The Mill

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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.

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TCB

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.

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.

Martinis

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.

Brothers Bar and Grill

529090_10151462770980601_1508330929_nThere is no argument that Brothers is the most popular bar for University of Iowa students in Iowa City. However, just because it is the most popular does not make it the best. I won’t say I don’t like going there, because I am there frequently, but there is plenty to detract me from going there if I can help it.

Brothers has a lot to offer when it comes to space. It is one of the largest bars in Iowa City with a variety of areas. The bar has a large outdoor patio, a good sized dance floor, pool tables, and plenty of sitting and standing room. However, even with all the space the bar fills up quickly after 10 p.m. and is one of the few places you will have to wait in line to get into. The only other bar that regularly has a line is Union.

After waiting in line to get inside of Brothers, expect to be waiting for the rest of the night. Like moths to a flame so is the UI student to the bar. Working your way up to the bar can seem like hours, and once you’re there its more waiting to get the bartender’s attention. If you can make your way to the farthest part of the bar from the front door you will have the most luck getting drinks. I don’t know why but the bartender’s seem to congregate there, and most patrons are in the front and middle sections of the bar.

One of the great things about Brothers is their extensive list of specials. Thursday night’s Mug Club is their most popular where you can buy and then save a mug for $5 and then get refills on well drinks, long islands, Busch light and Keystone for $1 all night. I suggest sticking with the beer because the well alcohol is most definitely watered down to the point where you aren’t effected by the drink at all.

While there is a lot of waiting involved when you go to Brothers, there is a reason it is the most popular bar.
I don’t know that reason, but it is, so if you want to go out with some friends and know you will run into more friends and recognize/meet people from class, Brothers is the bar.

Share

shareI don’t feel like too many University of Iowa student think of Share when they are looking for a fun place to go and grab a few drinks. Located in the Sheraton Hotel just off the Pedmall, Share is a nice restaurant with quality food and drinks. It is also pretty expensive. However, their “Fridays with Class” drink and food specials make it more reasonable for college students on a budget.

Most of the bars in Downtown Iowa City have “Friday After Class” specials to bring patrons into the bars earlier and to spend more money. When Share opened it decided to follow suit, but took a different approach. “Fridays with Class” has $4 glasses of wine and $12 bottles of wine. There is also a menu of mixed drinks and small plates that are half price and extremely delicious.

My favorite time to go to FWC is in the early fall or late spring when you can sit outside on the patio overlooking the Pedmall. I have never been to Share during FWC or normal hours when it was too crowded or the service was too slow. The servers are always friendly, and many of them are students at the University.

I would definitely recommend Share and FWC if you were looking for a more relaxed and upscale beginning to your Friday night. It is also the perfect place if your parents are in town. Sometimes we all need a break of the regular craziness that is the Iowa City bar scene, and Share is definitely the answer to that problem.

Pints

pints 2There is something to be said about Pints. Some bars in Iowa City, it would seem, have made the decision to ignore basic customer service. Most likely, they know college students will keep coming back whether or not they feel like they are being taken care of, or being provided an experience. However, this has not been my experience with Pints. Effort and quality are two words that come to mind when I think about the bar and its patrons.

Whenever I go to Pints there are a few things I have come to expect. The bar doesn’t ever charge cover, so it is always packed. Pints is not a very large space, it is deep but not wide and moving around is very hard after 11 p.m. Basically the bar is like a long hallway, and you will constantly be moving to let people through, or excusing yourself as you interrupt conversations to get to the other side of the bar. However, this is really the only drawback in my opinion.

Once you get to the bar, even when it is extremely busy, the wait time for a bartender’s attention is never long. From what I have seen there are usually more than three bartenders working at the same time, with the same amount of bar backs. The staff is collectively dressed up, good looking, and looks like they are enjoying themselves. I never feel annoyed about tipping the bartenders at Pints.

The last thing I know I can expect when I go to Pints is that the crowd is going to look good. Call it superficial, but as someone who puts some effort into how they look before they go out, I appreciate being around other people who do the same. I also get the feeling that the majority of patrons are upperclassmen. Even though it is a college bar, I get a more mature vibe from the crowd.

So whether you are already a Pints fan or not, I would recommend that everyone check it out. Besides the great service, and well-dressed patrons the bar has twelve 42” flat screens for constant sports entertainment, and a “Bring Your Own Food” concept. You could literally order a Falbo’s pizza to the bar if you wanted. That’s awesome.

The Union Bar

photo source: cdn.bleacherreport.net

It would be hard to find a University of Iowa student who has not been to Union. It is smack dab in the middle of the pedmall, and is the largest bar in Iowa City. With four bars on three levels, a large dance floor, flashing lights, and decent djs the energy inside is usually on a level between crazy and mess.

I had my first experience with Union when I was visiting some friends before I decided to transfer. When we got to the dance floor I was instantly reminded of the dance clubs I went to on a spring break trip to Mexico my senior year of high school. Because I like to dance like a fool I usually have a great time there. But a lesson learned and relearned is to not overdo it on the $10 bottles of Andre they sell right next to the dance floor on Saturday nights. It is a trap and you will regret it the next morning if you and your friends all decided to buy a personal bottle and go dance the night away. I was once approached by an employee and told I was “going too hard,” and was asked to leave the bar. (That’s the nice version of the story)

However, I have found that for the same reasons I think Union is so much fun, others do not. I know many other students who have vowed to never go back, or claim they haven’t been there since their sophomore year and comment about how “trashy” or “ghetto” it is. I will agree that it looks like most of the people who frequent Union are underclassmen. This is proven by the amount of girls that will wait in line in the freezing cold without coats and wearing high heels.

Whether or not that is your scene every student or person visiting Iowa City for the nightlife should experience Union at least once. The bar’s website boasts that it is consistently ranked as one of the best parties in the USA by Playboy. And hey, the drink specials are pretty great.