It’s been a Coug tradition since 1932.
The Cougar Cottage, widely and simply known as The Coug, celebrates 90 years this year. Festivities begin in August with the annual painting of the interior east wall for a new class of Cougs to make their marks.
Here, fans of The Coug share some of their favorite memories of the Pullman institution.
Grace Johnson grew up going to The Coug.
She’s been coming to Pullman—her dad’s old stomping grounds—for as long as she can remember. During those family weekend trips—usually for a football game and the chance for her father, Eric Johnson (’84 Comm.), to reconnect with classmates—they would make a pit stop at The Coug.
“The Coug is always on his bucket list,” Grace says. “For him, it’s super-meaningful.”
And it’s becoming more and more meaningful for her, too.
“I definitely have fond memories of those trips to Pullman,” she says. “But I didn’t really know how special The Coug was until I went to school here. When I’d go with my dad, he’d meet up with his buddies and I’d just kind of be sitting there”—all ages are allowed until 8 pm—“but now I know: It is the bar. I go there at least once a week now that I’m 21.”
Grace turned 21 before most of her friends—at the end of last October—“and ended up going to The Coug and ordering my first drink.”
It was a lemon drop shot.
“And I thought my dad would just go crazy if he knew I was there right then,” says Grace, who’s studying public relations and expects to graduate in fall 2023, after completing her final semester overseas in either Spain or Italy.
So she did a video call with him via Facetime. “He was ear-to-ear smiling and so excited,” she says. “And now pretty much every time I go there I still call him because he loves to see it. I Facetime him and say, ‘Look where I am!’ and sometimes he offers to buy me and my friends drinks.”
She still gets her lemon drop shot, just like on her last birthday. “I get one of those pretty much every single time I go there,” she says, noting that sometimes she also orders a cider or beer to go with it.
One of her favorite memories of The Coug is signing her name on the wall when she turned 21. “It felt kinda weird going up (to the counter) and asking for a Sharpie. But when I wrote it, I felt very official, like I was finally part of the club.”
She plans to apply for Mug Club and, even though she’s not yet graduated, is already looking forward to coming back as an alum “because it is the best bar. I will always want to come back and visit just because there are such good memories here with my friends and my dad.”
Tricia Hoover (’15 Hosp. Busi. Mgmt.) got her Mug Club mug in fall 2018. She was working as a WSU Libraries/WSU Foundation employee and “proud to be a Pullman local. I live in the Tacoma area now but still keep my mug in storage at The Coug. I love that a little piece of me gets to stay in Pullman!”
‘Never a stranger’
What makes The Coug special is that very little changes over the years. You know what to expect when you visit. You know what the experience will be like before you step through the door.
You remember that you left your mark on a wall many years ago. And finding that mark reconnects you with your past. And for a moment, all those memories you made at The Coug and at WSU come rushing back—and it doesn’t seem like that long ago. It also gives you hope for the future, because you’re still here after all those years.
You know that you’re never a stranger at The Coug—not for long, anyway. Making connections at The Coug is easy. You might strike it up with a student, an alum, a WSU employee, or a Pullman local at the table next to you, or while you’re waiting in line to order a Cougarita. But you won’t be drinking alone for long. The Coug is the Pullman version of Cheers.
You know that on game-day weekend, the Cougar Marching Band will serenade the folks on the terrace outside with “The Fight Song.” You know that The Coug has the best fry sauce in town. You know that you’ll probably find Larry Arcia (’89 Socio.) and his crew at the table just inside the door, playing Thumper. And you know that everyone sings along whenever “Back Home” is played on the jukebox.
My favorite memory from The Coug is when my dog Dash was accepted into the Mug Club. He’s the only non-human member to be welcomed in. And whenever we visit, The Coug staff and patrons are always excited to see Dash—almost as excited as he is to sweep the floor for dropped tater tots.
Ande Edlund (’94 Hotel & Rest. Admin.)
April Seehafer (’93 English) dressed up as The Coug, enlisting her family to help decorate a white, long-sleeved T-shirt like the signature wall. “It was my high school-aged daughter’s idea, and our whole family added little comments and inside jokes as we decorated the shirt. We modeled the back after many of the open-to-close sections that are painted in squares or rectangles at The Coug, and, of course, the front is all graffiti.”
Jennifer Wisbey (’90 Comm.), Julie (Leonardy) Stevens (’91 Ed.), and Lisa (Campbell) Reeves (’93 Comm.) were all Chi Omegas and lived across the street from The Coug during college. They knew exactly how many steps it was from the front door of the pub to their bunks across the street at Chi-Os.
“The three of us were all Mug Club members, and Jen was my big sis and Lisa was my little sis,” Stevens says. “Lots of really fun memories were made at The Coug.”
The three of them “are still the best of friends after 30 years,” Stevens says, adding, “Love The Coug and love WSU! My son is a sophomore there now and turns 21 in November. Looking forward to raising a pint with him at The Coug soon!”
‘Our meeting place’
I was a rush counselor—that’s what they called us back then—for Panhellenic in 1987. Our meeting place was The Coug each day. And I actually (recently) found the rush tank top I was wearing! Can’t wait to get over to celebrate in person!!!
Tanna (Pulse) Edler (’88 Busi.)
Our fave spot when back in Pullman! Go Cougs!
Amy (Matthews) Spino (’87 Comm.)
It was a matter of national pride.
Terry Kellam (’86 Gen. Stud.), a Canadian from Calgary, challenged Eric Johnson (’84 Comm.), an American from Spokane Valley, to a beer-guzzling contest at The Coug. The fraternity brothers were there one afternoon with a big group of guys from their house, Kappa Sigma.
Kellam, Johnson recalls, suggested the competition “to establish North American preeminence—or something like that. He said, ‘I challenge Eric Johnson,’ and everyone said, ‘Ooooohhhhh.’ So we poured two pints and someone yelled, ‘Go!” and we just tossed those things down. He just barely beat me.”
Johnson couldn’t let that stand. “So we did it again, and he just barely beat me again.”
They ended up going three rounds. Kellam just barely beat Johnson a third time. “And I was humiliated, and everyone was laughing at me.”
Then someone told him to look at the floor behind his fraternity brother. “There was a giant puddle of beer on the floor behind Terry Kellam. He had been throwing beer over shoulder all three times and setting his glass down right before I did,” Johnson says, who was laughing too hard to be angry. “It was hilarious. I was made the fool. But it was all in good fun.”
Now, nearly 40 years later, the infamous beer-guzzling contest is Johnson’s hands-down favorite memory of The Coug, and it gets brought up every time he talks with Kellam. But there are lots of good moments from his college days at The Coug.
“It’s a place of stories,” says Johnson, a longtime news anchor at KOMO-TV 4 in Seattle. “It’s a place to celebrate being young and celebrate wins and suffer losses. It’s just a beautiful place.”
One of the things he love about it is “the fact it seemingly doesn’t change. It’s part of the lure and the lore and the history and the feeling of belonging. The Coug is immortal for that reason. You walk in, and it feels like it’s been there forever. And when you walk in 20 years after graduating, it feels like it hasn’t changed a bit.”
Like many patrons, he left his mark on the place, writing his name on a speaker as a student. “I would see it every time I walked in and it made me feel comfortable. I was here before and I’m here now.”
And when he returned with some college buddies who all had kids of their own in the same freshman class, they all signed their names at The Coug again. Johnson left a special note on the wall to his daughter, Grace, now a junior: “Dad is watching.”
He ended up at The Coug on his 21st birthday in 1982. And when Grace turned 21 late last October, she Facetimed him from The Coug.
Of course, that made his day. “The Coug is one of my favorite places in the world,” Johnson says. “You walk in there before a game or after a game or when you’re visiting your kid in Pullman, and it just feels like, yeah, I’m in Pullman now. It’s the meeting place. Even if you’re going to go somewhere else, it’s, ‘OK, I’ll meet you at The Coug.’ It’s a special little place.”
About that: “I think if they made it bigger, it would ruin it. It’s a constant in the universe—at least, in my universe—and it needs to stay that way. Thank goodness for Bob Cady, who’s done such a good job as the keeper of The Coug. Bob understands the heart and soul of what The Coug is and what it means to people who have spent time there. It’s not just a watering hole. It’s part of the community. It’s part of being a Coug.”
More about that: “I think being a Coug is an intimate experience, and I think The Coug is appropriately an intimate place. It isn’t huge. It doesn’t feel modern. It doesn’t feel hip. It’s not new. You don’t get dressed up to go to The Coug. You just flow into it because it feels right, and you laugh and you have fun and you just sort of experience life. It’s a hangout place. It’s my kind of joint. For the people who have spent time there with friends at a very impressionable age during a very lovely part of their life, it’s forever with you. It just is.”
Johnson wasn’t a member of the Mug Club. But he would mosey in during “an occasional afternoon after classes. Mostly, I was there in the evenings. I liked weeknight evenings. There wasn’t a ton of people, just a handful, and I felt good there. It was a natural and easy place to be. It felt like home the first time I walked in there.”
For him and his friends—and lots of other Cougs of his generation and from other classes past and present—“It was our place. It was the place to gather and bond and let off steam and tell stories and share the experience of being young.”
These days, “I jokingly tell my friends that when I pass away I want to have a wake at The Coug. I’m a little Irish, and an Irish wake at The Coug seems like a really great idea.”
He had already asked her out three times.
The last time she turned him down, Brad Augustine (’84 Hosp. Busi. Mgmt.) told her she would just have to ask him. And she did. On her 21st birthday. To have a beer at The Coug.
Augustine owned the place and was living upstairs, so he came right down.
He bought the business in 1980 from the RAM Corporation when he was just 21 and still a hospitality student at Washington State University.
The Coug wasn’t his first establishment. He also co-owned the Corner Deli, which he and a buddy established just before the start of the 1980 academic year.
His goal: “I wanted to have 10 restaurants in 10 years.”
Brad had spent the summer of 1980 fishing in Alaska, earning enough money to buy the restaurant equipment with which to start the deli. It was located on the campus and inspired by the Bloch’s Deli where he worked during high school in Seattle.
When the Corner Deli opened, “We had lines out the door every day for lunch and dinner. We had no employees and had to scramble. We put an ad in the Evergreen that was basically: When can you start?”
Linda Burner Augustine (’83 Home Econ., Honors) showed up with her Day-Timer calendar, saying she could start in four weeks.
“We needed people now and really couldn’t wait for a month,” Brad says. “But I was captivated and so I figured I would go ahead and hire her because there would be attrition. Some people wouldn’t last.”
Around the same time, he heard from another local restaurant owner that The Coug was for sale. He put together a group of investors and raised money to purchase the business right around finals. In those days, finals for fall semester took place in January following winter break.
Back then, patrons could buy a 16-ounce beer for 25 cents—quarter pounders—on the last Thursday of each month. “We quickly realized this was a money-losing promotion and changed it to ‘wooden nickels,’ which was three beers for a dollar instead of four,” Brad says. “We were really nervous about doing that, not knowing what people would say.”
That wasn’t the only change. They started the mug club, a tradition that’s still running today. In fact, Brad says, “I’ve still got my number one mug.”
He bought a third establishment while still in Pullman, Pete’s Bar & Grill, and was involved in running all three. So, he says, “I couldn’t take a full load of classes, and it took me a few extra years to graduate.”
By then, he had celebrated Linda’s 21st birthday at The Coug. They were dating when she graduated and moved to Seattle to start her career. At the same time, he was building a full-service restaurant called Pelican Pete’s—his fourth establishment—from the ground up on the Everett waterfront, flying back and forth to Pullman.
He ran The Coug for six years, eventually selling the business in 1986—the same year he and Linda married—but retaining the building and business name. Today, he is the principal of Seattle’s Madrona Real Estate Services, which he founded 1997 after leaving the restaurant business.
“I decided it was too challenging to be a good parent, a good husband, and a good restaurant owner. You can’t be all three. I never looked back after moving into the real estate, development, and property management business.”
The Augustines still own The Coug building and name, and are looking forward to the pub’s 100-year milestone in 2032. Meantime, Brad says Bob Cady has been a great steward of the business and is impressed with how he runs it.
“There’s so much pride at WSU,” Brad says. “And The Cougar Cottage is just this beloved WSU institution. It’s a fun place to be.”
Where did that old Coug sign go? Hope it survives somewhere. Was and still am friends with the Grove family, who ran the Coug for years.
As the batboy for the Cougs, I was kind of adopted by the team and occasionally after practice I’d get to go to The Coug with them and they would buy me a burger or shake. Buck (Bailey) was really my second father, and I miss him still today.
I still have a record that was a favorite of my Cougar baseball team on the jukebox when they came to The Coug and treated me, as their batboy, to burgers and shakes. They were like big brothers to me. I bought the record for 25 cents at the long-forgotten Empire department store downtown.
I wrote the names of the players on the record, a Wilbert Harrison 45 RPM on Fury Records. I put the year, 1956, and noted “Kansas City” was a “fast” dance on side one, and there was a “slow” dance, “Listen, My Darling,” on side two.
From that era, I also remember the bonfire the night before homecoming that featured anything that would burn tossed onto a huge pile and a parade downtown on game day. As a 10-year-old, I would help put tissue paper on the floats, then clean up after the game. Of course, collecting bottles yielded 15 cents per crate.
Excerpt from the WSU Centennial Oral History Interview Project: Weldon B. “Hoot” Gibson (’38 Busi. Admin.)
Interview by William Stimson, WSU research news coordinator, January 1987. Read the full transcript.
WG: … Anyway we (wound) up in the Cougar Cottage …
WS: Wait, wait, wait. Ah, did you pick them up in a car or did you walk over?
WG: Walk. Jerry (Sage) (’38 Poli. Sci.) and I walked. …
WS: So that was the typical way of a campus date. You’d just walk and pick the girl up, and you guys would walk where you’re going?
WG: Wherever we were going. We might have gone to a fraternity or sorority for something.
WS: OK. On a date like this, would you dress up? I mean, you know, was it considered necessary? You couldn’t just show up in slacks, or in what you went to class in?
WG: No. We would have. I was going to say (I) had a suit on. It might have been a little short of that. But it wasn’t old corduroys.
WS: You’d dress up a little bit?
WG: Yes, I’d dress up. Yeah. And so did the girls. They would dress up. I remember how we used to sit around the Beta House there, since it was a central location, and watch the girls all walking by both ways. Well now, my image of those girls walking by is one of well-dressed girls in the designs of the clothes of that time. It you’d stand in front of a fraternity house now, you can’t tell the difference between the girls and the boys, sometimes. So we wound up, and that’s no surprise because we nearly always did after most things we went to, at the Cougar Cottage. And, you know, we were just having fun.
WS: Cokes, and that kind of thing? There wasn’t any beer there.
WG: Yes, no beer there. No drinking then. This is not to say we didn’t have a drink outside some place. We probably did. But we were having a lot of fun, and out of this business there were others. There were probably six or eight of us that were sitting around there. …
WS: First of all, let’s set the scene. What was the Cougar Cottage like. Can you remember that?
WG: Well, it was exactly the same physical size as, I think, it is now. And there was some (booths) around the one side.
WS: Wooden booths?
WS: Not padded.
WG: No. Wooden booths, as you walked in. And, over to your right to both sides, there was a wall over there and a wall over here. And maybe the wall over there would have (booths) on it.
WS: And then what was on the other wall? A counter?
WG: Well, I believe the counter was, as you walk in, (it) would be straight ahead. That means there was no (booths) over there. The (booths) was here and here.
WS: Was it one of those counters with the round stools along it?
WG: Yeah. Yeah.
WS: Was it brightly lit, do you remember?
WG: Yeah. Yes. It was well lit. I(t) was a part of the custom at the time. People weren’t supposed to be around the bars. … Now, I don’t know this for a fact from remembering it at the time, but putting it in context I would suppose that it was not dark because the Dean of Women wouldn’t have liked that. You’re sitting there with girls. So she didn’t want some dark place where you could mooch. And, damned if I know what we were talking about. It was all just idle stuff.
Excerpt from the WSU Centennial Oral History Interview Project: Marion Neill (’36 Home Ec.)
Interview by William Stimson, WSU research news coordinator. Transcribed June 24, 1987, by Janice Backus. Read the full transcript.
WS: Did you go to any places as a hang-out?
MN: It’s still there—the Cougar Cottage! In fact, a dear friend of mine, Grace (Weller) Gilmore (’36 Home Ec.), she and her husband, (Art Gilmore) (x’35 Speech), came. Well, he was a radio/speech major. And he came, oh, I would say, 30 years ago to visit us. He was giving a lecture to, well, the communications faculty, actually. And the first place he wanted to go was to the Cougar Cottage. (laughter) And that seemed to be the central location for most of the people.
WS: You could always find people there?
MN: Uh, huh. Oh, yes.
WS: Did you spend a lot of time there yourself?
MN: Well, not too much, but it was a place to stay.
WS: Where you gathered in the afternoons or evenings?
MN: Oh, afternoons, not nights.
WS: Well, after class you would go down there?
MN: Yeah. Yeah. Or, maybe if you had a late class, you’d go and have a hot butterhorn.
WS: In the morning?
MN: Yeah. Uh, huh. It was on the way.
WS: What did it look like?
MN: Well, there, the last time I was in there, it was very nice. The place was just the same. It hadn’t changed hardly at all.
WS: Oh, really. How long ago was that?
MN: Well, that was 30 years ago. No, I don’t know. I haven’t been in it.
WS: It had booths in it?
MN: Yeah, it had booths. Carved up tables.
WS: The initials and that sort of thing?
MN: Yeah. Urn, hm.
WS: Did it have a fountain kind of thing, you know?
MN: I think it did. Yeah. If I remember correctly, it was a soda bar. But not a liquor bar.
WS: Yeah. Just Coke.
MN: Just Coke, yeah, and coffee.
WS: Did people smoke in there? Was that allowed?
MN: Yeah. And, of course, there were booths in the Bookstore. And that’s where a lot of people gathered, too, like between classes, when the Bookstore was small. And they had a fountain and maybe served sandwiches.
MN: Not much of a menu at all, but that was kind of a gathering spot there.
WS: Any other centers of gravity on campus? There was where you lived and the hangouts.
MN: Yeah. Hm. I think those really were the most occupied, were the Bookstore fountain and the Cougar Cottage.