Home for music and weirdos, I mean The Smiling Skull not my boyfriend’s house

Cheap beer, live music, and no ID requirements at the door. It’s basically what broke college student dreams are made of. While it may not be a gem to many the Smiling Skull Saloon is definitely a remarkable part of Athens.

Athens has a large music scene and The Skull is one of the many locations used as a venue to book shows for local and other up-and-coming musicians. Shows at the Skull tend to be more punk rock oriented with the occasional bluegrass band. This is only my second year at Ohio University but I’ve been able to see numerous bands at this small dive bar alone.

The crowds at shows tend to get very rowdy, especially after a night filled with drinking. Last year New York punk band, Bbig Pigg, was wrapping up the show for the night as last call approached. I was hoping to stay until the very end of show but during one of their songs a member of the audience stole the microphone from the vocalist. The microphone thief then smashed his beer bottle onto the ground. Shards of glass flew all over the place and I was so excited I didn’t realize some of the pieces cut my legs and were stuck to my clothing.

Love
Graffiti wall inside the women’s restroom

In”Smiling Skull Saloon a sanctuary for students and townies alike,” Emily Bohatch captures the essence of the bar. She said the usage of old license plates and photos hanging on the walls as decoration of bar “embodies a sense of tradition and home.”

The vintage posters and photos hung around the walls surrounded by graffiti are what make the Skull some kind of time machine for me. Even though the bar is only 16 years old the graffiti is a sobering reminder that I’m only going to be here for four years. I should enjoy it just like everyone else who left their mark somewhere in the bar.

The decorations are not the only thing that make the bar remarkable for me. It’s also the people I’ve met and stories I’ve learned. There’s always an interesting mix of patrons which make up of bikers, ‘townies’, and college students.

The most interesting to talk to have always been the older crowd of bikers and ‘townies’ because they always have a story to tell about “back in the day” and you can see how people’s eyes light up when reminiscing.

One of the most notable characters I’ve met has been Santa. A tall, older man with a beard that reaches his belly who sits by the door greeting people. There hasn’t been a night in which he isn’t filled with jokes and compliments.

Everyone in Athens has a bar that they prefer, and the Skull is definitely it for me. Many people I’ve met are usually not too excited about the idea of going to a dive bar at first but it’s an experience they end up enjoying. The Skull stands out and is unique, just like its patrons.

Little Fish Brewing Company offers brews and bites

Large Ohio cities such as Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland are known for successfully conjuring excellent craft beer (think Great Lakes and Columbus Brewing Company). Yet Athens is slowly, but surely, becoming a new hub for craft brewing. The town has long been known as being the home of Jackie O’s, but this past summer two new breweries entered the fold.

beerOne of the new establishments is Little Fish Brewing Company. The small brewery, located a short five-minute drive from campus at 8675 Armitage Road, opened in early July right before Ohio Brew Week. Athens natives Sean White and Jimmy Stockwell are the founders and owners of the operation.

The duo both started as home brewers for many years. White went on to have brewing internships and jobs in different corners of the United States but eventually came home to Athens to fulfill his dream of opening his own brewery. All of the beers served at Little Fish’s taproom are made right there at the facility. The open floor plan allows guests to see where their beer is made and stored. It’s a participatory atmosphere White and Stockwell are proud to have created.

But besides awesome beer and a unique setup, Little Fish has other special features. Currently, the brewery doesn’t yet have the ability to produce its own food. Instead, it has created partnerships with local food trucks to come to the brewery every day that it’s open. Holy Guacamole, Cajun Clucker and Mauvette’s Caribbean Fusion all make stops at Little Fish throughout the week. Having food at the brewery was always an important objective for the brewery.

“We are kind of on the outside of town, and certainly people can have food delivered here, but we thought it was important to the experience of coming to the brewery and spending the afternoon here; and if people were going to spend extended periods of time, we wanted them to have food,” Stockwell said.

Senior strategic communications student Alessa Rosa visited the brewery at the beginning of the semester with her boyfriend and his family. During her visit, she was surprised to see that one of her favorite trucks was serving food.

“Holy Guacamole was there and I almost died,” she said. “It was nice because I had been hunting Holy Guacamole down for like months and they don’t have regular times when they’re in their usual spot and I can’t find the information. So it’s nice knowing that every Thursday they’ll be there so I can go and get [it].”

Incorporating a local food truck along with the well-made craft beer made a positive impression on Rosa. She said she would like to go back sometime to try something new.

White said a long-term goal for Little Fish is to one day open an independent restaurant on site. Though the planning for this is far in the future, it’s still something he’s very excited about. Being sustainable is something the brewery is proud of and hopes to continue to improve on.

“To sort of get a real farm-to-table experience out here we can’t just have brewing ingredients out there, but maybe we’ll have a small greenhouse and some garden beds and be able to supply some of our own produce,” White said.

In the mean time, Stockwell and White are celebrating a big milestone for the company. On Oct. 24, the brewery celebrated its first bottle release of three of its brews. Stockwell said bottles are available of Saison, Woodthrush and the original version of the Reinheitsgewhat?! sour beer. Customers looking to get their hands on some brews for home can stop by the taproom or select bottle shops around town. Stockwell also said some brews are on tap at Casa Nueva, J Bar and Pigskin.

A budget bar guide for Court Street newbies

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.

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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.