Downtown bars offer what Campustown cannot

For time immemorial, the nocturnal University student has faced a critical dilemma: Do I head to campus bars or downtown bars for a night of carousing? Tastes and opinions will perpetually differ, but for my money, downtown is the place to booze for an evening.

Most college students will at some point dabble in the habit of alcohol consumption, hopefully when purportedly of a legal age. Alcohol soothes nerves, puts those day-time stresses in the distant past, and supposedly makes for a little fun. More importantly, though, it’s just what one does in college. Debbie Downers and Downcast Daves may say nay, but the prevailing decision by college students is to enjoy alcohol. Maybe Benjamin Franklin had 2010 college students in mind (maybe) when he famously said, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Drinking in the comfort of one’s place away from bars has its own merits — it is easier to relax with a few good friends — but ultimately the collegians must make their way to bars. Bars offer a more social atmosphere, full of friends and soon-to-be-friends. They offer a new and interesting environment, often with worthwhile diversions like darts or pool. More than anything else, bars offer the excitement of a night out on the town, which promises the possibility of brawny brews, moderate to mind-blowing mixed drinks, hilarity, new faces or just a good chat.

A night spent at a campus bar has its advantages. For the 90 percent of students who don’t live downtown, campus bars are a manageable walking distance. A quick stroll through the crisp Champaign night with pals and besties can quickly get you to where the alcohol is. Once there, like is surrounded by like: campus bars are full of nothing but students.

In such an environment, Joe or Joan College feels right at home. Certain behaviors and manners of speech are met not with disapproving, scolding looks, but with general merriment and a complete lack of censure. One also gets to do such things as buy $1 beers or $2 “U call its” and not feel like it’s a terrible, terrible idea. Amazingly, debauchery is not seen as socially maladjusted. Truly, college bars are the stuff of infomercials and Talking Heads tunes: they are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You may ask yourself: How do I spend so little money and get so intoxicated?

But despite the advantages of a campus bar’s out-and-out collegiate atmosphere, downtown is the better place for drinking. The selection of draft beers is far more varied and enticing downtown. Foreign and craft brews, or even a house brew, can be had. Of campus bars, only Murphy’s approaches the same kind of wide selection.

The cash-strapped college student may be wary of the more expensive drinks, but this is nothing to fret about. The final tab often comes out the same, as downtown is a place to enjoy fewer, but better, drinks. To use the over-used idiom, quality over quantity.

Downtown’s biggest advantage is its character. Though small, downtown is a cozy area that manages to be at once urban and small-town. With the assorted brick buildings and the few streets of cafes, music shops and bars, downtown feels more like a genuine social environment. It is in downtown that an inkling occurs — just an inkling — of the idea that Champaign just might be a city after all.

Whereas Campustown is a nice diversion for early college years, downtown has a wider range of bar types, and each place has a unique, definable character. Pubs like the Blind Pig Co. or Mike ‘N Molly’s have a dark but cozy décor, whereas Boltini Lounge may be described as more lively and peppy. Cowboy Monkey is a classy bar with the advantage of plentiful outdoor seating. Downtown even has a place called the Highdive, good for cheap musical entertainment.

Some college students may do a quick demographic scan of downtown and see the furrowed brows of graduate students or the oddly resigned faces of people in their late 20s and beyond and wonder if it is the right place for them. Though it is fair to have reservations about the average age of a downtown bar-goer, there is an undergrad crowd to be found.

To be fair, over-the-top debauchery might make you stand out like a good joke in a Dane Cook routine. But for those more interested in lengthy chats, comfortable ambiance and tastier alcohol, downtown is significantly better.

Ultimately, students choose campus bars or downtown bars based on what they’re looking for. This much is obvious. We can get the excess and the easy socialization on campus. But for those of us seeking a better aura and setting, as well as happier taste buds, downtown is the ideal way to booze for an evening.

Charles is a senior in LAS.