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COVER STORY : DESTINATION: Cal State NORTHRIDGE : The commuter campus, open to the public, is chock-full of resources. There's a gym for workouts, a swimming pool, even a job counseling center. Don't forget the library, the largest in the Valley.


NORTHRIDGE — There's a bar here where last call is usually before 3 in the afternoon, even on Fridays. It's not even open weekends.

Maybe that's why residents of the upscale neighborhoods surrounding the joint barely know it exists--although it is the only bar with a 91330 ZIP.

The Pub, as it is called, is hidden inside the Cal State Northridge campus. Students are its main clientele, but manager Kevin Davenport says even the lure of beer--an assortment at that--is not enough to keep most of the over-21 crowd from fleeing school right after class.

Some days, the place looks as deserted as the chem lab over vacation.

"People who aren't students are intimidated about coming to campus," he says.

They shouldn't be. Besides its regular art, theater and music offerings, the school is not a bad place to eat, drink, do a little shopping, have some fun, even raise some Cain. There are sporting events, art exhibits and, if you know where to look, free movies twice a week.

Although Cal State Northridge has a well-deserved reputation for being a no-nonsense commuter school--with most students juggling classes and jobs--it offers a wide range of diversions for those who no longer worry about trading shifts at Burger Village during finals week.

The campus and even classes are open to the public.

"There's a lot going on behind these walls," says Peter Holmes, coordinator of the school's institutional and guest relations. "The public sometimes has a misconception about what really goes on here. And I think they would be amazed at the facilities. . . . These are your tax dollars at work."

For those seeking a formal introduction, Holmes and 27 student volunteers, acting as campus docents, conduct free weekday tours for groups or individuals, generally between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

About 5,000 visitors take the tour each year, Holmes says. They are mostly prospective students and staff, but anyone who calls (818) 885-2879 can arrange a tour. For the hearing-impaired, signers are available.

San Fernando Valley residents worried about ridicule--or worse--from roving gangs of kids with pierced body parts and Frankenstein shoes ought to know that about a third of CSUN students are older than 30. In fact, ticket sales for school events on average are split roughly between 40% students and 60% everybody else. Athletic events have a 50-50 split, campus officials say.

Taxpayers reluctant about going back to school, if only to ride their bikes or skateboards through the nicely landscaped grounds and cement pathways, should consider that the campus spends about $100 million a year in public money. Millions more will be spent to rebuild portions of the campus damaged by the Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake.

The more adventurous visitor can strike out without a guide, simply by plunking down $1.75 for a parking sticker at either the Prairie Street or Lindley Avenue entrances. Parking attendants sell the passes, which provide an opportunity to hunt for a parking space, and provide maps of the school.

Street parking can be impossible. But for real-life drama, the payoff is watching the fleet of tow trucks haul cars off Nordhoff Street during morning and afternoon commute hours. Show times vary.

Once parked, pick up a campus shuttle bus that runs through the campus mornings and afternoons during the week.

It's easy to kill a day hanging out at CSUN's Student Union. Students do it all the time. Join them dropping quarters into pinball and video games at The Game Room. It's open six days a week, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Billiard tables there rent for $2.50 an hour for two players and $3 an hour for up to four players. Ping-Pong tables are $2 an hour, plus a 25-cent ball deposit. House rules require that patrons be 13 or older to play video games, 18 or older to shoot pool. Any age for Ping-Pong, though.

Next door is the Spokeworks, the bike and wheelchair repair shop. It's open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Across the breezeway is counseling services, which later this month will include The Relaxation Room. Inside will be a recliner with a built-in massager, a TV and videocassette player with specially designed videotapes on relaxation techniques and relationship problems. It is supposed to be just for students and staff, but it's worth asking for a tryout. They probably won't ask for student ID.

If stressed--and turned away from the Relaxation Room--there is always The Pub, which is just around the corner.

Beer-drinking there can start as early as 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, featuring 12-ounce draft beers for $1.49, 12-ounce bottles for $2.17 and 22-ounce bottles for $3.25. The bar is open until 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks to its big-screen TV, the bar gets busier Mondays during Monday Night Football, and is open until 10 p.m.

Thursdays, another happening night, is Jazz Night, where music and beer are served until 10 p.m.

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