Grilled cheese for a good cause on Court Street

The temperature is 39 degrees, warm for the usually terrible Ohio weather but quite chilly for most other places, and I have managed to get a position on the grill at the Blackburn Spencer Pageant fundraising table. Slices of American cheese, loaves of bread and a few sticks of butter make up the meal for people in various states of drunkenness on Court Street. My assignment is pretty simple: Butter on bread, then the cheese, press together with the final slice of bread. I learn later about the 12 meal plan swipes and two relocations it took to start selling in front of Insomnia Cookies, all while trying to keep up with what is going on in front of me.

Things start slowly, with people still trying to get a feel for how their night might turn out, and a few skeptics replying, “Maybe later!” to our offers of grilled cheese. A few sandwiches are put on to get things started, the griddle temperature is adjusted and someone brings out a Bluetooth music speaker.

We’re open for business.

***

Many of the restaurants on Court Street shut down before students pour out of the bars around 2 a.m., leaving them with limited options other than Union Street Diner and Big Mamma’s. But for many students, their night is saved with a grilled cheese sandwich, walking tacos, corn dogs or pancakes served by groups ranging from sorority girls to student groups.

So in my initiation into Athens’ favorite fundraiser, I tried my hand at making a few bucks for the Blackburn Spencer Pageant. For the past several years, students have competed in a fundraising pageant that benefits a student scholarship given during the spring semester. The competition is among some of the predominately black student organizations as sponsors for pageant contestants, however both the pageant and scholarship are open to everyone.

Students have a short time to pull funds together in addition to attending pageant-related rehearsals and meetings, not to mention classes. Ohio University senior and pageant contestant Amber Alexander had a difficult time behind the grill. Alexander explained that throughout her experience, others who said they would help didn’t show up.

Walking up Court Street is entertainment on its own. But combine drunken college students and the temptation of the warm, on-demand grilled sandwiches, and things may get a little wild.

“My roommate tried to buy a pancake with a credit card. It didn’t work,” Ohio University student Derek Williams said.

“This guy snatched a grilled cheese off of my griddle once. This guy came up to me another time talking about he knew me. He was drunk but he wasn’t about to let it go, and it just so happened that he did know me from some random class from freshman year,” Alexander said. “Oh and these two football players I never met before came up one time and started talking about how a friend of theirs did the pageant before and they helped her out, so they helped me and were flirting with girls to get them to buy grilled cheese. It was so funny.”

And the profit may be surprising.

“I do grilled cheese for myself sometimes and people give me so much money. One friend of mine gave me a whole 20,” Alexander said. “I was shocked. A teacher gave me 20, too.”

Ohio University sophomore Sana Selemon can’t pass up such a good deal.

“You really don’t want that much half the time. Like, you eat Big Mamma’s, and that’s like $6,” she said. “And you eat five bites and then you pass out. So it’s like, “‘Yeah, a dollar?’”

And by the time 2 a.m. rolls around, anything goes.

***

It’s later in the night and the music coming out of The Pigskin has grown significantly louder. Not that I have time to notice . Things have started to pick up at our little grilled cheese stand.

We have three people waiting on their grilled cheese sandwiches because we’re in a bind. The very intoxicated man who stopped by 5 minutes earlier decided it was in his best interest to buy 10 grilled cheese sandwiches for $10. To him it was probably a steal. To us it meant many quickly made half-grilled cheese sandwiches.

After we manage to get 10-grilled-cheese guy on his way, I’m tired enough to try one of the sandwiches myself.

2 a.m. Court Street grilled cheese sandwiches are definitely for the drunk at heart.

***

It’s not easy trying to make Mom’s grilled cheese on a portable griddle in the early hours of the morning, but drunken students give advice anyway.

“[Use] enough cheese to bread ratio. Sometimes I’ll get a grilled cheese and there’s not enough cheese,” one student said. “Like one Kraft Single isn’t going to cut it. You need, like, at least two.”

It seems there are six kinds of people you’ll sell grilled cheese to.

“Okay first of all, the crust and the bread has to be crunchy. Then the cheese has to be melted enough. And it can’t be soggy,” another student said. She ate her grilled cheese happily anyway, sans crust.

The fundraisers on Court have become part of the street’s identity. Go past Washington Street, where many businesses are calling it a night, and Ohio University’s student body is still wide awake.

“It’s the busiest side of town besides Mill, but it’s also a safe side so people aren’t going to be belligerent drunk or stupid walking down Court Street,” Williams said.

“It is one of the highlights of my college experience. I encourage everyone to do it now,” Alexander said. “I like that you get to interact with people and I enjoy seeing people really care about why you’re fundraising.”

Not to mention the purpose of it all. Whether they are donations to OU’s Habitat for Humanity, one of the various sororities and fraternities raising money toward a community charity or for the Blackburn Spencer scholarship, students and the Athens community donate this money, and the funds, along with the memories, are brought back to them.

***

Taijuan Moorman is a sophomore journalism major at Ohio University, specializing in African American studies and visual communications. She is assistant entertainment editor for Speakeasy Magazine and a reporter for Hip Hop Congress. She is also lactose intolerant, so that grilled cheese sandwich may not have been a good idea. Follow her on twitter @TaijuanNichole

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.

 ***

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. 

Union Street fire sheds light on Athens Fire Department

Athens Fire Department had a busy few days last month responding to the fire that affected nearly half a block of West Union Street on Nov. 16.  The fire displaced nearly 40 Ohio University students living in the block’s second-story apartments and gutted The Union Bar and Grill.

The fire had all available resources responding to the blaze, requiring assistance from nearby communities’ fire departments.

The Union Street fire was a standout incident in the fire department’s already busy year.  The Athens Fire Department currently averages over 800 responses, or runs, annually, with the department on pace to exceed that figure this year.

The current average has increased dramatically within the last decade. Ten years ago, the fire department averaged about 300 runs per year.  Fire Chief Robert Rymer says he doesn’t know what accounts for the large increase.

Athens Fire Department maintains two fire stations in the greater Athens area.  Station 1 is located north of town on Columbus Road and Station 2 is to the south on Richland Avenue.

The fire department is staffed by 22 firefighters, with seven firefighters on staff every shift.

Rymer says that nearly 35% of all runs are made to Ohio University buildings.

No data is kept for residential runs that distinguishes between university students living off-campus and local Athens residents.

 

In search of the Court Street Stench

Picture it: You’re strolling through Uptown Athens, taking in all the sights and sounds: the glowing marquee at the movie theater, the raucous laughter of buzzed college students, the feeling of weekend excitement in the air. You round the corner off Union Street and step onto Court Street when suddenly it hits you like a 10-ton bulldozer that’s been camped out at Baker all semester: A smell. A smell so foul it stings your nose. An assault so lightning quick that it’s gone as soon as you realize it’s there.

It is the Court Street Stench, and its source is unknown.

How can a town like Athens have such a stench clinging to its charming brick streets? A college town that students sometimes refer to (without a trace of irony) as “the promised land,” smells more like Chuck Palahniuk’s version of hell. How can this be?
I was determined to find out.

In order to determine the source of The Stench, I needed to first classify it. I needed to fully describe The Stench and then theorize about its source. In other words, I needed to really get a feel for the smell.

So I circled trash cans sniffing like a curious dog. I wandered down alleyways, documenting debris with photographs. I researched information on the grossest bars with the most pungent aromas.

It wasn’t enough. I smelled stenches (and lots of them), but wanted more definitive answers.

But maybe I’d been going about this the wrong way. Maybe instead of trying to track down a single stench, I should have been noting all of them.

Maybe the Court Street Stench isn’t just one smell after all. Perhaps it is a combination of smells: a putrid cocktail of bad food and bad behavior that coated our city streets.

To test this theory, I turned to the best noses for the jobs: the general public. If the public could come up with one definitive smell or source, then I’d have my answer. But if I received a mixed review, I’d know I’d been sniffing up the wrong tree.

And so, on Dad’s Weekend 2014, I took to the streets (and to the bars) to interview everybody and their father about their opinions of the vile Court Street Stench.

From hookah smoke and vomit to greasy pizza and coffee, the answers were as strange and varied as Court Street itself.

Ian Slifcak, a junior studying Spanish and Political Science, summed it up best when he said: “Court Street is a lot of smells.”

Athens city officials seem to agree with Slifcak’s statement. When asked for his diagnosis of the stench, Director of Code Enforcement John Paszke couldn’t put his finger on just one smell . . . or one cause.

“I imagine it is a combination of many things,” he replied. “The exhaust fans from the range hoods of the bars [and] restaurants, the large quantity of trash in the dumpsters, cigarette smoke from outdoor sidewalk smokers, vehicle exhaust, vomit, and depending on the weather conditions, odors from the storm [or] sanitary sewers.”

After turning to experts and laypersons, I was both entertained and repulsed by the variety of responses I had received. My sources had helped me take inventory of the smells of Court Street, and confirmed that there was, in fact, a group of Stenches, at large.

Peter Shoup, a junior studying engineering, commented that Court Street is “kind of like a progressive map … you can tell where you are based on what it smells like.”

Inspired by Shoup’s comparison, I decided to map my data, in the interest of public safety. Even the experts weren’t able to make a positive identification of the perpetrators. It was up to me to inform the public about the predators lurking around every corner uptown.

So, again, picture it: You’re strolling through Uptown Athens, taking in all the sights and sounds. You pass Jackie O’s and smell beer and a yeasty beer-making smell.

You pass the Union which used to smell like smoke due to the abundance of smokers who lined the sidewalk but now smells like smoke from the Union Street Fire.

You pass GoodFella’s and smell greasy pizza, or “cheese and floor cleaner,” as one contributor put it.

You round the corner off Union and step onto Court and smell coffee from Whit’s right before stepping into our first danger zone. The trash can on the corner smells like vomit at all hours of the day and night, and citizens are advised to avoid this area, at all costs.

You cross the street to get away and are accosted by another Stench, in the alley by Brenen’s: courtesy of a perpetually wet, dripping dumpster.

You hurry along, keeping your nose forward, trying not to attract any more unwanted Stenches when you pass the alley by Mike’s Dog Shack, which is a known Stench hideout. You hurry on, sniffing over your shoulder every few paces to make sure you aren’t being followed.

You smell cheap burritos and pungent sauce at Big Mamma’s. You smell the mustiness of Red Brick’s damp basement dance floor. You smell incense at Artifacts, gas and exhaust at BP, beer and smoke surrounding every bar, when suddenly it hits you.

You’re surrounded.

The Stenches are everywhere. You can’t hide from them. You can’t escape them. They have representatives everywhere. No one is safe.

Most of the time they won’t give you much trouble. They’re mostly just mildly irritating. They like to get in your face a little, but they don’t usually stay too long, eager to find a new victim.

But sometimes, they’re more forceful. Sometimes they gang up on you and assault you out of nowhere.

Although The Stenches can be terribly unpredicatable, many sources affectionately attribute them to the dynamic nature of Court Street.

“I kind of enjoy the different phases of smells,” commented Slifcak. “In a way, it contributes to that special feeling of Athens [because] Court Street is where it all happens. It will eat you up and spit you right back out.

“After four years, you might miss some of those strange smells.”

Investigation contributors: Ian Slifcak, John Paszke, Peter Shoup, Elisabeth Rosenfeld, Emily Mueting, Doug Mueting, Scott Scheiderer, Jessica Wuensch

***

Juliana Scheiderer is a junior at Ohio University majoring in Journalism and Spanish with a certificate in Law, Justice, and Culture. She loves writing about music, art, travel, and entertainment.

Court Street essentials

Sometimes you just need something and it’s somewhere you can’t find it. Never fear, here’s where to find all the necessities for living well in Athens.

Alcohol? There are times when you really just need a drink. Do yourself a favor and go to Pawpurr’s. It won’t break the bank and it’s definitely time to try a Dirty Girl Scout. Another great option is Broney’s at the end of Court Street. I recommend a Champagne Slushie…or four.

Pawpurr’s
37 N Court St, Athens, OH 45701 (740) 592-9890

Broney’s
7 W Carpenter St, Athens, OH 45701 (740) 592-5900

Comfort food? Sometimes all you need are some carbs and sugar to turn your day around. There is no better place than Court Street Diner for comfort food. Homemade mac ‘n cheese, chocolate milkshakes, and breakfast food will always make your day a little bit better.

Court Street Diner
18 N Court St, Athens, OH 45701 (740) 594-8700

Quiet place to study? Are your roommates being too loud? Donkey Coffee is right off of Court Street and it is the best place in Athens to grab some coffee and snag a comfy chair to do homework. Maybe you’ll even meet Hipster Prince Charming if you’re lucky.

Donkey Coffee
17 W Washington St, Athens, OH 45701 (740) 594-7353

Retail therapy? It’s scientifically proven that women feel better just holding a shopping bag. Figleaf is fun for super girly necklaces and outfits, but in all honesty, CVS is the best place to stock up on chocolate and nail polish.

Figleaf
57 N Court St, Athens, OH 45701 (740) 594-5959

CVS
32 S Court St, Athens, OH (740) 592-6024

Music? Music can heal the soul. The best place in Athens for music is Casa Neuva because they often host live bands. Get out there, meet new people, and enjoy some music and margaritas!

Casa Nueva
6 W State St, Athens, OH 45701 (740) 592-2016