Athens Across town Battle of the Bars

Part of what makes Athens so great is there is so much to do when the sky turns dark. The nightlife scene makes Court Street come alive, with bars lining both sides of the street. There are even bars a little off the trail of Court, and every bar is unique and offers something different.

On a recent evening, I decided to compare two very different bars across town to see just how different tastes can be in Athens. I was also hoping to catch karaoke night at both, but was only successful on one front. And when determining which bars would make the best comparison, it became clear that it couldn’t get much different when it comes to the Smiling Skull Saloon and Red Brick Tavern.

So in the name of good journalism, I trekked out to visit these two bars. I also dragged my best friend along for support and to enjoy what I assumed would be mediocre karaoke.

Before this little experiment, I had never been to the Smiling Skull. Upon entering, I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in. We arrived at 9:15 and the bar was pretty dead, so it was easy to remain low-key and grab a table.

An older couple was running the karaoke table and I couldn’t wait to see who would step up to the microphone. The clientele was mostly middle-aged with a sprinkling of students, so it was going to be an interesting night. First up was a man who, unsurprisingly, sang a country song. He was actually really good.

Skull1A slew of slow karaoke songs followed that started to put me to sleep. But things got interesting when a man decided to give all he had to his performance, including dancing/flinging himself all over the stage. His wild performance gave new life to the night.

A duo of young women sang “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood while their friends videotaped them and cheered along the entire time. Shortly after another duo led the bar in a sing-a-long of “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani.

The best performance of the night was a young woman singing Tina Turner. She was so effortless. My friend and I had been chatting and not really paying attention, but as soon as she started singing we were locked in and focused. What made it even better was that she was casually sipping a beer while singing.

Once The Skull got packed, we decided to make out way over to Red Brick. I was honestly a bit embarrassed I was going there as a senior and for any reason besides Brick Break. But I swallowed my pride and went in. I was surprised to see it so busy (I guess freshmen have to go somewhere) and disappointed to find it wasn’t karaoke night.

RB2

I have been to Red Brick for karaoke once before, and I was sad I was missing out on the disaster that it is. None of the people I saw sing here were even close to being a good singer, but they knew that and still made it wildly entertaining. Just picture a bunch of freshmen boys belting out the oldies with the occasional somewhat current song and that is Red Brick karaoke night.

Freshmen are too wild for me and I felt like a grandma this night. Watching a young couple argue right next to me was awkward but I couldn’t look away. People bumped into us and didn’t apologize. My best friend and I exchanged “I’m too old for this” sentiments.

Despite feeling like the oldest gals in the room, we had fun and danced by ourselves in a corner by the bar and people watched. People watching at Red Brick is really something.

These two bars are vastly different, but still offer a good time to their patrons.

Where would ‘Parks and Recreation’ characters drink?

If there’s one department Court Street is not lacking in, it’s bars. Each has a certain je ne sais quoi. To describe these distinct personalities, let’s turn to the television show “Parks and Recreation.” Specifically, if the show’s main characters were to take a road trip from Pawnee to Athens, where would they hang out?

Ron Swanson

Ron Swanson is not one for social gatherings, especially when it comes to enjoying a drink. So no bar on Court Street is likely to be his cup of tea (or rather, his cup of Lagavulin). Picture this: Ron sitting at the bar, drinking a Scotch (neat) while seven-plus college students invade his space, maybe rub against his face, laugh loudly while trying to get served, and prompt Ron to look extremely displeased. No, Court Street isn’t where this mustached man would spend his time. The best option for Ron would be Zoe on East State Street off Court Street. Zoe is a restaurant first, bar second. Ron would ask for a secluded table, order a large steak (rare), and keep the whisky coming. Court Street and Ron Swanson do not mix.

April Ludgate

A great fit for this dark, twisted woman is the Smiling Skull Saloon. The Skull is dark and full of townies and bikers whom April would love to observe and interact with. The Skull’s West Union Street location is a bit off the beaten path, as is April. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, so avoiding social interaction is easy. You don’t have to worry about peppy, loud college students here. A popular opinion among such students is that the Skull plays host to “weird people” and the name of the bar is often associated with a facial grimace and the phrase, “It’s so creepy!” It is definitely not on a party-hungry student’s list of places to hear the latest sugar-coated teeny-bopper hit. There’s a lot of black clothing, beanies, and you may or may not find discarded extras of drugs on the top of the toilet in the bathroom. The Skull is the perfect place for Ms. Ludgate.

Andy Dwyer

With its hipster vibe and reputation for hosting local bands, The Union Bar and Grill was the best bar for Andy. His band, MouseRat, could have played there and been a huge hit. It would have been a match made in heaven. But unfortunately the November fire derailed this option. (R.I.P. Union. until you rise again). Consequently, some recalculating is needed to determine Andy’s best match. A close second to Union is Casa Nueva Cantina and Restaurant. Casa hosts live bands but in a much calmer environment. It’s the bar to go to to sit back and enjoy your beer with friends and just hang out.

Side note: Andy Dwyer likes to jump out of/over things, so if he is sans band and in that particular mood, then Stephen’s On Court would be the bar for him. Their bottom bar has a window that is known for getting jumped out of. I would be lying if I said I didn’t know this from personal experience.

Tom Haverford

Considering Tom was part-owner of a club called the Snakehole Lounge, Court Street is a fantastic fit for him. There are so many options. But the right combination of sleazy, yet faux-VIP is Courtside Sports Bar. The two bar stations and outside area of Courtside give it that “high-end” feel that’s perfect for Tom. Courtside plays host to Ohio University athletes so there’s a high possibility of running into a campus celebrity. Tom Haverford is all about local celebrities. It’s the perfect opportunity for him to schmooze. Courtside is one of two bars specifically known for being the bar to go to if you’re underage. (The other being The Crystal, which if you go to the bars in general, you are all too aware.) We have now arrived at the sleazy aspect of Courtside. Courtside is no Snakehole Lounge, but it’s a fine substitute for Tom.

Donna Meagle

Donna Meagle is too cool for the bars of Court Street. If we had a cigar and wine club, it would be a match made in heaven. Alas, we are not Pawnee, Indiana, and do not have such an establishment. Donna would treat herself to a more expensive bar like J Bar. The bar itself isn’t particularly any classier than the other bars on Court, but it likes to pretend it is by charging more money for its drinks. It is classier than The Crystal, though. But that’s an easy feat. J Bar also has a very aesthetically-pleasing brick wall on its top floor that is nice for taking pictures against. Donna is all about social media, so some pictures with the brick backdrop would do nicely for looking like she’s in a fancier place than she is. Donna probably would just rent that entire top floor of J Bar, if we’re being real.

Leslie Knope

Leslie Knope loves waffles. Her favorite type of food is breakfast food. “Why would anybody ever eat anything besides breakfast food?” What goes great with breakfast food? Coffee. What bar has a signature drink that is coffee-based? Tony’s Tavern. Their Hot Nut is a hot shot of coffee and hazelnut liqueur. I’ve never had one myself, and couldn’t bring myself to taste one just for the purpose of this article because I hate both coffee and shots, but I have heard good things, the majority of which come from my roommate, Sarah Bernstein. “You’ve never had a Hot Nut? Are you out of your mind? They’re so good! You’d love them!” Shut up, Sarah. But I can associate a thing or two, and when I think of Leslie Knope, I immediately think of the Hot Nut. There is no other factor in this equation. Leslie Knope would go to Tony’s specifically because of this drink.

Ben Wyatt

Ben is a beer guy, and a bar known for their wide variety of beers is Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery. The bar has 38 beers on draft, so this gives Ben ample opportunity to try a new beer or two because God knows, there has to be a beer out there he enjoys more than Miller Lite. One would hope, anyway. Jackie O’s draws a diverse, friendly crowd that creates a relaxed atmosphere for someone to sit back and enjoy her beer. Jackie O’s also features live bands, but the music is more blues/garage-rock.

Jerry Gergich

Who cares? He’ll ruin everything anyway.

Ann Perkins

Although Ann has had some great character development, a central theme in her life is her dating situation. It always seems to be her storyline. That being so, Ann would go to Broney’s Alumni Grill during one her dating phases because a large portion of its patrons is the older crowd, which is more of Ann’s niche. Single Ann would go to Broney’s to put herself out there, dating-wise. Even Ann in a relationship would go there with her significant other to mingle with other couples in a calmer environment.

Chris Traeger

If you take Chris Traeger to any bar, he will — “literally” — find any way to remain positive. Even if he is taken into The Crystal, where it almost always spells like urine and feces, Chris would spin that situation positively. That’s what he does. He loves positivity. But I won’t use that as a fallback. He still deserves a well-thought-out Court Street bar choice. This beautiful man would fit in well at The C.I. It’s heavily populated by Greeks but in a surprisingly harmonious way that you don’t have to worry about being annoyed. It’s an overall happy atmosphere and even though the bar gets a bit crowded, you only have to dance your way through. Chris Traeger dances a mean jig. Dancing and happiness are two qualities The C.I. and Chris have in common.

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Hannah Haseman is a strategic communications major in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She spends a startling amount of time watching television shows and movies. Her dream job is to critique those in the entertainment industry through reviews or, more specifically, the bulls-eye section of Entertainment Weekly. 

The Lady Bartender Shuffle

FullSizeRenderOn a Sunday in late September, the women bartenders of Uptown Athens stormed Court Street for the second annual Lady Bartender Shuffle. Approximately 25 women participated in the shuffle so the rookie and veteran women bartenders could get acquainted.

“The shuffle allows the new and old bartenders to get acquainted with one another, said Pigskin bartender Tori Simokov. “We all said, ‘Meet at Jackie O’s and let’s see what happens.’”

Simokov organized the shuffle weeks in advance and made a sign-up sheet for her fellow bartender friends’ tank-top orders. She worked with a local t-shirt vendor to create the design of the tank tops. The tank tops say, “You can’t drink with us” on the front and “La Court Street Familia” on the back.

For the first annual shuffle, the ladies raised approximately $400 for a local battered women’s shelter, however not many women jumped on board for raising money this year.

“We intended to raise money this year, but unfortunately no one really donated.” Simokov said. Yet, her hopes are high for next year.

Religion finds its place in Athens

Like it or not, Athens, Ohio, has earned the reputation as a metropolis of bars, parties and good times.

Nineteen bars, to be exact, can be found within walking distance of Ohio University’s campus, but 47 different places of worship and religious organizations are located within 20 minutes of campus.

However, it’s safe to say that thousands of Ohio alumni do not return to Athens on homecoming to relive old memories from their favorite places of prayer and repentance.

Yet, keeping the faith carries on, even in the midst of an environment of free-thinking and a natural tendency to deviate from one’s embedded ideals. Spreading the word of God requires a new approach when playing to a college crowd.

First Presbyterian Church, located smack-dab in the middle of Uptown Athens at the corner of Court and Washington, reaches out to students from their first days on campus through handing out literature at the university’s involvement fair. The church also offers complimentary lunches to students each Wednesday afternoon.

Being located within such a close proximity to campus allows the church’s administration to reach out to a new crop of freshmen every year. Its location, however, also comes with some disadvantages.

“When I try to describe where we’re located, (people) immediately think we’re the Pita Pit or a bar,” FPC Pastor Rob Martin said.

It hasn’t always been that way. As a matter of fact, the church predates any Athens watering hole or gyro hub by several decades.

The church first opened its doors in 1809 and played a “vital role in the development of the city and university,” according to the church’s website. Seems likely, considering the university’s first president, Jacob Lindley, also served as the church’s pastor. Three of Lindley’s four presidential successors also assumed the role of FPC pastor.

The widely beloved town and university were built upon religious ideals. The marker near the university’s Alumni Gateway reads, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, school and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

[metaslider id=785]Two Latin phrases are engraved on the 99-year old arches of the gateway. They read, “So enter that daily thou mayest grow in knowledge wisdom and love,” and “So depart that daily thou mayest better serve thy fellowmen thy country and thy God.”

The university’s motto “Religio, Doctrina, Civilitas, Prae, Ombinius, Virtus” translates to “Religion, Learning, Civility, and above all, virtue.”

Though religion has its roots in Ohio University lore, Martin admitted that a shift towards secularism means the church no longer assumes a central role in society, even if his church is in the middle of the action.

Martin’s assertion is not necessarily supported by statistics. The Pew Research center conducted a study in 2012 in which over 2,500 censuses from more than 230 countries were analyzed. The results: 84 percent of the world associated themselves with a religion, with 31.5% of the world following Christianity. Any shift Martin may have noticed could stem from how deeply involved people are in religious activities. The study did not address how frequently people attended religious services.

To combat a lessening demand for the religious part of the church, Martin placed an emphasis on serving the community, especially with the economic hardships faced by many residents of Southeastern Ohio. The church works hand-in-hand with other churches and religious organizations to assist the community, despite a popular trend of churches slipping into survival mode and rationing resources with regard to community support.

“They had a saying here: ‘A heart for the heart of the city,’” Martin said with a chuckle.

That heart shows affection for a diverse community, regardless of background.

The Presbyterian Church has been open to homosexuals since the mid-’80s, Martin estimated, and it is evidenced by a small gay pride decal on the glass of the building’s welcome sign.

“It’s nice to not have that be an issue,” Martin said. “We keep a flag there as a signal to anybody that if you feel, if you have an alternative lifestyle and you want to be part of a church, this would certainly be a church that would welcome you and not judge you.”

The Presbyterian Church is right at home in what senior video production major Joel Hafner described as a progressive community.

“A lot of churches are afraid to discuss the issue or talk about it because they don’t want to be ridiculed,” he said. “It’s really following the Bible. Jesus says that the greatest commandment of all is to love your neighbor and to love each other.”

The sexual orientation of a potential church-goer should play no role in deciding an individual’s acceptance into a church, in Hafner’s opinion. Well, his opinion is based off of what he read in the Bible, a piece of literature by which he has led his entire life.

The word of God knows no discrimination: If somebody wants to hear it, the church should open its doors and guide whoever strolls in the nearest pew, in Hafner’s eyes. For him, getting an individual to want to listen to the good word is victory enough.

Hafner does not identify himself as a Presbyterian. He attends Central Avenue United Methodist Church, but his beliefs line up with the motto of the Presbyterian Church: Seffer Reformanda – always reforming. Tradition is important, but so is maintaining a connection to the modern world.

It’s what do we have to say for the time that we’re in right now, because it’s the only time we’re given,” Martin said.

Holding on to tradition can prove to be difficult within a world of “sinful” actions. The church sits only 20 yards from the bank wall where two intoxicated students engaged in sexual acts, eventually resulting in a sexual assault investigation. Martin wouldn’t support something of this nature, but he understands the nature of the town’s most colorful street.

“I’m all for a good time,” Martin said, followed by a grin.”Within limits.”

Within the Bible, there is nothing that strictly forbids Christians from consuming, but as Martin stated, there are limits.

Ephesians 5:18 reads, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with spirit.”

The problem with a college town: many drink to get blasted, inebriated, drunk, whatever the choice word may be. Martin can’t condone drunkenness, but accepts that students will drink. He just prays for their safety.

“That’s what it means to be a student,” he said. “A chance to get your mistakes out of the way.”

Before attending Ohio, Hafner knew he wanted to maintain his faith, but acknowledged the difficulty of staying on that path with an environment which encourages self-discovery and change. To do so, he sought out a Christian community, joining Campus Crusaders right away.

“If you’re a big video game person, you’ll seek out a community of gamers who you can relate to,” Hafner said. “I think it takes a certain mindset to pursue it yourself.”

That community is continuously looking to expand. Campus Crusaders for Christ, commonly known as “CRU,” continues to recruit new students and will send out student representatives to talk religion, school and life with anybody who shows interest. The organization seeks to build faith through weekly Bible studies and extracurricular community gatherings, such as camp-outs, intramural sports and attending concerts.

For Hafner, the best way to spread the word of God is associating with people who do not share similar beliefs. Christians should love chronic party-goers just as much as they would love somebody in their Bible study group, according to Hafner.

“Through that, if you’re interested in getting to know what you believe and hear more, I’d love to tell them about it,” he stated,” I’m not going to avoid people who are Christians because they go party. That’s not right.”

It’s a good thing that the partying is tolerated because it’s safe to say Athens’ bar culture is here to stay. Martin and Hafner agree that everyone is a child of God, regardless of how many church services they have attended or their blood-alcohol concentration levels.

It’s about rising above differences and “loving thy neighbor,” just as the Ten Commandments states. As for Hafner’s favorite Bible verse, Proverbs 28:1. It lines up perfectly with what he believes.

“The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”

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Brad Friedman is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. He is a student employee with the Ohio University athletics department, working in video production and media relations, in addition to writing about the Blue Jackets for “The Hockey Writers.” In this past, Brad has worked with WOUB Public Media and the Columbus Blue Jackets digital media team.