Writer David Wood once joked that college was an amazing time—when parents fork over their savings to let kids go to a strange town and spend four years in a bar.
Seriously, though, the best college bars offer more than cold beers and hot cheese fries. They’re fan headquarters for away games. They’re stages where college bands become national acts. They’re divey, not sleazy, and give visitors an insider’s perspective and memorable stories, like this one from the All-American Rathskeller at Penn State.
“On a Sunday, when we were closed, someone knocked,” recounts owner Duke Gastiger. “The guy said, ‘Do you mind if my grandfather uses your restroom?’ I let them inside. His grandfather shuffles to the restroom, comes back out and yells, ‘Yep, it’s still there!’ He had carved his initials into the bathroom wall on the bar’s opening day in 1933.”
Many of our favorite college bars are steeped in such lore, while continuing to make history and win over newcomers. Ole Miss keeps an open tab at Proud Larry’s, which stocks local beer labels and celebrated its 20th anniversary in April 2013 with a live music act each day. Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater, OK, is so beloved that Oklahoma State University recently co-branded with the bar’s mascots, who now take the field on game days.
Football isn’t the only competition that draws folks to college bars. Trivia contests, open mic nights, and retro video games add to the sense of community. Regulars may even be rewarded for their attendance records. At Nashville’s Flying Saucer, those who sample 200 different brews get their names engraved on plates. It’s the kind of quality college-town bar that makes you feel welcome, even decades later and even if you’re not a Vanderbilt alum.
So here’s a toast to the mayhem of college and those bars that make it a great four years (or, in some cases, five…or six). To round out your campus visit, check out the most beautiful college libraries and check in to one of these top college hotels.