A Night Out in Iowa City

Anything can happen on a night out in Iowa City.

Life lessons can be learned, small businesses can thrive, and memories can be made. It is very easy to write off Iowa City as a town full of students who would rather drink than study. While there is certainly a party atmosphere at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, the majority of the students take their education very seriously.

However, everyone needs to let off some steam every once in a while. Iowa City’s vibrant nightlife provides UI students with the opportunity for new experiences. Some will be bad, some good, and some might inspire a small business. This post will explore different perspectives of a night out in Iowa City.

Since the 21-ordinance passed in 2010, students have remarked an increased police presence in the downtown and residential areas of Iowa City. Students have complained that the ordinance and the increased police presence have taken the fun out of Iowa City nightlife, and allow the police to abuse their power. Sergeant Lolla of the Iowa City Police Department defends the actions of the police as measures to keep  students safe, even from themselves.

Iowa City Police Sergeant Lolla

Marco’s Grilled Cheese Stand in synonymous with Iowa City nightlife. The stand was actually started by a UI alum after graduating over 10 years ago. Since then, the stand’s popularity has grown and spawned other small businesses and food stands downtown. Mike, a longtime employee of Marco’s, and UI alum explains the stand’s significance to the downtown atmosphere.

While it can certainly be problematic at times, nightlife is an important part of the college experience. It is an opportunity for students to meet new people, and become comfortable in new social situations. The bar scene can also give students the chance to take their minds off the stresses of school.

The bar crawl is a popular college tradition that brings friends and strangers together in celebration. The student employees of The Hub in the Iowa Memorial Union planned a bar crawl to celebrate one last time before the senior employees graduated.

A University of Iowa Bar Crawl


The Mill


The Mill is the perfect bar in Iowa City to have a quality dinner, hang out with friends, and also see some live music.

Established in 1962 as a coffee house/restaurant/folk music venue, The Mill has long been the go-to spot for students with a more creative mind-set. It has a reputation for being a “hipsters-only-zone,” but the people that actually accept that probably have never been there. The Mills has plenty to offer anyone who is looking for a casual good time.

First and foremost, The Mill is a great place for live music. On any given night there is usually a performance by a touring act, a local band, or open mic night where volunteers can sing whatever they want for the other patrons. Performances are usually in the back room, which allows patrons who came to only enjoy the food and drink not be bothered by the music, and vice versa. When the weather is nice, open mic nights are usually on the patio. The patio is decorated with a vine covered trellis, providing a picturesque environment most Iowa City bars cannot match.

In my opinion the food is also better at The Mill than most bars. At first glance the menu resembles a typical bar food menu with pizza, burgers, and wraps. A deeper look will reveal speciality dishes such as the Caragou Burger with caramelized onions, gouda cheese, and spicy balsamic vinaigrette, and the Spinach Apple Salad with apple, walnuts, bleu cheese, and honey lime cilantro vinaigrette.

When you go to The Mill you are never walking into a heightened atmosphere where you feel the need to get your party on. Everyone is there to enjoy the company of their friends, the food and drink, and sometimes the live music.


TCBRegardless of it’s prime location in the pedestrian mall, among people I know, TCB is often overlooked when it comes to choosing a bar to spend time and money at.

This can be attributed to a number of reasons. The first is that it is primarily a billiards bar. The second is that the service is apparently known to be terrible.

I will say in the bar’s defense that I have been there more than a few times and have had pleasant interactions with the bartenders. However, that was probably because I was lucky enough to sit right in the middle of the bar where it is hard not to be seen. Even though the bar is long with plenty of seating, it fills up fast. It doesn’t help that there is a barrier behind the chairs creating a narrow walk way. If you do not have a seat at the bar, you will have to awkwardly squeeze past and lean over people to get the bartender’s attention.

On the other side of the barrier there is a large section full of tables. I have never noticed, but apparently there is only one waitress responsible for serving the entire bar. I don’t know how that could be physically possible, but multiple people have told me the “my friend’s friend knows a girl…” version.

If you are looking for a bar to go and drink at, perhaps TCB is not the place. If you are looking for a place to play a great game of pool, it is definitely the place. In total TCB has 20 pool tables that can be rented by the hour. I would suggest going earlier in the night before or around 10 p.m. to make sure you get a good time slot. On weekend nights the tables get reserved quickly, but a game of pool is always a nice way to spend your time out on a weeknight as well.

A new Iowa City?

The University of Iowa has been voted among the top party schools in the country for years. This is due in large part to the high number of bars in the downtown area, giving the UI’s undergraduate and graduate students little else to do on a weekend night. While the majority of students celebrate their school’s nationwide reputation as a party school, university administration and city officials have been working for years to change the downtown environment. Since the 21-ordinance passed in 2010 bars have closed and moved, freeing up space in the downtown area for new businesses and office space. For years the city economy has been ruled by alcohol and food sales from the university’s students. City officials are hoping to attract a more permanent, young professional crowd with new high rise developments. City officials are also hoping to slowly take the emphasis away from the bar scene and give new businesses the chance to thrive like they did before the opening of the Coral Ridge Mall in 1998.

The interactive map below shows the location of almost 20 bars within a just a few blocks of each other in Downtown Iowa City.

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fieldhouse-294x220Even though it had to be done for financial reasons, changing locations was probably the best thing to happen to Fieldhouse. For me, Fieldhouse and Union were basically the same bar. Very large, multiple bars, dance floors, extremely filthy, and at times just downright trashy.  However, since it has moved to its current location next to Dc’s the bars reputation has greatly improved.

As the space decreased the quality of service has definitely increased. People used to complain all the time about the door men and bartenders at the old location for being rude and inattentive. The people that work at the new location are friendly, and don’t make you wait too long at the bar. There is still a dance floor, which is often crowded with people. One of my favorite times to people watch are when drunk people decide to dance on the elevated area around the dance floor. Personally, I would be too self conscious to dance on top of everyone like that, but the people that do put on quite a show.

My only complaint about Fieldhouse is the layout. For some reason there is a huge barrier immediately after you walk in that takes up entirely too much space, and forces you to go left or right. Because the bar is so popular it gets very busy later at night and it is often hard to walk around. If that barrier could be removed it would provide a lot more space and make it easier to move around.

Fieldhouse is a great bar to celebrate birthdays at because they offer 21 pitchers for $25 dollars during the week of someone’s birthday. During FAC they offer $3 pitchers of beer and mixed drinks. Fieldhouse also, in my opinion, makes the best vodka red bulls in Iowa City. They are the best because they are the biggest. However, it would be a mistake to drink more than one…a big mistake.

How To: Bar Crawl T-Shirts

Bar crawls have been ingrained in the college tradition for…I know absolutely no idea but a very long time. The most common I have seen are for 21st birthdays or club events. In my experience the most stressful part is making a t-shirt.

Over the last few years countless new websites have been put out that specifically cater to college bar crawls. Some are complicated to navigate and others do not offer enough options. Friends of mine recommended Shirtandsimple.com to me recently and I was very happy with the seamless process and wanted to share it with all the ICBarChallenge followers.

The website makes it easy to create events, design shirts, and invite your friends all from one central page. The shirt design process is very easy to navigate with many different options for shirt quality and fit, fonts, images and designs, as well as colors.

After you have designed your shirt the website offers an instant quote so you know before you place any orders how much the shirt will cost you and your friends. After you design and create an event home page you can invite your friends to the bar crawl through email and social media.

While the process in the video has been shortened, the entire process for a recent job bar crawl took less than 25 minutes to set up, including the design process and inviting co-workers.

Spring is finally breaking, and finals are just about six weeks away! A bar crawl with your extended group of friends is a great way to celebrate the end of the school year. Check out the video and shirtandsimple.com for tips!