Discover these out-of-the way dining spots

Scents of charred burgers and hot french fries flow out of the burger joints on Court Street, and greasy chicken and spicy Mexican food smells  fill the air around Union Street. It’s quiet, and people are settling down from the weekend. It’s a Sunday night and many people are home, but a few sneak out for a quick bite.

There are many restaurants on Court Street, and some are easy to miss. For more adventurous people, lesser-known places just off Court Street such as Sol, Restaurant Salaam and Zoe are hidden gems.

At 21 West Washington St., not far past Donkey Coffee, Salaam has been around since 2009. Mark and Hilarie Burhans, co-owners of Salaam, originally had a hookah café where Sol is now. They realized they enjoyed the food aspect of business much more and decided to start a restaurant that sold Middle Eastern food. Since starting the restaurant, they’ve had much success. Salaam serves global cuisine, including Indian, North African, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food.

“We first started this business to make people happy,” Hilarie Burhans said. “We stayed because we love the people.”

Salaam relies on word of mouth rather than advertising to drive business.

“Once someone comes in and tries the food, we get a loyal customer,” Hilarie Burhans said. “Everyone comes back and they always bring their friends.”

Students have heard about Salaam through organizations and classmates. “I first went to Salaam through Hillel,” OU senior Caitlin Karelitz said. “I have come back a few times after that and have loved it every time.”

Salaam’s customers are a mix of people, with students making up a smaller percentage than at other restaurants around Court Street. One reason they’re less likely to frequent Salaam is time.

Karelitz, a senior, goes Uptown more often than when she was a freshman or sophomore. “Not having a meal plan is hard when you don’t want to cook,” Karelitz said. “But also I don’t have time to visit a sit-down restaurant, which limits my options.”

Salaam offers different options from the usual chain restaurants. A popular meal to order is the falafel, which is eight discs of fried, seasoned ground chickpeas with tahini lemon sauce.

The exotic and calm vibes are very welcoming to anyone who wants to try something different, but Salaam is not the only hidden restaurant on Court Street.

Another big hit Uptown is Sol. This Cuban restaurant, 33 North Court Street, is located in the alleyway between Insomnia Cookies and Wings Over Athens. Being down an alley makes it easy to miss.

Unlike Salaam, Sol does advertise. They have a Facebook page and other advertisements. “People don’t think about Sol because not everyone likes Cuban,” sophomore Erin Pogue said. “Whenever my parents come down, it’s one of our first choices in dining.”

Sol, voted best overall restaurant two years running by the Ohio Brew Week, offers authentic Cuban cuisine as well as traditional American favorites such as steak, fish and ribs. In addition to the variety of food options, Sol offers more than 24 rums, 30 different bottled beers and a selection of red and white wines to complement their menu.

Sol is most known for its brunch starting at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, which is why many students dine there with their parents when they visit. Sol is definitely a place students can go on a budget. Two poplar menu items are the Mac & Cheese with BBQ Pork and the Sol Breakfast, both of which are under $10.

“I think I had a good first experience at Sol,” junior Sammy Presti said. “We went for my friend’s birthday and they had the table ready to go when we got there, which was really nice.” On the weekends it is good to make reservations because it is hard to predict how busy it will be. The best times to go are when they open, either at 11:00 a.m. or 5 p.m. That way they are not as packed.

The third restaurant many people don’t know about is Zoe. This upscale, sophisticated restaurant may be off the radar of the average college student due to its prices. Zoe has a nice bar with a variety of drinks. This is the perfect place for a date night or business meeting.

“I go to Zoe about three or four times a year, and it’s often for business,” Athens native Chris Gillespie said. “The other times are when I get an invitation from friends because usually they pay.”

Zoe differs from Salaam and Sol because they have different styles of food. The food is higher end, specialty items. Originally Zoe served French-American fine dining. Now they still have some French items but have a wider variety in foods such as vegetarian, chicken, steaks and seafood. This is not the place to go to order a burger and fries. The food changes so often that the menus are paper and not laminated. During the summer they have seasonal desserts that include melon-flavored sherbets, a Paw Paw dessert and Baked Alaska. This high-end dining is already exclusive based on the items they serve, but being a little farther off Court Street gives them a physical seclusion.

“The one downfall is there is no place to park,” Gillespie said. “Despite the parking problems, the quality of food outweighs the minor flaws.”

Zoe is a family owned restaurant and has been at its current location, 24 1/2 E. State Street, just past Passion Works Studio, for the past six years. Zoe was started by owner Scott Bradley nine years ago and was previously located in The Plains, where Fluff’s Rickshaw Thai restaurant was more recently. Zoe draws many Athens natives and university faculty members, but many young couples will come in for a special occasion such as Valentine’s Day. Over time they have attracted a younger crowd and hope to continue this growth.

“Zoe has this stigma of being this expensive place,” Front of the House Manager James Farley said. “Once people come in and look at the menu, they discover that it is not as expensive as they think and are usually pleasantly surprised.”

Zoe’s prices may not be the cheapest, but the food that is served justifies the higher prices. Foods that are found on their menu include, cedar plank roasted salmon, flat iron steak, and scallops. The flat iron steak is an $18 meal, which includes a 6 oz. steak, mashed potatoes and vegetables. A very popular and inexpensive meal is the Asiago Gnocchi, which is only $9. This is a great on the go meal for a student who is on a budget, but is tired of the same meal every weekend.

The interior design gives off a fancy, sophisticated look. The open kitchen allows customers to see the cooking in progress. On top of that, they have a mixology night every Wednesday where they have a special cocktail menu separate from their everyday cocktail menu. “During mixology night, we often see many groups of women or men rather than couples,” Farley said. “They are just looking for a relaxing night and usually set up in the bar section.”

Zoe gets its name out through advertisements on WOUB and occasionally running an ad in the Athens News. Most of their service comes from word of mouth. Many regulars will come and bring their friends.

“Location I think is definitely a big reason people don’t know about us because we aren’t directly on Court Street,” Farley said. “I always see people walk past this window, look in and then look up at our sign to see the name and then continue walking. They just don’t know we exist.” The big weekends such as Homecoming and Parents Weekend bring in a lot of customers. Zoe also gets a fair number of customers through business meetings and interviews.

Restaurant Salaam, Sol and Zoe have so much to offer, but their locations stop them from being top of mind. If students break out of their regular routine and go try out these hidden gems, they might just discover a new place they love.

Sidebar: A look inside the restaurants.
Here’s where to find three great dining spots

 

***

Andie Danesi is a junior Publication Design/Infographics major with a minor in Journalism. She hopes to one day become an art director at a magazine, but until then she values each experience as an opportunity to grow as she continues her love for design. Check out her design portfolio. 

Court Street’s historical gem: Carsey’s Barber Shop

Court Street has become an extension of the quintessential college town that is Athens, Ohio. Students of Ohio University have turned this historical street into an avenue for partying. As more bars take the place of old shops and restaurants, the locals have had to establish their “townie” hangouts elsewhere. But, despite the party culture, one business has managed to preserve its historical presence on Court Street and offers a glimpse into the past.

The iconic red and white pole seems to swirl from a distance, and can be spotted from several blocks away on Court Street. When you walk into Carsey’s Barber Shop it’s like walking into the ’50s. Black, brown, white and red hair is scattered on the floor. The sound of electric blades wrestles with chatter about the holidays, the game, and the wife and kids. Old advertisements for Coca-Cola and Marlboro cigarettes plaster the walls. University letter jackets hang next to a businessman’s coat on the rack by the door.

This is a man’s world, and it’s obvious that no matter where the customer has come from, he expects nothing less when he walks through the door.

Four proud barbers line the mirrored wall. On the end, you’ll find Mr. Carsey himself, well his son that is, standing behind a leather seat, meticulously combing his customer’s hair. Max Carsey has been a barber his whole life. His father, Jesse Carsey, who still lives in Athens, started the business in 1942 when Max was just a baby. Max grew up in the shop and watched his dad cut men’s hair until one day, he would be old enough to do the same.

“I had so much fun in there, I decided I wanted to be like him,” Carsey said.

Carsey has seen the transition of Court Street’s businesses from a window shop’s view. He reminisces about “the good old days” when he could take a sack of coins to Woolworth’s Five and Dime and fill his pockets with candy. Now, he says, there is nothing but bars and restaurants.

But Carsey has made a point to maintain a high level of tradition in the shop. There is no music playing, no flat screen televisions lining the walls and no selection of flashy hair products. Carsey’s is the real deal. Men go for a good haircut, not the special treatment.

“I’ve been to several of the barber shops,” said Todd Wilson, owner of Sol restaurant. “They have the best haircuts here.”

The regulars at Carsey’s aren’t just Athens’ locals, they are students as well. Matt Watts, a junior at Ohio University, is a regular at Carsey’s.

“I like the vibe here, it’s quick, cheap and easy,” said Watts.

Carsey’s also prides itself on truly knowing their customers. Alan Trout, barber at Carsey’s for 19 years, has many regulars and he considers them his friends. On the off chance that Trout doesn’t recognize the next guy to walk in, he will make a point to learn their name.

“You just don’t get that kind of interaction anywhere else,” Trout said. “It’s a lot of the reason I have this job.”

All four barbers at Carsey’s are trained to use a straight blade, which is hard to find these days. A straight blade is considered dangerous and technique must be mastered before a barber is qualified to use one. Brian Muschott, barber at Carsey’s for three years, said he wouldn’t shave his customer’s hair any other way.

“I know when I walk in here, I’ll walk out with a good cut,” said Watts.

Carsey’s never has a slow day. Customers are in and out all day long, each one of them leaving satisfied with a clean, new haircut. And it is the combination of good conversation, a good haircut, and a sense of tradition and pride in their work that Carsey’s has managed to overcome the flood of students on Court Street and withstand the test of time amidst the chaos of modern life.

***

Cassie Kelly is a student journalist at Ohio University. She is working toward a certificate in environmental studies and hopes to pursue a career in science journalism. You can find her hiding out in Village Bakery, typing away on her beloved MacBook. 

 

A Chinese dad struggles to understand his ‘American kids’

As Lam K. Wong was recalling the old days, a tall, overweight young man walked into Peking Express. Wong stopped talking immediately and proudly introduced his son to everyone present. Although Wong is unhappy about his son sometimes, he could not take his eyes off him when he walked in. But it seemed this young man was not very comfortable being introduced to strangers in this way. He merely nodded and walked into the kitchen with no expression.

There were not many customers in Peking Express at 3 p.m. that Thursday afternoon. Its owner, Wong, had sat in front of a table covered with piles of bills and napkins, doing bookkeeping before his son walked in. Two young employees leaned against the wall and watched a Chinese soap opera on TV.

“I don’t like food there, but the restaurant’s owner is a good guy. He is very funny and looks a lot like the Hong Kong comedian Ng Man Tat,” customer Serenitie Wang said.

Peking Express is a Chinese restaurant at 5 N Court Street, Uptown Athens. Although it is somewhat ordinary, it is still quite popular at Ohio University, which has a large population of Chinese students. Many of them even regard it as another campus cafeteria.

“Price is good. Food is OK. And its owner is nice,” Qing Huang, a regular costumer, commented. Just like Huang, most costumers only have an impression that the restaurant’s owner is a nice, chubby middle-aged guy with gray mustache. But not many people know that in addition to being a businessman, Wong is also an immigrant and a Chinese father of two “American kids.”

Opened in September 2004, Peking Express just celebrated its 10th year. When discussing it, Wong put down his pen and pointed at a framed, yellowed Athens News story on the wall covering its opening.

Wong looked a bit tired because he flew back from New York City the previous night. He owns a house in New York. His daughter, Winnie Wong, lives and works there. She majors in hotel management in college. Wong said she was going to move to Hawaii soon because she wanted to work in a new environment.

Besides a daughter, Wong has a son, Jackque Wong, who is an undergraduate student at OU. When he talked about his son, there was a hint of helplessness in his face.

“He just transferred his major from physical therapy to global studies. Why does he choose non-practical major like this? Americans like war. People get injured. You can easily get a job if you graduate as a physical therapist. I really don’t understand these American kids,” Wong said, shaking his head.

Both of his children were born and spent their childhood in Brooklyn, New York. Instead of calling them by name, Wong always calls his two children “these American kids.”

“So I strongly support his decision to apply for an exchange program to Hong Kong. I do hope he can improve his Mandarin and Cantonese in that good language environment. He should not forget where does he really come from,” Wong said.

In Chinese society, children like the Wongs are called ABC, which means American Born Chinese. Though it is a relatively neutral term, when people talk about ABC, they generally assume the children have completely lost their Chinese heritage.

But in the U.S., it seems Americans regard ABC as Chinese. “I have been stereotyped in many ways in the past. Some stereotypes include my driving, my knowledge on mathematics, and others,” Jackque Wong said.

This is a dilemma many ABCs face. “Like my son, he barely hangs out with his Chinese friends,” Wong said with a sigh. “He said his girlfriend must be an ABC too. Or he does not know how to get along with her. This is too much! People from totally different cultural backgrounds can fall in love and get married. Why can’t he marry a Chinese girl? So ridiculous.”

Running a restaurant is never an easy job. That’s why Wong did not spend much of his time with his children when they were little kids. He sent them to Chinese kindergarten to learn Mandarin. But they forgot much of what they learned because they didn’t have an opportunity to practice it after leaving the Chinese kindergarten and attending an American elementary school.

“I have a good relationship with my parents. There is still a language barrier that exists from time to time because I am so used to speaking English. My parents never have the time to properly teach me Chinese, therefore I speak to them ‘broken-Chinese’ that mainly includes some Cantonese and Fuzhounese added together,” Jackque Wong said.

After a moment of silence, Lam Wong said, “Sometimes I really want to live with these kids together, as traditional Chinese families do. But as you can see, it is impossible. I am getting old and they are working for a better future.”

Lam Wong was born in 1958 in Fujian, a costal province in south China. Fuzhounese is the main dialect in this province. Since ancient times, Fujianese have immigrated to Taiwan, Hong Kong and many other regions and countries of the world to escape famine and poverty. Almost right after he was born, his family immigrated to Hong Kong, which was a British colony at that time. Immigrants from Fujian Province have flooded to the U.S. since the 1980s. Fujianese are still the main population in Chinatowns around the U.S. Wong became one of them and went to the United States in 1980. Just like his own description, he was one of the people who “keep moving and immigrating.”

He spent his first 20 years in America in New York and moved to Ohio in 2001. He was not willing to talk much about how he gained the citizenship. Wong now owns two restaurants. The other one is near OU’s Chillicothe campus, about an hour drive from Athens.

Discussing  his retried life, Wong said, “I am going to be a volunteer in a Buddhist temple in New York when I am too old to run a restaurant, though I am not much of a Buddhist. And I will for sure fly back to China every year as I have done for the last decade,” he paused, “because it’s home.”

However, to Jackque Wong, “home” is more like a foreign country. He recalled, “I have been to China once as a very young child, but I cannot remember much because of how long ago it was.”

 ***

Guo Zu is a master student studying journalism at Ohio University. She comes from Beijing, China. She speaks and writes in English and Chinese. She is also a graphic designer and travel enthusiast. She wants to be a columnist. 

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

One girl’s guide to Court Street

The bricks of Court Street go a long way toward defining it: dirty, burnt red. It’s both beautiful and ugly, much like my time on Court Street. I’ve had my fiery red nights of happiness, making new friends and falling in love. But I’ve also had my fair share of dingy, depressing poop-brown nights where I’ve lost my best friend or just been a mess.

Through it all though, I’ve become someone quite different than when I arrived here a little over two years ago — just as time has changed those iconic bricks.

Court Street is about more than wild nights. It’s about all the times spent trying to discover who you are as a person, and not just a college student. I’ve had my heart broken on Court Street. I’ve made some of my dearest friends at the bars. I’ve eaten my weight in burritos and wings and then attempted to fit into the tiny dresses at Figleaf. But most of all I have learned what it means to be alive — all on this one little stretch of road in a small town in Ohio.

As I near the middle of my junior year, I’ve realized that now it’s time for me to share my story with new Bobcats so that they make the most of their time on Court Street.

Before I even arrived for my first night as a freshman in Scott Quadrangle, Court Street played a major role in my life. I remember walking down to get chocolate ice cream at Whit’s as a 7-year-0ld with my parents and Brian Wiebe, my older brother, who also attended Ohio University. I was amazed at all Court Street had to offer, and I always wanted to go back whenever we would visit my brother. Court Street was a magical place as a kid, but it eventually would come to disappoint me at times.

However, when it came time to decide where I would go to school, the obvious choice was Ohio University because it was a second home and felt familiar. I still have my very first photo that my mom took of me outside of the gates to the entrance of College Green during freshmen orientation. The gate reads, “So enter that daily thou mayest grow in knowledge, wisdom, and love.” I look happy, confident, and scared.

Freshman Orientation. Photo taken by Lola Wiebe
Freshman Orientation. Photo by Lola Wiebe

I had little to no idea what all would happen during my time at OU, but I knew that it was going to be the biggest adventure of my life so far. I learned so much from my time on Court Street — lessons that could not have been taught in a classroom in Bentley or Morton Hall.

My first, most memorable memory was my first HallOUween. I was head-over-heels for this guy I had awkwardly met in my dorm, and I thought he felt the same way. We kept going back and forth on whether or not to date, and eventually decided we were somewhat exclusive but still not dating.

What’s that supposed to mean?

My freshman head did not know. Spoiler alert: We did not work out. Long story short (prepare for a run-on sentence): I kissed another guy, he got mad, he takes me on a date to Pita Pit, I think we’re back on, I invite him to a HallOUween party, he shows up with another girl, I freak and wind up running down Court Street with my best girl friend trying to make out with every boy in sight.

Classy, right?

To this day, I still do not know how many boys I actually kissed that night. It is not a pretty story, and quite frankly makes me sound incredibly stupid. But I realized that I didn’t need him to determine my happiness, and I certainly didn’t need uncertainty in a “relationship.” It was my friend who was there for me when I needed someone, and not the random dude from Scott Quad.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t settle for anything less than being and feeling fabulous. Value the people who are there for you, who make sure you make it back to your dorm/apartment/house.

That wasn’t the only time I had my heart broken on Court Street. The second time was a lot harder to deal with because we had been going out for nearly two years.

When you go from love to being told “Let’s just be friends,” life sucks. There’s nothing you can do about it and you just sit around thinking about how things should have gone differently. At least that’s what I did for a little while.

“The Break-up” was unexpected, confusing, and told me that perhaps I should invest in Kleenex and Dove chocolate. This taught me much more than just “don’t make out with everyone.”

Living above Subway on Court Street my junior year has been one of the best and worst parts of my time at OU. A number of my friends from Scott Quad also live in the apartments above Subway, including the boy who broke my heart the second time. There have been several awkward times since “The Break-up” where I’ve run into “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” but far more happy times with some of the best people I’ve ever met.

In my prime. Photo taken by Katherine Webster
In my prime. Photo by Katherine Webster

An uncomfortable run-in in the hallway is not what I’m going to remember about my time above Subway. Rather, I’m going to remember the nights my roommates and I took too many shots and danced on our surprisingly solid coffee table to Taylor Swift. I’m going to remember the summer night when I came down to check out the new apartment and wound up laying in the middle of Court Street at 4 a.m. Don’t ask.

Court Street can’t always be a fairytale. There are a ton of disappointments in life, but I’d much rather remember the times I felt like a whole person and not a sad shell. The thing about breaking up is that you get over it. One day I just woke up and DIDN’T think about it. I stepped out of my apartment on Court Street and it was a damn beautiful day to be 20-something and fearless.

LESSON LEARNED: It’s not easy being alone, but it’s better than wasting your time with someone who doesn’t make you truly happy. Bad things will happen, but they make the good moments all the more sweet.

My final and favorite memory of Court Street was very recent. Anytime I have been upset, I’ve turned to retail therapy. Or alcoholism (kidding). At nearly the same time “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” and I broke up, my roommate and her ex-boyfriend also broke up.

We consider ourselves much like Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins from Parks and Recreation, and we decided it was time to take some advice from two other characters from the series. Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle, two bureaucrats from the show, always talk about how you should “Treat Yo’ Self!” So naturally, my roommate and I did just that. A day that perhaps should have been spent doing homework was spent heading out to the bars at 3 p.m. It’s five o’clock somewhere, right? We ordered our favorite beverages and toasted to treating ourselves.

Sometimes the responsibilities can be put on hold for a couple hours. I am a strong believer in being kind to yourself when you’re feeling down or in serious need of a break from working hard. At the same time, though, be kind to your friends. Make them go eat with you if you know they aren’t feeling the greatest about life. Buy them a stupid card and some nail polish to cheer them up about a failed test. Or, just go drink for a bit at Pawpurr’s or the CI.

LESSON LEARNED: Treat yo’ self. Treat yo’ friends. Drink a little and shop a little, but don’t go overboard. Time heals everything, but not your bank account or liver.

Brian, the first person who introduced me to Court Street, said, “There’s a saying I’ve heard that is something to the effect of, ‘There is a time and a place for everything, and it’s college.’ OU gave me an opportunity to experiment and try new things, both academically and socially. So I would tell new Bobcats to experiment and have fun, but also to do so in a way that maintains both self-respect and respect for others.”

Brian Wiebe and sister Diana Wiebe. Photo taken by Lola Wiebe
OU siblings Brian Wiebe and Diana Wiebe. Photo by Lola Wiebe

Take it from him and me, two Bobcats, to cherish the time you have here because there’s no place like OU. Once your time here is over, it’s really the REAL world. Be appreciative of the precious time you have here and don’t waste it crying over someone or something that isn’t what is right for you.

Life is far from simple, and it only seems to get more complicated the more time goes by. However, the time spent at OU teaches people more about life than they realize. I am still learning as a junior, and I’ll be sad to leave in a little over a year. Court Street has been the epicenter of my learning experience and taught me a lot about the difference between being an adult and a kid, though I still act like a kid from time to time.

I’m not the same person I was in that picture right before I came to OU, but I’m definitely still happy, confident, and somewhat scared. Just like those bricks on Court that I’ve lain on, I may not be wild and fiery red on the outside, but I’m more solid and secure in who I am than I used to be.

 ***

Diana Canada Jean Wiebe is a junior studying journalism and political science at Ohio University. She is the Editor-in-Chief of FANGLE Magazine, a member of Phi Alpha Delta Pre-law Fraternity, and an account associate for ImPRessions. Her dream job is to become a litigator on the West Coast.

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.”

***

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.