When a relative who was recently visiting Pullman for the first time asked Maddie Freiberg (’09 Comm.) for restaurant and bar recommendations, one spot immediately came to mind. “I spent a fair amount of time at The Coug,” she says. “It was always my number one choice. Whenever I’m in Pullman, stopping at The Coug is one of my top priorities.”
Generations of Washington State University students have come to Cougar Cottage, commonly called The Coug, to relax after class or finals, meet friends, and forge bonds that last lifetimes. And they continue to return as alumni with their old college buddies or parents, children, and grandchildren—often Cougs themselves—to reminisce over burgers and beers.
“The Coug, at its best, represents Cougar spirit,” says owner Bob Cady (x’00 Hosp. Busi. Mgmt.), who frequented The Coug as an undergraduate and bought the business 18 years ago. “It represents the multigenerational shared experience that surrounds WSU.”
The ever-popular pub, which opened in 1932 and has always catered to students, celebrates 90 years this year. New signage is expected to arrive this summer. And the highly Instagrammable east interior wall where patrons leave their signatures is set to be repainted in early August to accommodate a new round of names. It’s a tradition that started before Sharpies and paint pens. Patrons have been making their mark on The Coug since its earliest days, when students would carve their names into tables with penknives.
Back then, The Coug was known for its toasted sandwiches, house-made cake and pie, and, according to a menu found in a 1935-to-1939 scrapbook in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections at WSU Libraries, “thick malted milks.” Coffee was a nickel. Milkshakes and ice cream sundaes cost 15 cents. Soup and most sandwiches were a dime. Booth service had a 10-cent minimum per person. And the most expensive menu items—egg malted milk, and ham and eggs with toast and apple butter—cost a quarter.
Today, burgers are $8 to $10.50. Pints and pitchers run from $3.75 to $22.75. And all ages are welcome until 8 p.m. The booths are long gone. On game days and most weekend nights, patrons are lucky to get a table. The Coug is often standing-room only, with people packed elbow-to-elbow.
The legendary WSU watering hole and eatery routinely makes lists ranking best college bars in the state and country. And that’s no surprise to Freiberg, a member of The Coug’s exclusive Mug Club. Just 25 new members are selected each semester. “It’s an honor to be in the Mug Club,” she says. “It’s so steeped in tradition. You’re a part of something special, like being a Coug in general. It’s a forever tie to a really special place.”
The Mug Club dates to at least the late 1970s, when The Coug featured Quarter Pounder Nights and patrons could buy a beer for 25 cents. While some members take their mugs with them when they move or graduate, Cady says, “We still take care of about 1,200 mugs between our storage unit and on site at The Coug.” When out-of-town members visit, staff unearth their mugs. “We prefer a week notice,” Cady notes, adding, “While The Coug might look different than it did in the ’30s, ’40s, or ’50s, the general feel and atmosphere of undergrad Cougs spending time together with their friends and enjoying their company is still what we do. That’s the heart of The Coug.”
Does Cougar Cottage hold a special place in your heart? Share your memories of The Coug with Washington State Magazine at email@example.com.