended beyond Galanis’s frat, as well. Senior Steve McAlpine, a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, sent an e-mail Oct. 16, 2009 to more than 75 chapter presidents and IFC council members warning them of the threat that Spartan could pose to the Greek-based method of organizing social life. The e-mail was prompted by a message McAlpine had received from Maurides about how Spartan’s services could help with fraternity and sorority events. “Spartan Entertainment began a couple years ago just hosting a few events here or there, but now has grown into an organization hosting multiple events each week, constantly rivaling the events of all our groups,” McAlpine wrote. “I like a future where a pseduo [sic] professional party promotion organization does not have complete control over all the off-campus venues, taking a financial and social cut away from Greeks.”
This last concern has some merit. Spartan Entertainment is pulling in a significant amount of money—Galanis won’t disclose exactly how much—some of which could have potentially gone to frats. For booking a semi on behalf of a group, Spartan will charge a planning fee. For hosting an open party at, say, Shooters or Parizade, Spartan will receive a marketing fee from the venue in return for bringing the people who pay the cover at the door. Galanis insists that he did not create Spartan Entertainment as a way to increase his net worth. “Frankly,” he tells me, “You couldn’t do this business if you just wanna make money.
“Do we do well for ourselves for college students? Absolutely,” he acknowledges. “I’ve got a great little piece of disposable income. Could I survive on what I’m doing right now? No. I couldn’t be paying my tuition; I couldn’t be doing things like that.” Galanis opted not to disclose his personal income from Spartan Entertainment, as the company is working on its tax returns for its first year of being incorporated. “You will not get that out of me, and there’s no way to sugarcoat it,” he laughs.
Larry Moneta is a family friend of the Galanis family. The vice president for student affairs stays with his parents when he stops in Chicago. Moneta says his conversations about Spartan Entertainment have been relatively limited. “My familiarity with Spartan was quite ‘sparse’ until a sit-down I had with him and Zach a couple of weeks ago,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I wouldn’t characterize this as ‘discussions’... we’ve had but one conversation with any detail and I’m just learning about Spartan’s programming model. How and if Duke might collaborate is still in consideration.”
The relationship with Moneta has been a beneficial one for Spartan Entertainment, Galanis says. By focusing its efforts on privately owned bars, Spartan is encouraging students to spend their weekends at venues where ALE officers and police can more easily monitor dangerous amounts of drinking. For these reasons, Galanis maintains that Moneta is in favor of pushing for a concentration of nightlife at off-campus venues.
“It’s funny because a lot of people think ‘Oh, Larry’s gotta be your arch-nemesis. No, it’s the complete opposite,” Galanis tells me. “Larry’s one of our biggest supporters, because as dean of students, he recognizes that there’s something inherently safer about these kids going to these off-campus bars instead of parties off-campus at the house. If I’m gonna throw a triple-kegger at my house every night, he’s gonna be my worst enemy. But if I’m throwing Shooters, if I’m throwing Devine’s, if I’m throwing George’s, where you have state-certified people whether it’s cops whether it’s ALE guys there regulating it, checking IDs…. You look at the stats, in all the parties I’ve thrown at Shooters I can’t recall more than one hand of people that had to go to the EMS. How many go on LDOC? On Tailgate?”
Spartan has, however, run into its fair share of hurdles en route to establishing dominance. On Wednesday, March 3, hours before Busch Light-seeking students descended upon the Shooters dancefloor to attend Spartan’s marquee event, Galanis sent an e-mail to the members of the Facebook group informing them of a slight change to the night’s agenda: there would be no beer pong at Wednesday Night Beer Pong.
The e-mail placed the blame on “legal complications with ALE,” but Galanis says he’s confident the games will not be stopped for good. “Over the last couple of months there have been empty threats,” Galanis tells me as guest begin to enter Taverna Nikos for Senior Wine Night, a weekly event organized by Spartan. “They had a violation and had to stop beer pong for a week.”
Unfettered, Spartan soldiers on, and hosts Shooters sans academia’s favorite pastime. Upon arriving, I realize they’ve suffered little damage: the bar is as packed as ever. Kim Cates says she folded up the tables this week at the request of ALE, but she’s expecting to have pong balls flying when students get back from Spring Break. “I’m hoping it will go my way,” she says. “No, it’s not a state law, but we shut it down for the sake of ALE. They can give me a violation.”
Senior Jack Wilkinson, a columnist for recess, spent time with Galanis during the Semester at Sea program last fall, and he wowed him with his extensive music collection. Upon returning to Durham, he began DJing for Spartan Entertainment. A year later, he’s the highest-paid DJ in the Research Triangle, a success he says is “all thanks to Spartan.” He started spinning at Devine’s every Tuesday night, and when Spartan began throwing 18-and-up parties at Parizade last semester, Wilkinson became a fixture behind the booth. “There was a couple of times when there were fights right next to me,” he says of his experiences at Spartan events. “I got a punch in, then I got my headphones back on, and kept on going.”
It’s not surprising that Spartan events can inspire this level of debauchery. Galanis has even been contacted by Playboy to be the point-person in its search for the top 10 party schools. (He’s currently working on the application. “That would be my crowning achievement,” he says of earning a spot of the list.) And when you look at the themes of Spartan parties, and how successful they’ve been delivered, this mid-sized, academically minded institution may actually have a shot. They’ve hosted a foam party, a Jersey Shore party and last spring, an April Showers party. “We made it rain in Shooters,” Galanis says. “I mean—massive. We set these massive sprinklers systems up and every 15 minutes we’d literally make it rain in Shooters. We had girls in bikinis and wet T-shirts.”
Wilkinson says he could tell “stories for days” about working at Spartan events, and about his time abroad with Galanis. “The last time we did Parizade two chicks offered to make out if I played ‘Sexy Bitch,’ he recalls with a wistful smile. “So I did, and they got on the table and did it. The bouncers had to break it up—yeah, that was awesome.”
And the vivacity that defines Galanis has made appearances well beyond the borders of the City of Medicine, Wilkinson explained in his e-mail. “It must be all the olive oil because he can grease any axel,” he says before recounting how effortlessly he could operate with people in all corners of the world during their Semester at Sea. “There were a number of times Steve would meet a local during the day, that person would tell us about a bar or club, Steve would spread the word, and next thing you know all of SAS would be there and Steve and I would be sitting drinking champagne as the owner was trying to give us his daughters. How he arranges deals like this, I have no idea.”
The future of Spartan Entertainment, like the future of Galanis himself, is currently up in the air. Some developments are more immediate—and more set in stone—than others. First, Galanis plans to roll out “Spartan Cards” and “Spartan Elite Cards” in March. Spartan will invite its most “loyal customers” to purchase these VIP passes, which will allow them stand in their own private line at all Spartan events, receive discounted meals at Durham restaurants and be privy to nightlife tips via text message. The Elite card will additionally grant its holder the ability to bring a friend with him in the VIP line. Galanis says only 21-year-olds will be eligible for the Spartan Card and the Spartan Elite Card, and that they will cost somewhere around $50 and $70, respectively. “If we start doing something in Chapel Hill or if we start doing something in Raleigh, we’ll find a way to make those cards vital,” he says. “The cards are here—they’re printed. We’ve already contacted a lot of the people who will eventually be buying them, so we’re waiting to see how the dust settles.”
Spartan is also helping relaunch Senior Wine Night, which was held at Parizade every Wednesday last semester, catering to any member of the Class of 2010 with enough spare cash to fork over $240 for the series of nights. When Parizade decided to cease all late-night events, Galanis arranged for the wine tasting to be hosted at Taverna Nikos. Instead of the hefty subscription fee, admission will be reduced to $15 per night, with no obligation to attend every week. “This was a situation where the new ownership came into Parizade—[Wine Night has] always been at Parizade, for years. But suddenly the new guy comes in and he’s not too keen on doing any late night events at Parizade… suddenly this place doesn’t have a home,” he tells me.
Another project in the works centers on a two-day music festival that would feature a slew of well-known local and college acts, as well as a major act to headline each night. The mini-Bonnaroo would be virtually unprecedented in the world of the Duke social scene, but Maurides says more planning must be done before anything can be finalized. “We haven’t set a date,” he says. “Our projected date is early fall or late spring. We’re not going to rush—we want to do it right.”
Galanis has also mentioned the possibility of starting a bus service that could take Duke students to Chapel Hill or Raleigh, and he says he is still trying to find the best way to develop it. Maurides is optimistic that Spartan can replicate its success other local colleges. “If you create value, customers will come, so I think it’s possible to do this at UNC and N.C. State,” he says. “You can do this at any college, so it’s certainly something we’ve been looking into.”
As for Galanis’s future with Spartan Entertainment after graduation, he says he is still undecided, though he is interested in possibly participating in Teach for America (at press deadline, he had been granted a final round interview), preferably in Durham, where he could keep an eye on Spartan operations. But he does not know what he wants to do. He talks in abstractions, but he appears to be at peace with his lack of solidified post-graduation plans—which isn’t the typical reaction from a student at a pre-professional/pre-banking powerhouse such as Duke. “How do all these stars align? How do all these dots connect? I don’t know, and that’s why it’s been a really interesting ride,” he says. “I’m a pretty unique person, and if someone doesn’t want me to be there, then that’s not the right place for me to be. If I can’t find the right place for me to be, at this point in my life, I’ve figured out that I will make something for me.”
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