Iconic College Bars
Immerse yourself in the timeless student traditions and signature drinks that have transformed these watering holes into stomping grounds for the college crowds.
Photo By: Larry Field ©Larry Field Photography
Photo By: Ivan Barajas ©IBS IMAGEN 2013
Three Cheers for the Campus Crowd
Universities have become known for many things — academics, sports, theater — but many of their alumni also have fond memories that were made outside of the campus confines. We’re talking about that tradition-steeped space where students head once they hit legal drinking age: the local watering hole, of course. College bars across the country have received iconic status for their late-night bites, timeless university memorabilia, and shared experiences that have built comradery among students and alumni. Ready to get nostalgic? Here are some of the most-quintessential college bars from coast to coast.
Photo courtesy of The Swamp Restaurant
The Swamp Restaurant: University of Florida
Gator fans know this is the place to be in Gainesville for game-day fun, which spills out from the bar onto the front lawn. Dogs can even take part in the festivities, as the restaurant has a whole menu just for them. And the dishes dreamed up for the human diners go well beyond basic bar fare, with options that include Hawaiian pork quesadillas, spicy tuna bowls and gator tail tacos, which are a signature dish. Patrons also pack in for the drinks, such as the Swamp Juice cocktail, filled with the tastes of the topics: Parrot Bay Coconut, raspberry rum, banana liqueur, a splash of pineapple and fresh lemon.
Photo courtesy of The Swamp Restaurant
Go to: The Swamp Restaurant
Dirtbag’s: University of Arizona
This Tucson bar has become a part of the University of Arizona tradition over the course of its 30-plus years of existence. Students often swing by to pregame with brews and a bite before heading out to the stadium — or they make it their main destination for the night. The bartenders take creative liberty with the shot selection, serving concoctions that include a cherry cheesecake and an oatmeal cookie one-sipper. Fried munchies are a must: Mushrooms, zucchini, cheese sticks, onion rings and fries (all served with housemade ranch) are a sure bet when it comes to satisfying late-night cravings. The crowds often stick around into the wee hours, with classics blaring from the jukebox at this partycentric spot.
Photo courtesy of Dirtbag's
Go to: Dirtbag’s
Dixie Chicken: Texas A&M
Ask an Aggie where to hang in College Station and you’ll likely be pointed in the direction of the Dixie Chicken. This jumping joint features live music on the back porch and comforting bar bites such as the Tijuana Fries (or Tfries) loaded with mounds of melted cheese, bits of bacon and jalapeno. There’s also Aggie football games aplenty playing on the mounted televisions, of course. It’s a rite of passage to do the Ring Dunk — an age-old tradition of a student's Texas A&M ring being dropped to the bottom of a beer pitcher and the student drinking the beer until the ring can be grabbed between his or her teeth.
Photo courtesy of Dixie Chicken
Go to: Dixie Chicken
CJ’s Pub: Notre Dame University
The burgers are a big draw at this pub, which churns out oversize patties to soak up all those suds. The gargantuan Super Pub burgers weigh in at more than a half-pound each. And with more than 45 different varieties available, there is something for every meaty mood. Many are cleverly named, such as the Hockey options topped with Canadian bacon and Swiss cheese. A fan favorite is Da’ Boss, which comes blanketed in two sauces (barbecue and jalapeno cheddar cheese) and crowned with fries and an onion ring. In addition to the burgers, students and alumni alike head here for the festive atmosphere; revelers may be found cheering on the Fighting Irish, dancing around the bar or tucking into late-night bites.
Photo courtesy of CJ's Pub
Go to: CJ’s Pub
The Sink: University of Colorado
This funky spot has long been a part of campus life at the University of Colorado for many a student — the Boulder hangout is even housed in a former frat house. A restaurant since 1923, its very walls pay homage to the many patrons who have passed through here, with a ceiling signed by thousands. Its reputation has spread beyond the confines of the nearby campus, with President Barack Obama, Anthony Bourdain and other high-profile visitors stopping by. Guy Fieri even featured the crowd-pleasing Ugly Crust pizza (named for its often misshapen crust) on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The Sinkburger is another food favorite, while the craft beer list dominated by local Colorado breweries is a huge draw as well.
Photo courtesy of The Sink
Go to: The Sink
Eskimo Joe’s: Oklahoma State University
As the name implies, you can always find arctic-cold brews flowing at Eskimo Joe’s. Fans also stop in for the cheese fries, which come in indulgent options such as chili cheese or sweet peppered bacon. So popular is the signature dish that it was featured on an episode of Food Network’s Unwrapped and also scored a public shoutout by former President George H. W. Bush. Beyond the food, students and alumni head here for the intimate live music concerts, the Wheel-O-Beer and a dose of OSU spirit at Stillwater’s Jumpin’ Little Juke Joint. Many who make the pilgrimage pick up a T-shirt emblazoned with the bar’s smiling cartoon logo, which has become as iconic as the bar itself.
Photo courtesy of Eskimo Joe's
Go to: Eskimo Joe’s
Peanut Barrel: Michigan State University
The Peanut Barrel’s patio is the place to be when the frigid Michigan temperatures are at bay, but even colder weather doesn’t stop the crowds from congregating at this hopping bar. Libations include Michigan craft beers available in pints and growlers, as well as a Long Island iced tea that has become somewhat of a local icon. The burgers are a great way to counterbalance the effects of this boozy favorite, which is so strong that there’s a two-drink limit. And as the name suggests, there are peanuts — and lots of them. Bowls brimming with the unshelled salty snack are provided free of charge. Patrons can often be found playing darts and corn hole, while others perch at the bar to watch their beloved Spartans.
Photo courtesy of Peanut Barrel
Go to: Peanut Barrel
Nick’s English Hut: Indiana University
If you want to find a Hoosiers basketball lover around Indiana University, you can likely find one watching hoops at Nick’s, which has seen the rowdy crowds through quite a number of championship games. But in addition to basketball, there’s another game that’s also beloved at this bar: Sink The Biz, which has become a Nick’s tradition. The rules are easy: Float the “biz” (a highball Bismarck glass) into a bucket filled with beer and count to three. If the biz doesn’t sink, you are in the clear; if it does, you must drink the glass full of beer. The game has become such a marquee part of the bar that Nick's even sells Bismarck sets.
Photo courtesy of Nick's English Hut
Go to: Nick’s English Hut
The Tombs: Georgetown University
This popular college bar housed in a circa-1800s townhouse is steeped not only in beer, but also in tradition. Rowing gear from Georgetown’s crew teams adorns the walls, as do the names of students who have been inducted into the bar’s 99 Days Club. Those daring enough to attempt membership must appear at The Tombs each of the last 99 days of the school year. The iconic spot draws students not only for late-night drinks, but also for late-morning meals, as the brunch menu is rife with comforting morning staples and burgers to boot. The Tombs’ reach stretches beyond the university community, as the bar made its mark in pop culture as well, serving as the model for the pub in St. Elmo’s Fire and as a location in The Exorcist.
Photo courtesy of The Tombs
Go to: The Tombs
The Brown Jug: University of Michigan
At The Brown Jug, it’s a sure bet that anytime a University of Michigan football game is televised, it will be playing at the bar, with a crowd of students likely cheering at the screens. A college hangout since it opened in the mid-1930s, this spot takes its name from the coveted football trophy — an earthenware water jug — that has passed between Michigan and Minnesota for more than a century. Along with the brews, the bar features a full food menu with most items named after well-known Wolverine alumni, think Tom Brady’s Gyro Sandwich and Charles Woodson’s Stacked Ham. Longtime patrons love the pizza and burgers — and, of course, the opportunity to catch a game in this nostalgic haunt.
Photo courtesy of The Brown Jug
Go to: The Brown Jug
Funkys: University of Mississippi
A New Orleans-style bar that slings New York-style pizza may sound mismatched, but the combination has proved to be quite popular among University of Mississippi students. In addition to the made-from-scratch pies, this self-billed daiquiri bar offers a number of frozen variations on the classic cocktail. Options include a traditional hurricane cocktail that fits right in with the Big Easy theme, as well as signature drinks that take the standard recipe up a notch. One popular pick is the Taylor Swift, which is made from a mixture of the bar’s three strongest daiquiris and topped with a shot of 151. And though Funky’s seems to channel more of a Bourbon Street vibe with its collection of colorful trinkets, the University of Mississippi spirit runs strong here, particularly on game days.
Photo courtesy of Funkys
Go to: Funkys
The Esso Club: Clemson University
To know Clemson University is to know The Esso Club, as it has been a rich part of the campus history since 1933. Many a sportscaster has popped in for a drink at this bar that bleeds Tiger orange. For more than five decades, The Esso was operated as a service station that also offered brews, and its exterior still has the look of an old-timey gas station. There are picnic tables aplenty outside, where game-day viewing with beer in hand is a beloved tradition. Inside, the walls are plastered with enough college memorabilia — hats, articles, photos and the like — to fill a small museum. The bar’s current team isn’t stuck in the past, though, as modern menu additions are dreamed up often (Esso Club sweet potato ale, anyone?).
Photo courtesy of The Esso Club
Go to: The Esso Club
Smokey Joe’s: University of Pennsylvania
Smokey Joe’s — or "Smokes," as it’s often called — is a Penn institution. This partycentric spot has all the hallmarks of a storied campus bar. Live music: check. Sports memorabilia: check. Drink specials: check. Students flock here on cleverly named nights, such as Sink or Swim, to down the cheap beer and mixed drinks that the bartenders sling all evening long. And for braniacs who can hold their booze, there’s a Quizzo Night. This trivia night has long been a tradition at bars around the university (this is an Ivy League campus, after all).
Photo courtesy of Smokey Joe's
Go to: Smokey Joe’s