It’s a Friday night in Athens, Ohio. The air is cool; the leaves have changed color and are starting to fall. College students chirp and laugh on the streets like ants scattering out of an ant farm, all heading in different directions. They yell, “Meet us there” or “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” These are not just students. They are experts on the best places to go on Court Street.
Uptown bar life on Court Street can overwhelm newcomers. Some students don’t even venture past where the bookstores and coffee shops morph into loud bar music, tattoo parlors, and head shops. The karaoke nights with live DJs and bands or unbelievable drink specials might actually scare some people rather than intrigue them. The idea that you can leave your house with a 20-dollar bill and come back with change might seem asinine, crazy, or ridiculous, but to us broke college students there is only one word to describe it: awesome.
Court Street is known for its delicious food, festive events, and multiple bars in less than a block. Some people might judge Ohio University, saying it’s a “small town with a big drinking problem.” It’s not necessarily “a problem,” but you definitely don’t hear crickets at the bar on a Saturday night. Maybe the real problem isn’t finding a fun bar because let’s face it, they all have their perks. The real problem is getting the most bang for your buck.
Every bar offers not only different drinks, but also a different atmosphere. When out-of-towners do visit they should have an authentic Court Street experience and know exactly what to try when a bartender looks their way. As an OU senior on a tight budget, I am no longer a Court Street rookie. I’ve had plenty of sad Sundays cringing as I log onto my bank account hoping to like what I see. After four years, I think I’ve finally figured it out.
Let’s start off at Lucky’s Sports Tavern, one of the most renowned sports bars on Court Street. It’s one of the first bars you will see after heading away from campus. If you’re from out of state, prepare to be asked for multiple forms of identification. This tends to be one of the stricter bars on campus. And if you are a Browns or Bengals fan, you might want to skip this bar after seeing the black and gold that coats the walls. Pittsburgh fans, this bar might hold you captive for the entire night, and you’ll love every second of it. Start your night off with a vodka lemonade ($3.25), a drink you could order at almost any bar, but for some reason it just tastes right at Lucky’s.
Next, hop across the street to Red Brick. Prepare yourself to be surrounded by freshmen using fake I.D.s and sipping Red Bull vodkas. (Because that’s what college students drink … right?) Order the Ricci Root ($2.50) (pronounced reach-y root). It’s root beer vodka, coke, and if you’re feeling extra adventurous you can ask the bartender to top it off with a splash of Baileys. It’s refreshing and tastes just like a root beer float. Red Brick features an interesting crowd. Besides many freshmen hoping to scoot past the bouncer when he’s not looking, many local Athens residents hang out at Red Brick.
After you’ve indulged, make your way past Court Street Diner, which is perfect for a rough morning hangover, and enter The C.I. Ask the bartender at the front bar for a basket of free peanuts. They’re delicious and provide just enough nourishment to keep you going for the rest of the night. If you’re more of a beer person, the C.I. has multiple drafts to choose from. But if you can handle your liquor, order an SMC ($1.75), which contains vodka, Malibu, cranberry juice, and dragon berry vodka. It’s the perfect mix of strawberry, mango, and cranberry. C.I. is also famous for their bombs (a shot with a chaser already poured inside). The prices vary, but some definitely worth trying are dragon berry bombs or a starry night. Be careful, though. A few too many of these might end your night.
For your sanity, just walk right past Crystal. It’s the most popular underage bar. It is where most of the Greeks hang out, and it smells like sewage. As far as notorious Court Street bars go, The Crystal takes first place.
Past C.I. and Crystal, there’s Pigskin. It is a nice escape from the wooden, sticky floors and crowded spaces of the previous bars. The open area provides room for more people, and the pool and Ping-Pong tables give this bar a laid-back environment. It’s a great bar to take a break from drinking, with its ample seating areas, but I highly recommend trying their Mojitos ($5). This is the most you will spend on a drink, but the end result is more than satisfying. The atmosphere allows you to enjoy your drink rather than chugging it down as you squeeze through the crowd desperately seeking the door.
Across the street you will see Pawpurrs, the bar known for its friendly owner, drinks suitable for a college student’s budget, and the one place you will find yourself shamelessly singing along to boy band hits of the ’90s. If you’re not one to be right in the action, the open areas allow room for newcomers to just sit back, sip, and watch. Although the cleanliness and stench are only a little easier to deal with than Crystal, Pawpurrs’ perfect playlists accompanying a dancing stage and cheap drinks make the trip worthwhile. Order a Teddy Graham ($2), which is basically a White Russian with RumChata. It goes down smooth and tastes just like that childhood snack. After you’ve sipped down your drink, and maybe busted out a few Backstreet Boys songs, say goodbye and go next door to The Pub.
The Pub is small and tavern-like, but their Bloody Marys ($4) are to die for. They make them pretty spicy so keep that in mind when ordering, but as a pseudo-connoisseur, I’d say the Pub’s take the lead by far. After you’ve sipped on that, stumble right next door again to J Bar.
J Bar is known for its great playlists but pricey drinks (compared to its neighbors). The real way to go to J Bar is to drink before, that way you don’t find yourself racking up a tab there. If you’re feeling a little thirsty and craving a beverage, though, order a Crabbies ($4). It’s a ginger beer served on ice with lemon and lime, and it tastes incredible. It’s on the higher side in alcohol content but a smooth and light beer. The top level allows for plenty of space although it’s usually not empty, being an extremely popular bar among students.
For the final destination, stop by Courtside, located at the end of Court Street, to enjoy a few slices of delicious, fresh-out-of-the oven pizza (and an ice cold Blue Moon ($3.50) if you just so happen to find a few extra bucks in your pocket.). Courtside has some of the best bar food on campus, including pizza, wings, subs, salads, etc. Whatever your drunken heart desires, Courtside offers (or delivers).
“Closing Time” by Semisonic will play to signal the night is coming to an end. The lights will come on in all of the bars, allowing bouncers to start herding out crowds and prompting friends to reunite to end their night together. People will link arms, yelling to groups ahead to wait up and hugging goodbye, until tomorrow night. After you leave Courtside, you can look over your should at the lit up skyline of small-town Athens, Ohio. You are no longer lost. Athens found you and wants you to know you’re always welcome back.
Richelle Miller is a senior at Ohio University studying strategic communication and marketing. She is a coffee-addict, bookworm, music-obsessed animal lover. When she’s not in classes, studying, or working, she spends maybe a little too much time on Court Street. Her dream job is to relocate to Southern California, become a writer, and have the ocean as a backyard view.