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Athens bars hold an intoxicating past

Throughout the decades, the bar scene in Athens has seen many establishments come and go. One thing has remained the same, however, that draws in so many current and former Ohio University students: the fiery atmosphere and history that Athens bars emit, quite literally. 

“One thing I remember is that Court Street has or had, I think it still does, a reputation for having big fires,” George Eberts, an instructor in OU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and a resident of Athens since 1978, said.

Fires have long devastated many historical buildings along Court Street, including a handful of bars. Dating all the way back to “The Great Fire” that destroyed much of Court Street from East Union Street to the Athena Cinema, many bars have suffered damage and even fate to the fiery history of Court Street.

Recent examples include The Pigskin, 38 N. Court St., which sustained $7,000 in damages due to a fire breaking out one night in July 2012. In November 2014, another blaze damaged a block of buildings on West Union Street, including the building that contains The Union Bar, 18 W. Union St., and Jackie O’s Public House, 22 W. Union St. 

One bar that has stood the test of time and has had its sticky wood floorboards remain undamaged by fires happens to be the oldest bar in Athens. Originally known as the College Inn, the C.I., 32 N. Court St., has been serving residents and students since 1917. 

According to a previous Post report, The College Inn was founded by Steve G. Tatalos, who opened the bar at just 16 years old after moving to Athens from Turkey. Tatalos owned and operated the bar for 50 years, after the historic bar saw multiple changes in owners before being purchased by its current owner, Don Pepper, in 1979. 

It also happened to be the late 1970s when Eberts moved to Athens. One bar he recalls being the talk of the town back when he came to Athens was a place named Swanky’s. Operated from 1972 to 1982, Swanky’s was located on the east side of South Court Street, between West Union Street and West Washington Street.

“I was only in there once when it was still in business, but you can see people shooting up in there,” Eberts said. “Smoking dope was never any problem, and it was just like a cave of sin. It was where the heavies could go to do whatever they wanted to do.”

Swanky’s had a hipster-like reputation but had an owner who was as debauched as it gets, Eberts said.

“When they got closed down, I think it was as a result of a massive, irreversible bust,” Eberts said. “He (the owner) did time. When he got out, he became a preacher of abstinence and straightness and recovery.” 

Another bar Eberts recalls hearing much about after his transition to Athens is Studio 38. 

“You supposedly had to be a member, and all the cool ‘yappies’ were members there,” Eberts said. “So, if you were a social worker, in the local mental health agency, you could get a membership there. It was a bit exclusive.”

Throughout the 1980s, The Greenery built a strong reputation around drunk dancing and a rowdy atmosphere. The bar captured and disposed of many students' soberness and, since it closed down, the bar’s loyal patrons have taken to Facebook to continue to share memories from the bar's run. 

“Usually, The Greenery was a lot more underclassmen, like freshmen, sophomores would go in there,” Jason Beatty, an alumnus from 1997, said. “So, it would be nuts down on that end of Court Street”

Although The Greenery never shorted students of a good time, Beatty recalls a different bar having the best beer deals during his tenure at OU. The Nickelodeon, commonly referred to as “The Nick,” was a bar based out of the bottom floor of what now is Bromley Hall. 

“Back in the day, on like Friday afternoon, they would have dime drafts,” Beatty said. “Like, who does that? I don't care how big the draft is. You could just go in there for like $1.”

The Nickelodeon lasted throughout the 1980s and 1990s and, despite being defunct for a while, its most loyal fans have also taken to Facebook to share their favorite memories, even the ones they can’t remember. 

“To me, Night Court was the best bar in Athens back when I was going to OU, so probably mid '90s, to late '90s — Night Court, by far, best place in Athens,” Beatty said. “There's other places that are sort of similar, but that had to be, Friday, Saturday nights, that was the place to go.”

Beatty recalls Night Court not just being a bar that offered karaoke and cheap drinks but also a place full of stories that would be hard to create at Athens bars today.

“What you won't see now that we used to see at Night Court a lot was lining up the flaming lemon drops,” Beatty said. “The owner would line up shots … come across with 151 rum across the top of it and literally light all of them on fire at the same time, and half the time the whole bar would just catch on fire.”

Mixing alcohol with college students is always bound to create rowdiness but, in 1997, Beatty witnessed a monumental moment on Court Street, that being the Time Change Riot of 1997

Chaos on Court Street sparked after the bars closed earlier due to the Daylight Savings time change. Ultimately, the riot was initiated by members of two fraternities but led to almost 50 people getting arrested after fires were lit, bottles shattered and even pool balls thrown. 

Soon after Beatty’s departure from OU, many changes occurred. Buffalo Wings & Rings transformed into The Red Brick Tavern, 14. N Court St., and Night Court would transform into Evolution, which removed Night Court’s long wooden bar and embraced a darker, hipper look.

Evolution was unlike any other bar that Athens had seen. Instead of a rundown dive bar serving dime drafts, Evolution served up martinis and Manhattans, with a tentative up-scale dress code on most nights. 

The basement became the bar's lounge, and cocktail waitresses were hired to enhance the experience, but as the mid-2000s approached, Evolution found itself hosting teenage events during the OU offseason. 

Staff put away all the alcohol and were instructed to admit only underage students, therefore attracting many teenagers from nearby Meigs and Vinton counties along with Athens County. 

Evolution was ultimately short-lived, as a result of its bad reputation it gained due to fights and stabbings that happened at nearby bars during the early 2000s. 

Jorie Trubiano graduated from OU in 2012 but came back to school and earned her master's degree in 2015. During her second phase at OU, Jorie Trubiano met her husband — Jake Trubiano, who transferred to OU in 2013 — in Athens at Mill Fest. 

Both Jake and Jorie Trubiano credit The Athens Pyramids, now known as Mids Lounge & Bar, 5 Mill St., as a big reason why they both started dating. 

“The bars would close, and we'd go to the hookah bar because it would be open until 4,” Jorie Trubiano said. “Everything else would close at 2. It's not like we were obsessed with hookah, but it was just somewhere else to hang out.” 

Although Court Street finished its most recent large-scale transition before Jake and Jorie Trubiano’s time at OU, both saw the addition of The Over Hang, 63 N. Court St., in 2013, taking over the former site of The Greenery as well as the transformation of The Junction to The J Bar, 41 N. Court St.

“I'd say the rowdiest — you go there, and it's loud as hell, crowded and — I would say it was Crystal and Courtside, and you could even put J Bar in that category,” Jake Trubiano said.

Grinders was another venue Jake Trubiano visited before its extinction. Although not an all-out bar, the unique sub shop close to Smiling Skull Saloon and Cat’s Den, now known as Cat’s Corner, had a bar inside. 

“People would be dancing on the tables and stuff in The Pub,” Jake Trubiano said. “But I would say for sure the top four would be Crystal, Courtside, C.I. and J Bar.”

Throughout the years, many bars have come and gone from Athens. The most recent addition on Court Street was The North End Kitchen and Bar, 77. N. Court St.

One thing remains the same, however: that being the many friends made and memories lost in the bars in Athens. A full list of Athens' defunct bars can be found here.


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