The savory smells coming from Union Street

Walk a little ways down Union Street and you’ll start to catch a whiff of some of the deep-fried deliciousness coming from one of Athens’ finest diners. Conveniently open 24 hours a day, the Union Street Diner is the perfect place to grab a quick bite in the morning before class or at night on the way home from the bars.

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Looking in from outside Union Street Diner.

With a menu that reflects their hours of operation, you can get a wide variety of food—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and a lot of it, for prices that won’t break the bank. I first discovered USD my freshman year on a list of places all Bobcats need to go to before they graduate. I’d seen the small diner on Court Street that has a classic, old-fashioned diner look to it. So upon first arriving at USD, I was a little disappointed by the atmosphere it provided; though my thoughts soon changed.

Nestled back in one of the corner booths of USD, I opened the menu and was in immediately immersed into food heaven. There is not one thing on the menu that I wouldn’t eat. Though, I usually stick to my regular meal when I eat there – deep-fried pickles and mac & cheese bites. Having gone so regularly with my friends, I’ve got to know a little more about the servers and how the business runs.

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The inside of Union Street Diner.

One of the things I love best about USD is that they partner with other local businesses. Selling sandwiches often comes with the business of a diner, and rather than buy bread from a large distributor, USD purchases locally from Jackie O’s. Thus, giving the customer a more unique taste of what Athens has to offer.

My little sister at OU Sibs Weekend.
My little sister at OU Sibs Weekend.

Whenever friends and family come to campus, I always suggest eating at USD. It’s become one of my younger sister’s favorite places to go when she comes for Sibs Weekend. And it will forever be my favorite place to eat in Athens. Even after graduation, I will continue to come back for a meal at Union Street Diner and reminisce about of all the fond memories I have made there.

A Guardian Alien

My home in Schoonover

After a long day of classes, it is likely that you will find me sitting in the lobby at the Steven L. Schoonover Center for Communication.

After only 22 weeks in Athens at Ohio University, I have found Schoonover to be somewhat of a haven to destress, drink a cup of coffee from Front Room and to mentally prepare for the days ahead.

My favorite place in the building is the lobby, which is just large enough to fit a substantial amount of Scripps students who, like me, go there to relax, but still small enough to feel like a home. There’s even a fireplace — albeit fake — that I like to sit by when I come in from E Union St. on a cold winter’s day. If there are no seats available near the fireplace, or if I just need some time alone, I find myself gravitating toward the large green chairs that I can disappear into and get some work done.

And, while I love sitting in my little oasis on my laptop and working on assignments, there is another element of Schoonover Center that intrigues me all the same. Although to the unobservant eye Schoonover Center appears to be a building of new construction, the fact of the matter is that the building got its start as Baker Center in 1953.

The exterior of the Steven L. Schoonover Center for Communication.
The exterior of the Steven L. Schoonover Center for Communication.

I am in awe with the amount of history in the building in combination with the technological advances in the newest building at Ohio University. There’s such a contrast between the worn brick facade and the new state-of-the-art interior. Every day I learn something new about the building, whether it be a fact about the building’s history or some feature of the renovated building.

And to some, it might seem like I am always in Schoonover. In fact, two long nights first semester my friends and I even slept there. I became even more familiar those nights because in fits of desperation and pure exhaustion, me and other 18 and 19-year-old college freshmen played several rounds of hide-and-seek throughout the six-floor building at 5 a.m.

I may not know exactly how to properly pronounce it, but I am always at home in Schoonover Center.   

Smiling Skull Saloon a sanctuary for students and townies alike

The Skull is famous in Athens for its odd patrons and horrendous creation of "Skull Ale"
The Skull is famous in Athens for its odd patrons and horrendous creation of “Skull Ale”

If the 16 bars of Athens were people, the Smiling Skull Saloon would likely be the quintessential representation of Athens.

Affectionately referred to as “The Skull” by its loyal patrons, the dive bar represents the small, Southeastern Ohio town itself: the perfect fusion of faithful “townie” population and the transient students who call the city home for four years.

From its patrons to the decor covering the walls that pay homage to an interesting history of its owner and the bar itself, the Skull is the perfect mix of seedy dive bar and beloved hang out. Settled into its Union Street location in 2000, the Skull has spent 16 years acquiring character and meaning to its loyal customers. From old license plates and photos hanging on the wall to the tables defaced with carvings of people’s names, the saloon embodies a sense of tradition and home, even if it does smell a little and is in a desperate need of a powerwash. The 116 year old building housing the old watering hole only adds to the air of history.

Bargoers crowd around the Skull's bar, not to drink, but to stare intently at each other.
Bargoers crowd around the Skull’s bar, not to drink, but to stare intently at each other.

One does not have to order a drink to enjoy the Smiling Skull; one only needs a childlike sense of wonder and a natural affinity for people watching.

After walking the streets of uptown and peeking into bars like the Crystal or JBar, the world of bargoers begins to look monotonous. All the faces begin to blur together. It isn’t until one finds a biker-esque man dressed as Santa with a full, belly-lengthed beard perched on a stool at the Skull that that tedium is broken.

From the dogs often running around off-leash in the bar to the warbling of townies and students alike trying their hand at open mike night, the Skull exudes that feeling that just makes Athens Athens.

Athens Across town Battle of the Bars

Part of what makes Athens so great is there is so much to do when the sky turns dark. The nightlife scene makes Court Street come alive, with bars lining both sides of the street. There are even bars a little off the trail of Court, and every bar is unique and offers something different.

On a recent evening, I decided to compare two very different bars across town to see just how different tastes can be in Athens. I was also hoping to catch karaoke night at both, but was only successful on one front. And when determining which bars would make the best comparison, it became clear that it couldn’t get much different when it comes to the Smiling Skull Saloon and Red Brick Tavern.

So in the name of good journalism, I trekked out to visit these two bars. I also dragged my best friend along for support and to enjoy what I assumed would be mediocre karaoke.

Before this little experiment, I had never been to the Smiling Skull. Upon entering, I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in. We arrived at 9:15 and the bar was pretty dead, so it was easy to remain low-key and grab a table.

An older couple was running the karaoke table and I couldn’t wait to see who would step up to the microphone. The clientele was mostly middle-aged with a sprinkling of students, so it was going to be an interesting night. First up was a man who, unsurprisingly, sang a country song. He was actually really good.

Skull1A slew of slow karaoke songs followed that started to put me to sleep. But things got interesting when a man decided to give all he had to his performance, including dancing/flinging himself all over the stage. His wild performance gave new life to the night.

A duo of young women sang “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood while their friends videotaped them and cheered along the entire time. Shortly after another duo led the bar in a sing-a-long of “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani.

The best performance of the night was a young woman singing Tina Turner. She was so effortless. My friend and I had been chatting and not really paying attention, but as soon as she started singing we were locked in and focused. What made it even better was that she was casually sipping a beer while singing.

Once The Skull got packed, we decided to make out way over to Red Brick. I was honestly a bit embarrassed I was going there as a senior and for any reason besides Brick Break. But I swallowed my pride and went in. I was surprised to see it so busy (I guess freshmen have to go somewhere) and disappointed to find it wasn’t karaoke night.

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I have been to Red Brick for karaoke once before, and I was sad I was missing out on the disaster that it is. None of the people I saw sing here were even close to being a good singer, but they knew that and still made it wildly entertaining. Just picture a bunch of freshmen boys belting out the oldies with the occasional somewhat current song and that is Red Brick karaoke night.

Freshmen are too wild for me and I felt like a grandma this night. Watching a young couple argue right next to me was awkward but I couldn’t look away. People bumped into us and didn’t apologize. My best friend and I exchanged “I’m too old for this” sentiments.

Despite feeling like the oldest gals in the room, we had fun and danced by ourselves in a corner by the bar and people watched. People watching at Red Brick is really something.

These two bars are vastly different, but still offer a good time to their patrons.