When 15-year-old Taylor Lykins stepped onto the campus of Ohio University for the first time in 2007, she was mesmerized by what she saw on the streets of Athens.
“It was house after house, party after party,” Lykins recalled. “Loud music and dancing completely took over the neighborhoods.”
“My boyfriend lived at a big party house,” Emily, a 2010 grad, said. “We always had some place to drink.”
Emily owned a fake ID but she found no reason to use it because her social life revolved around parties. Rather than barhop, she and her fellow Bobcats would spend the night jumping from one house to the next, red Solo cups in hand.
But by the time Taylor started her freshman year at OU in 2011, OU’s social scene had completely shifted.
“I went from not needing an ID when I was in high school to being a college student and all of a sudden needing an ID to do anything,” Taylor said.
Although Ohio University is known for its esteemed academic programs, rich history and quaint local flair, it is OU’s social scene that has grabbed national headlines throughout the past decade. OU graces Princeton Review’s Top Party Schools list year after year, and notorious party website BroBible recently published an entire article titled “10 Reasons Ohio University Is The Best Party School In the United States.” Both publications cite OU’s fest season, HallOUween, and homecoming traditions as the reasoning behind the university’s party school reputation — but make no mention of any house party culture.
Taylor Lykins isn’t the only student who has noticed Bobcats’ social evolution from house parties to bars: Many other Ohio University students claim house parties have all but disappeared from their social lives. Student-heavy streets like Congress and Palmer are still as chaotic as Taylor remembers, but rather than the neighborhoods overrun with Bobcats making their way from one party to another, the sidewalks are transformed into a maze of eager bar-goers heading Uptown for the night.
Unless house parties are thrown in conjunction with other events such as the fests or Welcome Weekend, OU’s nightlife now revolves almost entirely around the bar scene on Court Street.
Some students speculate that OU’s dying house party scene is a result of an ordinance passed by the Athens City Council in 2009 that makes it easier for police to shut down raging parties and prosecute disruptive students in attendance.
Before 2009, law required that police arrest and charge partiers with at least four separate violations before the party could even be labeled a nuisance. The ordinance passed five years ago requires only one violation and lets police arrest anyone who does not leave the party after it shuts down. The ordinance also deems landlords responsible for their guests’ uncontrollable behavior.
Arrested partiers face nuisance charges, which are minor misdemeanors that carry $150 fines for the first offense. If violators break the law a second time within 18 months, they face a fourth-degree misdemeanor that comes with a possible 30-day jail term and a $250 fine.
With the passing of the new ordinance, Athens City Council and the police departments have seen positive results. In the last two years alone, fest season arrests have gone down nearly 25 percent. In 2013, police arrested 156 students at house parties during High Fest, Mill Fest, Palmer Place and Palmer Fest — a significant decrease from 2012’s fest season that resulted in 353 arrests.
With many Bobcats feeling uneasy about hosting house parties of their own, students began turning to fraternity houses to throw the “raging” parties in true Animal House style. However, even Ohio University’s frats have backed away from being the go-to sources for house parties: Pi Kappa Alpha became inactive in 2012 and lost its 12 N. College St. house after officials found drugs in a warranted raid. Sigma Pi followed suit, losing its notorious 8 N. College St. house in 2013, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon is expected to lose its 57 E. State St. house early next year after a surprise membership review left nearly half of its members suspended and forced to move out.
Without house parties — Greek or non-Greek — to fall back on, this current bar trend leaves underage Bobcats in a dilemma each weekend: head out to Court Street in hopes of finding something legal to do, or risk an arrest by sneaking into bars with a fake ID. While house parties are certainly not the most effective ways to keep younger students out of trouble, OU’s former house party scene at least offered underage Bobcats more options for nighttime fun on campus.
“Other than go out to eat, there’s not much for underage kids to do on Court Street at night,” Nicolette Lambos, a freshman, said. “Unlike New York or nearby big cities like Columbus, Athens doesn’t even have a legit club scene for 18-year-olds to go to instead of sneaking into bars.”
In an effort to offer students more nightlife options, Athens attempted to open a club but it quickly failed. A dance nightclub, Evolution, was located at 19 S. Court Street and lived a short life. The Mediterranean restaurant Habibi’s opened two years ago and now sits in Evolution’s space.
In late November of this year, another club opened in the basement of Red Brick under the alias Club Underground. Hopeful that this club will be more successful than the last, Red Brick allows students 18 and older to dance the night away every Wednesday through Saturday.
But Athens’ inconsistent, on-again off-again club scene leaves many students far from hopeful.
“I doubt it will take off,” Andrew Dolan, a junior, said.
So if nightclubs and house parties are seldom found, what is an underage Bobcat to do? Type in a quick Google search of “Athens Ohio nightlife” and a list of bar after bar pops up. But of the 30-plus bars that appear from the search, only one offers 18-and-up bar nights: Red Brick.
Lauren Kumper, a Red Brick employee, said owners allow students who are at least 18 to hang out upstairs at the bar every Wednesday and Thursday.
“There’s a $3 admission and anyone under 21 can’t drink but at least there’s dancing,” Kumper said. “Wednesday night is karaoke night so a lot of freshmen and sophomores come out to the bar and do a song.”
While Red Brick offers underage students a few nights of fun during the week, these young Bobcats find themselves with limited options on weekend nights. This leaves Athens Pyramids, the local hookah bar, as the only remaining legal alternative to the Court Street bars and club scene.
Majed Batawil, Athens Pyramids owner, said his establishment has always been 18 and up.
“We don’t serve alcohol so you don’t have to be 21 to come in,” Batawil said.
Batawil said his customers are divided equally between underage students and Bobcats who are over 21 but admitted his staff still has to check IDs after a string of high school students were caught trying to sneak in.
Emily Lykins made note of the change in the campus dynamic when she returned in October for OU’s homecoming.
“It felt like it was a completely different school. Red Brick used to be so popular they had shot girls walking around and now they couldn’t get 20 people in there on homecoming weekend. I walked down the street my boyfriend used to live on and saw almost no parties.”
Lykins’ observations leave current students wondering what OU will be like when they return a few years after they graduate. With an increase in nightlife options and a decrease in house party arrests, perhaps police will loosen their grip and OU will return to its nightlife “glory days”: a time when students felt like they had more options than just a night spent drinking at (or sneaking into) the bars of Court Street.
Maria Fischer is a journalism student at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, falling somewhere between a junior and a senior. She is a self-proclaimed coffee addict and lipstick enthusiast. After completing her capstone in online publication production, promotion & design, she hopes to write for an online magazine and turn her passions for blogging and social media into a career. Visit her blog for Ohio University’s student-run fashion magazine, Thread, at http://frommetrocardstomealplans.blogspot.com.