Smiling Skull Saloon a sanctuary for students and townies alike

The Smiling Skull Saloon was built in 1900 and converted into a bar in 2000.
The Skull is famous in Athens for its odd patrons and horrendous creation of "Skull Ale"
The Skull is famous in Athens for its odd patrons and horrendous creation of “Skull Ale”

If the 16 bars of Athens were people, the Smiling Skull Saloon would likely be the quintessential representation of Athens.

Affectionately referred to as “The Skull” by its loyal patrons, the dive bar represents the small, Southeastern Ohio town itself: the perfect fusion of faithful “townie” population and the transient students who call the city home for four years.

From its patrons to the decor covering the walls that pay homage to an interesting history of its owner and the bar itself, the Skull is the perfect mix of seedy dive bar and beloved hang out. Settled into its Union Street location in 2000, the Skull has spent 16 years acquiring character and meaning to its loyal customers. From old license plates and photos hanging on the wall to the tables defaced with carvings of people’s names, the saloon embodies a sense of tradition and home, even if it does smell a little and is in a desperate need of a powerwash. The 116 year old building housing the old watering hole only adds to the air of history.

Bargoers crowd around the Skull's bar, not to drink, but to stare intently at each other.
Bargoers crowd around the Skull’s bar, not to drink, but to stare intently at each other.

One does not have to order a drink to enjoy the Smiling Skull; one only needs a childlike sense of wonder and a natural affinity for people watching.

After walking the streets of uptown and peeking into bars like the Crystal or JBar, the world of bargoers begins to look monotonous. All the faces begin to blur together. It isn’t until one finds a biker-esque man dressed as Santa with a full, belly-lengthed beard perched on a stool at the Skull that that tedium is broken.

From the dogs often running around off-leash in the bar to the warbling of townies and students alike trying their hand at open mike night, the Skull exudes that feeling that just makes Athens Athens.

Author: Emily Bohatch

Emily Bohatch is a student at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps school of journalism. She also writes for the Post and enjoys covering anything from police to city council.

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