Elon University students cram into College Street Tap House, a popular bar just off Elon's campus, several nights a week. While the bar is known to many for its affordable drinks and large stage, underage students know it as the bar where they can consume alcohol without getting caught.

"It is easy to purchase drinks — ask an older person to buy you one, go into the bathroom and drink it," sophomore Ali Garcia said. "Or just cover the Xs on your hand. There are too many people for bouncers to notice it. And I never notice any police."

Garcia's observation is likely because of the confusion over who monitors the bar. Elon town police and Campus Safety and Police point to each other as the department that monitors Tap House. Chris Russell, the owner of Tap House, claims his employees act as his security team and said he is not required to hire off duty law enforcement unless a university event takes place at the bar or a Greek organization wants to rent the space, which occurs about once a week. In these situations, the organization is responsible for hiring one off-duty officer per 100 guests, who is usually from the Elon town police department, according to Shana Plasters, director of Greek Life.

"Their role there would not be the enforcement of underage drinking policies," Plasters said. "They are there at the hire of the organization, and often don't even go inside the establishment. Their role is more of a responder if there were to be an emergency situation."

Gerald Whittington, senior vice president for business, finance and technology, has a different understanding than Russell about the monitoring situation and the extent to which the town police are involved.

"The Tap House is, generally, monitored by the town police," he said. "If there was an occasion for them to call upon the university police for some reason, I am sure they would. Clearly, any property where alcohol is sold has risk management issues that the lessee of the property is required to address and follow applicable laws."

Russell leases the building from the University, which pays the property tax of the bar. He describes his relationship with the institution as a traditional landowner-lessee situation, which to him means no involvement from the landlord. But Whittington said he considers Elon to be somewhat involved.

A minor issue would have little to no response from the university, whereas a major one would have a significant response. But the biggest incident that has occurred was a girl who scraped her foot one night because she was wearing sandals, according to Russell.

Although Russell is not required to have a police department monitor the bar, the lack of extra security has not gone unnoticed by students, many of whom consider Tap House to be an exception to Elon's alcohol policy.

"Elon's strict alcohol policy is only strict if you get caught," Garcia said. "I honestly think it's too strict because on my first offense of alcohol consumption I was put on preliminary suspension. But I do not think it is reflected at Tap House."

Students see the alcohol policy reflected at off–campus parties, which "get broken up like nobody's business," said sophomore Paige Host. But at Tap House, which is a short walk from almost any on campus location, the security is less of a concern to students.

"I have never tried to purchase there, but I had a beer in my hand once and a bouncer took it from me, but did not kick me out," an anonymous sophomore said.

Entrance into the bar isn't limited to Elon students, but Russell recognizes that the majority of his patrons are college students, and inevitably some students will try to use fake IDs.

"I think along with that industry, it will always be a part of it," he said. "It's part of our job to make sure to keep that to an absolute minimum or nonexistent if possible, but people certainly do try. We are committed to not allowing underage drinking."

Russell owns a copy of a publication issued by the North Carolina Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) that shows what proper IDs look like. It is a publication made available to anyone with an alcohol license, and although Russell's employees, as is true with most bar employees, do not go through formal training for checking IDs, Russell said they become familiar with standard IDs by reading the publication.

"They know what to look for when IDs come through," Russell said. "Do some slip by sometimes? Probably. But they are pretty vigilant to make sure that we are checking in a proper manner."

Despite the security team's review of the publication, underage students said they consistently get into the bar with fake IDs.

"Fake IDs do work," said sophomore Hilary Stevenson. "I have a 21 wristband due to my fake ID, so I don't get in trouble for drinking."

Host has noticed the same pattern.

"If you have a good fake, you are able to get in under (21)," she said.

Tap House has continued to increase in popularity since business picked up last spring, according to Russell. One concern expressed by students is the sheer number of people that crowd into the bar, especially on Thursdays, the bar's busiest night. But Russell said standard fire codes are abided by, and one of his bouncers is in charge of counting people as they come in the door to ensure they never exceed the maximum number of people allowed, which is 290.

"We know how many wristbands we sell, so we count those," Russell said. "And we count with a door guy with a clicker. Once they hit our number of 290, then that's where they have to stop, and it's kind of a revolving number at that point. If five people leave, you can let five more in."

And many students, like sophomore Grace Martin, aren't bothered by the crowd.

"The popular bar of the moment will always be crowded and busy," she said.

Garcia agreed.

"If it was roomier, classier and had a cleaner feel, I think it would feel like a club," Garcia said. "I like having a bar scene."

Before Russell bought Tap House, Elon University owned it for a period of time beginning in 2008. The university bought the property from former owner Grayson "Chad" Snyder, who was arrested for possession and intent to sell cocaine and GHB, a date rape drug. Snyder had also been employed by Elon as a professor in the religion department, but not at the time of his arrest.

When the university purchased the building, which was then called Lighthouse Tavern, ARAMARK was placed in charge of running the bar. Under ARAMARK's ownership, the bar was only open to students, who had to show their Phoenix Cards in order to gain access.

"When I was a freshman, seniors would tell me that Lighthouse was the coolest thing ever," said senior Grace Sweeney. "When it reopened my sophomore year, you could only go in if you were a student, which in theory was nice, but you had to show your Phoenix Card so people who wanted to use fake IDs didn't go, because fashioning a fake Phoenix Card is a lot of work."

But when ARAMARK began working on new dining projects on campus, it was forced to focus its attention away from the bar, according to Russell.

"At that time was when (the university) asked me if I would be interested in taking Lighthouse over," he said. "I started negotiating with Elon and turned it into Tap House and went on from there. I felt that I didn't want to just have students because I knew that we would do live music from time to time. I wanted to have anyone and everyone welcome."

Many students said they enjoy and look forward to the nights of live music. And as the line continues to grow, Russell said he sees Tap House's success growing along with it.

"We're still pretty steady on our original vision, which was to provide a fun, safe environment for students to have a place to go and then also to provide the community with live music they need, as well," he said. "We take pride in the space, it's been successful for us, and we look forward to being there long term"