Over the decades, the Athens bar scene has seen many establishments come and go. One thing has remained the same, however, that draws so many current and former Ohio University students: the fiery atmosphere and history that Athens bars exude, literally.
“One thing I remember is that Court Street has or had, I think it still has, a reputation for having big fires,” said George Eberts, an instructor in the department of physics and astronomy. from OU and resident of Athens since 1978.
The fires have long devastated many historic buildings along Court Street, including a handful of bars. Dating all the way from “The great fire‘ which destroyed much of Court Street, from East Union Street to the Athena cinema, many bars suffered damage and even the fate of Court Street’s fiery history.
Recent examples include The Pigskin, 38 N. Court St., which supported $7,000 in damages due to a fire that broke out one night in July 2012. In November 2014, another fire 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.
A bar that has stood the test of time and whose sticky wooden planks have not been damaged by fires happens to be the oldest bar in Athens. Originally known as the College Inn, the CI, 32 N. Court St., has served residents and students since 1917.
According to a previous To post report, The College Inn was founded by Steve G. Tatalos, who opened the bar aged just 16 after moving to Athens from Turkey. Tatalos has owned and operated the bar for 50 years, after the historic bar went through several ownership changes before being purchased by current owner Don Pepper in 1979.
It was also in the late 1970s that Eberts moved to Athens. One bar he remembers being talked about when he came to Athens was a place called Swanky’s. Operating 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 only went there once when it was still in operation, but you can see people shooting in there,” Eberts said. “Smoking drugs was never a problem, and it was like a cave of sin. It was where the heavyweights could go and do whatever they wanted to do.
Swanky had a reputation as a hipster, but had as debauched an owner as they come, Eberts said.
“When they closed, I think it was following a massive, irreversible bankruptcy,” Eberts said. “He (the owner) made time. When he came out, he became a preacher of abstinence, righteousness, and recovery.
Another bar that Eberts remembers hearing a lot about after his transition to Athens is Studio 38.
‘You supposedly had to be a member, and all the cool’yapping‘ were members there,” Eberts said. “So if you were a social worker, in the local mental health agency, you could become a member there. It was a bit exclusive.
Throughout the 1980s, The Greenery built a solid reputation around drunken dancing and a rowdy atmosphere. The bar has captured and eliminated the sobriety of many students and since its closure the bar’s loyal patrons have taken to Facebook to continue sharing memories of the bar race.
“Usually The Greenery was a lot more subclasses, like freshmen, sophomores would go there,” said 1997 alumnus Jason Beatty. “So it would be crazy at that end of Court Street”
While The Greenery never robbed students of a good time, Beatty recalls another bar that had the best beer deals during his tenure at OU. The Nickelodeon, commonly known as “The Nick”, was a bar located on the ground floor of what is now Bromley Hall.
“At the time, like Friday afternoon, they had penny drafts,” Beatty said. “Like, who does this? I don’t care how big the draft is. You could just go for around $1.
Nickelodeon lasted throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and while it was gone for a time, its most loyal fans also turned to Facebook to share their best memories, even those they don’t remember.
“For me, Night Court was the best bar in Athens when I was going to OU, so probably mid-90s to late 90s – Night Court, by far, the best place in Athens,” Beatty said . “There are other places that are a bit similar, but it must have been, Friday, Saturday night, this was the place to go.”
Beatty remembers that Night Court was not only a bar that offered karaoke and cheap drinks, but also a place full of stories that would be difficult to create in bars in Athens today.
“What you won’t see now that we used to see at Night Court was lining up the flaming lemon drops,” Beatty said. “The owner was lining up shots…meeting 151 rums on it and literally lighting them all at once, and half the time the whole bar was on fire.”
Mixing booze with students is always a rowdy affair, but in 1997 Beatty witnessed a monumental moment on Court Street, namely the 1997 daylight saving time riot.
Chaos on Court Street erupted after bars closed earlier due to the change to daylight saving time. Ultimately, the riot was instigated by members of two fraternities but led to the arrest of nearly 50 people after fires were started, bottles smashed and even billiard balls thrown.
Shortly 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 in Evolution, which removed the long wooden bar from Night Court and adopted a darker, hipper look.
The Evolution was unlike any other bar Athens had seen. Instead of a ramshackle dive bar serving drafts, Evolution served martinis and Manhattans, with a tentative upscale dress code most nights.
The basement became the bar lounge, and cocktail waitresses were hired to enhance the experience, but as the mid-2000s approached, Evolution found itself hosting teen events in the offseason. WHERE.
Staff put away all alcohol and were instructed to admit only underage students, thus attracting many teenagers from neighboring Meigs and Vinton counties as well as Athens County.
The evolution was ultimately short-lived, due to its bad reputation gained from fights and stabbings that occurred in nearby bars in the early 2000s.
Jorie Trubiano graduated from OU in 2012 but returned to school and received her master’s degree in 2015. During her second phase at OU, Jorie Trubiano met her husband – Jake Trubiano, who transferred at the OU in 2013 – in Athens at the Mill Fest.
Jake and Jorie Trubiano credit the Athens Pyramids, now known as Mids Lounge & Bar, 5 Mill St., as the main reason they started dating.
“The bars were closing and we were going to the hookah bar because it would be open until 4 p.m.,” Jorie Trubiano said. “Everything else would close at 2 a.m. It’s not like we were obsessed with hookah, but it was just another place to hang out.”
Although Court Street completed its last large-scale transition before Jake and Jorie Trubiano moved to OU, the two saw the addition of The Over Hang, 63 N. Court St., in 2013, taking over the old site of The Greenery as well as the transformation of The Junction into The J Bar, 41 N. Court St.
“I would say the rowdiest – you go there, and it’s loud as hell, crowded and – I’d say it was Crystal and Courtside, and you might even put J Bar in that category,” Jake said. Trubiano.
Grinders was another place visited by Jake Trubiano before his extinction. Although not an all-purpose bar, the only sub-shop near the Smiling Skull Saloon and the Cat’s Den, now known as Cat’s Corner, had a bar inside.
“People were dancing on tables and stuff in The Pub,” Jake Trubiano said. “But I would say for sure the top four would be Crystal, Courtside, CI and J Bar.”
Over 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, however, remains the same: the many friends made and memories lost in the bars of Athens. A complete list of old bars in Athens can be found here.