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.


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.


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.


Under 21Bo-James is one of those bars that is, “just so Iowa City.” It has been around forever and for the people who actually live and are from Iowa City, it’s their hangout.

I have been to Bo-James many times and have had a few friends who have worked there over the years. If you get to know the Cohen family, who owns and runs the bar, you will always be taken care of. Wednesday and Thursday nights are the most popular with UI students because they are themed. Wednesdays are Country Night and Thursdays are Karaoke Night. Every other night the majority of patrons are local regulars.

If you are brave enough to sing karaoke, I would suggest you stick to the classics. One time I was brazen enough to do my best Missy Elliot Work It and received some interesting reactions from the crowd. 15 seconds into the song I knew it was a bad idea. Had I gone with Journey’s Don’t’ Stop Believin’ the whole bar would have been singing along with me.

Bo-James is a hangout because there are regulars who sit and hang out all day, everyday. Most of them have a favorite spot at the bar, and if you happen to be in it you will throw their day off. This has happened to me before and it’s quite awkward. As the sun sets the bar stools fill up with the employees’ friends who typically like to change the music every few minutes. Depending on their taste in music, this can be a good or a bad thing.

The two biggest draws to Bo-James are their “Big Ass Beers” which are only $3, and their burger baskets, which are delicious, and only about $6. Overall, Bo-James is a fun place with a community environment. Even at it’s busiest you are still able to sit and actually hear the friends you are having a conversation with, which can be rare in Iowa City bars.


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.