Off-campus doesn’t mean off-limits

Party-goers convene at the bar and dance at the Highdive on Saturday evening. Austin Happel

Party-goers convene at the bar and dance at the Highdive on Saturday evening. Austin Happel

By Courtney Pischke

If sanitation and top-shelf liquor are your thing, you might be at an off-campus bar.

For many students on campus, the appeal of a clean table or a functioning toilet used to take a backseat to the convenience of on-campus bars.

But that is changing as more students are attracted to off-campus bars.

“After four years of the same old Green Street scene, you start to look for something different,” said J.J. Simmons, a senior in LAS. “Downtown is, well it’s no Chicago, but it’s not the same old faces you’ve been seeing for the last four years.”

Comparing downtown Champaign to downtown Chicago has become more common within recent years, especially for those students who originally hail from the Windy City and surrounding suburbs.

“So many of my friends have been comparing our downtown bars like Barfly and Nargile to Chicago bars,” said Noreida Garcia, a senior in LAS and a native suburban girl. “Not all the bars in Chicago are like the ones we have on campus – ours are more grown up and chill while the clubs in Chicago can sometimes tend to be a different story.”

With campus-town bars like The Clybourne and C.O. Daniel’s within a block of one another, farther off-campus bars had to offer something that the others did not.

“The best thing about working here is the social part – meeting people that you can’t meet when you’re at bars on campus,” said Lisa Gabris, a senior in LAS and a bartender at Esquire in downtown Champaign. “It isn’t uncommon to see people in suits sharing the same pool table with people in cowboy hats.”

A big concern for students who do wish to venture to Main Street and the bar scene is transportation. However, as Gabris points out, it is a lot easier than one would expect. People think it’s a hassle to get to the downtown bars, but there are buses that run from Green Street every night and cabs only cost two dollars a person,” said Gabris. “The thing that people might have real concerns about is spending money at downtown bars, but what they don’t realize is how lucky they are on campus. Having friends as bartenders at Station and Gully’s who will only charge you a buck for a rum and diet is such a luxury; when they graduate they’ll see how expensive it is to go out in downtown Chicago and other cities.”

Part of the “higher prices” that Esquire and other off-campus bars charge includes more than the higher quality of alcohol that many campustown bars neglect to serve, which helps to explain why they still serve green beer months after Unofficial. These prices often include the ambience of the bar, that is, a full supply of toilet paper and tables that don’t have leftover Bud Light residue from a week ago.

Some bars go above and beyond the sanitary expectations. In addition to billiards, Esquire also offers a non-smoking section, patio, and food until 2 a.m.

“Downtown bars offer a change of scenery and more importantly, a change of faces,” said Gina Caruso, a senior in LAS. “Usually when girls get to a bar on campus without knowing anyone they usually leave right away, but at an off-campus bar you go in with the mindset of meeting new people. If you take a couple of your close girlfriends with you to Boltini or 2 East Main, for example, you’ll usually come out with at least five new friends.”