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!

The Airliner

trip to Iowa part I 473I have only been to The Airliner a handful of times, and only twice with friends to drink at the bar. One of those times was for the purpose of this blog. Whenever I have gone there it has been for drinks and lunch on the weekends, or for a student organization banquet upstairs.

The Airliner originally opened in 1944, and has consistently been a popular spot for great, cheap pizza ever since. People literally rave about how good the pizza is, and I will agree that it is delicious. The reason I have not gone there as much is because I think of it more as a restaurant than a bar. In fact, it is the only drinking establishment in Iowa City that was awarded an exemption to the 21-ordinance because 50 percent or more of its sales comes from the food. The good thing is, because the food is so important so is the cleanliness. It is one of the few bars in Iowa City I will say has always been consistently clean. Where other bars will have flies swarming around your food, or vomit on the bathroom floor I have never experienced this at The Airliner.

If you do go there later at night to drink it is best to find a table or booth to sit at and wait for a waitress to serve you. The area around the bar is very small and it is impossible to stand around it with a group of your friends. You either can’t get to the bar, or once you are there will not be able to leave it.

The Airliner has a long tradition as a great spot to go and watch the football games. During Sunday and Monday football games they have pitchers of beer specials that start at $4 during the first quarter and change to $5.50 by the third and fourth. On Tuesday nights they have $5 mason jars, similar to Brothers’ Mug Club, that you can refill at anytime for $1. The best in my opinion is $1 bud lights on Wednesday and Fridays.

Blue Moose Tap House

bluemooseBlue Moose Tap House is the jack of all trades when it comes to Iowa City bars. While some bars in Iowa City attract a limited group of students, Blue Moose offers something for everyone. The patrons in the bar are as diverse as the student population at The University of Iowa.

Part of Blue Moose’s success is due to their concerts. The bar is one of the few drinking establishments in Iowa City that doubles as a music venue, and among those it is the largest with two stages. A few nights a week the bar hosts a variety of music acts with the ability to entertain over 200 people at the upstairs stage, and almost 600 people at the downstairs stage. The venue has made a point of putting on “all-ages” shows that end at 10 p.m. so underage students are able to enter the bar and see a concert, even though they cannot legally drink. Tickets for their concerts can be found at ticketfly.com

On a regular night the bar offers a fun environment with vintage decorations. There is a fully functioning juke box, and the walls are decorated with vintage music posters and handbills. The bar also has a retro basketball game and funhouse mirrors that keep patrons entertained for hours. There are also large flat-screen televisions for sports fans to watch a game while they socialize. The decor of  Blue Moose is also unique with their homemade tables made from Templeton Rye Whiskey Barrels, and their recycled keg barstools.

Blue Moose is definitely a beer lovers bar with 24 different beers on tap. There are a number of different specials for every night of the week, but the most popular are the half priced boots on Thursdays. The boots are 3 liters of a beer of your choice. They also offer mini boot specials on Friday. If you are going to try and attempt to drink a full boot on your own I highly suggest you do not have anything else to drink that night! I once tried to drink a whole boot on a dare after a few whiskey and cokes, and don’t remember anything after I finished half the boot… But do order a boot and share it with a few friends, it is a great way to save money.

Even though there are many great qualities about Blue Moose there are a few things to watch out for. Friends of mine have complained that the bartenders have refused to give them a glass of water, and told them they had to pay for bottled water instead. I don’t think I have ever had this problem, but I have heard it enough times to believe that it happens occasionally. Also if you have a tab, make sure you pay attention to the number of drinks your order throughout the night and how much they cost. I have heard of instances where people have been wrongfully charged on their bills for extra drinks they did not order. Obviously these problems are not exclusive to Blue Moose or Iowa City bars, it is just something I have heard and urge everyone to look out for when they are out at any bar.

Hala Hala Hookah

The overwhelming number of bars in Iowa City can make it seem like drinking is the only thing to do. However, not all University of Iowa students like to drink, and those that do don’t every weekend. They might be hard to find, but Iowa City does offer alternative places for students to spend time with friends on the weekends. One of those places is Hala Hala Hookah, one of Iowa City’s two hookah lounges.

Two University of Iowa students, Amy Skarnulis and Kelly Loch enjoy going to Hala Hala Hookah with friends for the relaxed cultural environment and atmosphere.

“It’s a nice break from the bars,” Skarnulis said. “It’s more chill, I like the vide and there’s less people coming in and out.”

The environment is so relaxed, Loch suggested it as an easy place to study.

“Sometimes you can bring your computer here and the WIFI is nice. You can type a paper and just hang out with your friends.”

Hala Hala Hookah is located at 327 S. Gilbert in Iowa City, and is open seven days a week. It is the largest of the two hookah lounges in the city, and offers over 40 different flavors of tobacco. The lounge does not serve alcohol but guests are allowed to bring their own alcohol with a $5 corking fee for wine. They do sell imported sodas from around the world.

Even though alcohol is allowed in Hala Hala Hookah it is a far cry from the craziness of Union or Brothers. If drinking is not your thing, or you want to explore other ways to have fun in college without drinking, a hookah lounge offers a new and interesting cultural experience.


martinisMartinis has set itself apart from the other bars in Iowa City, but in a way that works for them. While they do have a daily happy hour, they do not offer specials that are meant to bring in patrons en masse. Because of this their clientele appears to be mostly upperclassmen, and the bar is never too crowded that you cannot enjoy yourself.

One of Martinis’ best features is it’s beer garden. Durning the late spring, summer, and fall months the beer garden is open with plenty of seating and is lit up at night. Even though it is next to an alley that can smell in the heat, it is a great atmosphere to sit, drink and eat pizza with a group of friends.

Even though there are no specials, it does not mean that you cannot drink at Martinis on a budget. The bar offers more than 20 martinis at $7. Most of their beer is $3 or $4 and their mixed drinks are usually about $5, depending on the type of alcohol you order. The daily happy hour, which ends at 7 p.m., offers half priced martinis, $3 wells, $4 domestic pitchers, and $2 domestic draughts and bottles. However, if you have money to blow you can order bottle service and reserve the VIP area in the front of the bar. I have only seen people in the VIP area a few times, and they definitely felt a lot cooler than they looked.

The biggest downside to Martinis are the bathrooms. Even with its bottle service, VIP area, and $7 martinis, Martinis is still a college bar and the bathrooms are always disgusting. It is not uncommon to find vomit all over the floor( it will be there all night), or an overflowing toilet.