Monday, October 20, 2008

State College - A Comparison

Over this last weekend, I took a trip down to State College with a couple of my friends. While I didn't get to spend more than about 34 hours there, I'll attempt to give a description and comparison of it to Ann Arbor, to give a better idea of what I like and dislike about Ann Arbor, and how another, fairly similar college town matches up.

Ok, I'll be the first person to say that visiting only two of the many many bars in State College was both a terrible mistake and an epic fail of my own, but we did visit one of the two bars that we were told were the "can't miss" State College hotspots, The Lion's Den. Now, if you've ever driven on I-94 or half a dozen other highways in America, you'll know that this is the name of an 'adult book store' chain. Well... not so with this. The Lion's Den in State College is completely incomparable to any Ann Arbor bar. It has both outdoor and indoor seating, the outdoor being covered with an awning. The building is actually quite small, maybe only 30-40 feet across by about 60 feet. Along each of the long sides of the building there is a bar. We arrived about and hour before the PSU-Michigan game, and were able to find a seat, but within 15 minutes of gametime, we were never able to even see our waitress again, it got that packed.
Pitchers of Bud Light were on special for $4 and other domestics were $5.

The style of the bar was completely foreign to me. It had the decor of the amalgamation of a barbershop, a 50s diner, and a modern architecture interior. The crowd was rowdy, but less douchey than the average Penn State crowd we encountered (see below). I liked it, though it felt a little Socotran, being so different than what I'm used to.

The other bar we went to, earlier in the day (mostly because we all had to pee really badly, but we ended up staying a little because the people seemed cool) was Saloon. This place is two parts Rick's, one part Scorekeepers. The bar is located down a flight of stairs and under another business. The bar is fairly well lit, (though for things other than games, I'm going to guess they darken it up quite a bit). There is a small dance floor and stage in one half of the bar. The other half has tables and booths. There were at least 5 TVs up showing various football games.

The drink menu included fairly standard fare, but also had small pitchers of rum and coke for $7 which was kind of cool. I don't think I've had a rum and coke in years. The other interesting thing, I don't really remember was it was called, but I knew it had 'monkey' in it's name, was basically a 60oz pitcher of a Long Island Iced Tea (and the various derivations there of). It came in multiple flavors, but what set it apart from the fishbowls at Charlie's was the fact that it was VERY strong. It cost $12.
The gameday atmosphere was that of Skeeps. The patrons were adults, generally alumni. I didn't see any students in the bar.

The recurring theme I saw in both of these bars was that the men's room bathrooms consisted of just a trough with water made of sheet metal, and a similar looking sink (no soap). I can only assume drunk Penn State students often mistake one for the other. If you plan on going, I recommend bringing hand sanitizer. Oh, and take a dump before you go out.

The most glaring difference between State College and Ann Arbor is in the restaurants. On every block, there was at least one chain restaurant. McDonald's, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Auntie Anne's, Long John Silver's, KFC, Arby's, Wendy's, Chi-Chi's, Hardee's, just to name a few. We have a few chain restaurants, but in Ann Arbor we keep them either out of downtown, or in the Unions. This is why Ann Arbor has been home to so many startups that are now big businesses. We keep the chains out to let small businesses grow. I won't go into why this is a better idea in this post, but the next time you're walking through AA, notice that you have more unique places to eat and take advantage of it.

Pre-Kickoff Gameday Atmosphere:
Well, I'm not going to say I've never had liquor poured on me before, but I certainly never had it poured on me from 8 stories up. Penn State fans are ROWDY, and a lot of them are pretty obnoxious. When the three of us were walking around town in maize, we were told to 'Go home faggots' no less than 18 times. They certainly are passionate. Before the game, everyone was very excited and 'pumped up'. My strongest indicator of this was how many PSU fans around me responded when I yelled 'We Are!'.

Post-Final Whistle Gameday Atmosphere:
In stark contrast to the pre-game, NO ONE was excited after this game. After 12 years, there is no cheering in the streets, no excitement, nothing. The fans looked dejected and solemn. 




Penn State regards us (mostly because of the 12 year streak) as one of their biggest rivals. They got exactly what they've wanted for YEARS and now... what? How did the intensity before the game fade so fast? It was even a come from behind victory, and they're well on their way to having a Big Ten Championship and a shot at the National Title. I expected more.  Sad. I'm glad we found a 'gathering/party/whatever' afterwards, because the town was dead post-game. At most, I could muster no more than about 15 people half-heartedly responding to my 'We Are!' How boring. 

I only went to two, so my sample size is about as statistically significant as the evidence that taking ginko improves your memory. Howeva! I will describe them to the best of my ability/recollection.

1.) The first party I went to was a weird cross-breed between a frat party (because of the total lack of girls/the fact that it was thrown by a bunch of guys in a frat) and a multiple-house/apartment party. The frat was fairly new and didn't have an actual house, so a bunch of the brothers rented a bunch of duplexes near (but not attached) to each other.

These houses had pretty standard fair, a few people's personal fifths, Natural Light (in cans, they said something about not being able to get kegs)  and the case my friends and I brought with us of (very warm) Busch. In one of the houses, there was a foosball table that seemed to be garnering a lot of attention. Though we arrived around midnight, the party was said to have died down considerably already. People were mostly sitting around on couches talking. Other thanfoosball, an empty beer pong table was the only remaining evidence that an 'actual' party had gone on. Very low key.

2.) The second 'party' I went to was not really a 'party' but I didn't know what else to call it and it's similar in many ways to what happens in Ann Arbor, so I figure I'd mention it. We got invited to some girl's house after the bar (Lion's Den) to hang out, mainly because this girl wanted in one of the guys-(who will remain anonymous)I-came-down-with's pants. Like whoa.

At her upon-departure-request from the bar, we changed out of our UofM gear, and headed over to her apartment (which we got a little lost trying to find). Once we got there, there were about 8 people total, two of whom left shortly there after. We sat around, waiting for our friend to make a move and drinking for a few hours. People who have hooked up with someone they've met at the bar, know this routine. However, two things were very different:
  1. This started at around 8:30 pm. Even after a late-ish game, this is much sooner than almost anyone I know here in AA will start partying again. You need time to recharge before resuming drinking (this led to yours truly not remembering anything after 11:00.
  2. My friend who the girl was digging on failed so entirely to pull the trigger, I don't have the words to convey the disappointment we all felt for him. The only way she could have made it easier for him would have been to rip off his pants and demand sexing. Sadly, she just gave him every other possible signal available.

The night concluded (I can only assume, by taking in the evidence left the next morning) with the other one of my friends and I falling asleep on the couches in this girl's apartment, while the first friend slept on the floor next to us... because couches are for closers. We discreetly left around 8am. The icing on the cake was that this girl called us while we were on the way back to Ann Arbor, and told us how disappointed she was that *name redacted* didn't at least wake her up and say goodbye. Megafails.

Other notes:
Holy crap. My friends and I rolled in at around midnight and Friday, and the first thing I notice was that EVERYONE was out. Like, honestly, Ann Arbor doesn't have that many people out and about ever.
Not only were the yards/sidewalks/etc. covered in people, they seemed to not notice that there were cars driving on the streets. Ann Arbor jaywalkers will at least make an effort to not get hit by a car, or maybe just look both ways/make eye contact with the driver they are planning on walking out in front of.
State College-ites? Not so much.

The tailgate, which is massive, we did not attend. I hope to visit again to give a more complete review of this important aspect of the State College scene.

In the end:
State College is VERY cool. If Michigan has a bye-week when PSU has a home game, sometime in the future, I'll definitely go. I wouldn't really like to live there, because of the lack of uniqueness in the commerical district, but to visit, I very much recommend it. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The Location: 812 Monroe (just south of the Law Quad)

The Facts:
Dominick's is a restaurant that's known for it's atmosphere and drinks. It is open during the spring, summer, and fall, and maintains fairly early hours closing at 10pm most nights. It has some indoor seating, but the majority of the tables are outside, with a first and second story patio in both the front and back.

Other Info:
Dominick's will be closing for the winter (I'll try to find out exactly when ASAP) soon. If you want to visit, now is the time.

As I said before Dom's is known for it's atmosphere. The almost exclusive outdoor seating and the interior decor give it a feeling of a spanish bistro mixed with an alpine cafe. The patrons are a nice blend of townies (often there with their children), law students, and professors. The undergrad population there is considerably smaller than you would assume given the proximity to student housing, but I certainly welcome the change of pace from the younger spots in AA.

Dom's also has a very famous sangria. You can order it in pints, quarts, and half gallons, (pricing scales from ~$6 to ~$17. It comes in a mason jar, and you can pour it into smaller cups at your table. It is mixed there at Dom's using their own recipe, much like MY favorite Dom's drink: Constant Buzz.

This stuff is to die for. Remember the first time you saw a boob that didn't belong to a family member? Yeah, like that, but with alcohol. And stawberries.

It's basically a strawberry daqueri but with about 5 more types of alcohol. It only comes in one size (slightly less than a half gallon) mason jar, and costs about $20. When it's fall, it's less fun to drink, as it's cold out, but during the summer, there really is nothing better, than on, a Friday afternoon, going to Dom's splitting, a Constant Buzz with a friend, and sitting out on the top porch watching Ann Arbor go about it's business.

Dominick's also sells a number of local wines, and has several local beers on tap. These drafts are fairly costly, and I have never had one there.

The food at Dominick's is what you would expect from a Continental restaurant. Pasta, pastries, seafood etc. The pricing is fairly steep, so, if on a budget, I'd recommend somewhere else, though the few times I've had it, the food has been pretty good.

Personally, I've never been to a place like Dominick's in the states. It's a very European experience. I recommend going there with someone who's already been once, just because the intricacies of ordering, etc. are a little confusing at first, but definitly try to make it there if you have the time and money. I give it 4 stars.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Across The Bar

Last night, I was asked to guest barback at Circus Bar and Billiards for Friday (that'd be tonight, for you kids keeping track).
I'm not sure exactly what I'll be doing, most likely checking IDs, busing cans and bottles, etc. I'm really excited. The fact that I was asked is probably the funniest part, perhaps being an indication I go there too often.
I'm hoping to get insights on what it's like to have to deal with drunk bar attendees, and how to be a better patron.

I've always wanted to run/own a bar (after my illustrious film career takes off, of course), and I can at least see some of the difficulties that would pose doing this.

Should be fun. Karaoke night tonight at Circus, swing on by!