Back to School: The 26 Best College Bars
Pictured: Belly Wine Bar, Boston. Photo by Michael Piazza
For many parents, dropping off kids at college requires a box of tissues and a good, stiff drink. Whether you’re an over-21 upperclassman heading back to school, a nostalgic alum rooting on your alma mater or just a proud parent hoping to relax near campus with a glass of wine, we’ve rounded up the best college-area bars to visit this fall.
From city centers like Pittsburgh, packed to the brim with schools within a 10-mile radius, to towns that host some of the largest student bodies in the nation, these great beer and wine bars are earning high marks.
—Alexis Korman and Paul Gregutt
Pictured: Salut Kitchen Bar
School: Arizona State University
With more than 60,000 undergrads, ASU is one of the nation’s largest universities. Fittingly, nearby Casey Moore’s Oyster House is famous for its oversized wraparound porch. It’s a favorite watering hole that can accommodate crowds that hunker down to grade papers, study or simply knock back cold brews and oysters (yes, even in landlocked Tempe)
Sun Devil alums and fans can find a place to cheer their team at The Devil’s Advocate. The sports bar near campus has 40 TVs, local beers on tap like Lumberyard Brewery’s Imperial Red, and affordable sips and snacks. Don’t miss happy hour weekdays from 3–7pm, when all drinks and appetizers are half-price.
For wine lovers, the chic Salut Kitchen Bar beckons, with 100 wines by the glass and bottle, affordable tapas (think bruschetta and burgers) and a 1,250-square-foot patio.
Pictured: Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour
School: University of Central Florida
Knight Library proclaims itself as the No. 1 UCF bar in Orlando. Forget that it offers darts, cornhole and custom beer-pong tables—free drinks on Thursday until midnight is a main draw (there are similar specials on other nights). Located less than a mile from the UCF campus, Knight Library charges a nominal cover (usually $5), attracting the lion’s share of the school’s 60,000 undergrads to its massive, DJ-fueled parties.
Not on a student budget? Beer aficionados should stop by Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour. It’s got 26 draft lines, two cask offerings and 250 beers in bottles. You can book a private craft beer tasting or enjoy lesser-known, artisan brews from around the world like the Almond 22 Pink IPA from Pescara, Italy—it’s brewed with Brazilian pink peppercorns.
Pictured: Lansdowne Pub
Schools: Boston University, Boston College, Brandeis University, University of Massachusetts Boston, Harvard University, MIT, Berklee College of Music, Suffolk University, Tufts University
It’s hard to top the Boston area for academic institutions, home to nearly 100 colleges and universities. Naturally, there are dozens of campus-specific bars. Lansdowne Pub, close to Fenway Park, boasts more than 50 beer selections. It’s a BU favorite, especially on Thursday nights for karaoke (live bands o also play Top 40 hits to an energetic crowd on weekends).
In Cambridge, less than 1½ miles from Harvard, is Belly Wine Bar, where you’ll find a studied selection of Italian and French wines (it also has a stellar orange wine collection). There’s charcuterie, cheese and other wine-friendly snacks with Mediterranean influences, too, like arancini and preserved sardines with lemon (most small plates are $6 or less).
Parents and students should play “Three Blind Wines” on Monday night, a trivia game in which wine lovers are asked to solve riddles about mystery pours. Winners are treated to a free flight during their next visit.
School: Michigan State University
Free popcorn, more than 70 beer options and 50 TVs make Reno’s East Side Sports Bar a top choice for Spartans fans to watch games less than a mile from campus.
For student-approved bites and a wide variety of suds, including 25 selections from Michigan beer makers like Paw Paw Brewing Company, head to Crunchy’s. It’s known for a wide variety of buckets (many emblazoned with fraternal insignias) that are used as communal beer vessels or to house the bar’s legendary pizza nuggets.
In downtown Lansing, PSquared boasts the largest selection of Michigan wines around, along with 32 wines by the glass and wine-friendly boards for the table like the red wine platter. It serves up marinated olives, Gorgonzola cheese, roasted red pepper hummus, prosciutto, dried cranberries and white cheddar for $22. (On Mondays, all open bottles are just $5 a glass.)
Pictured: Louie's Wine Dive
Schools: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Augsburg College, Carleton College, St. Catherine University, Hamline University
With nearly a dozen schools in the Twin Cities, there’s plenty of college-kid-focused bars to choose. At the Halftime Rec, students can score $6 pitchers when they flash a college ID and play bocce, pool or cornhole.
The buy-one, get-one bottle nights on Mondays at Louie’s Wine Dive in Minneapolis are a favorite. It’s known for its laid-back atmosphere, kegged wine and extensive by-the-glass list, along with private-label wines under the Dive In label, made exclusively for the restaurant.
Pictured: Tutto Vino
Schools: The Ohio State University, Columbus College of Art & Design, Franklin University
There’s no denying it, Columbus is a college town—Ohio State has more than 50,000 students alone—and its North High Street area is the one-stop shop for a night out on the cheap. Mixed drinks and beer (think rum & Cokes and PBR) are often less than $2 a pop at The Library Bar, an OSU institution located about a half-mile from campus.
Wine lovers shouldn’t miss Tutto Vino in nearby Dublin, which means “everything wine” in Italian. It highlights nearly 20 by-the-glass options that change monthly, affordable flights (five 2-ounce pours cost just $20) and bistro-style lunches and dinners fit for the whole family.
Pictured: The International Pinot Noir Celebration Grand Dinner
School: Linfield College
Linfield College hosts the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration. It’s an easy stroll to the bustling downtown. Must-see tasting rooms include Willamette Valley Vineyards, R. Stuart, Westrey and Eyrie (make an appointment at these last two).
Need some suds with your supper? Check out the Golden Valley Brewery or McMenamin's Hotel Oregon (the Rooftop Bar is the place to be and be seen). But for a real slice of Oregon wine industry history, don’t miss Nick’s Italian Café. Back in the day, pioneering winemakers would gather at Nick’s to share their wines and woes over a plate of pasta. Updated and expanded, Nick’s Back Room still hosts a slew of pizza-seeking winemakers.
Pictured: The Church Brew Works
Schools: Chatham University, University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon University, Duquesne University
Once a Catholic church, The Church Brew Works is now a spot for beer lovers to rejoice. Popular among college kids since 1996, it offers signature ales like Pipe Organ Pale and Pious Monk Dunkel, along with traditional pierogies, bison corn dogs and other meat-centric, filling fare.
Budding wine lovers ought to spend an evening at Toast Kitchen & Wine Bar in Shadyside, less than a mile from Carnegie Melon. There are 10 reds and 10 whites available by the glass, along with daily drink specials like $5 glasses of wine Fridays from 9–11pm, and half-off wine on Wednesdays.
Schools: University of Texas, St. Edward’s University, The Art Institute of Austin
Cheap drink specials and packed dance floors dot dozens of frat bars on Austin’s famous Sixth Street, yet the city’s quirky charm is best served off the beaten path, like at Donn’s Depot. A diverse crowd of young people and retirees bond over its collection of antique railcars (it’s a former Missouri-Pacific train depot), spacious dance floor for country two-steppin’ and specialty cocktails like the Great Train Wreck that rarely top $5.
The city is home to several sophisticated wine bars, but Uncorked is beloved by students and parents. It’s an intimate place to explore the lesser-known wines of Lebanon, Morocco and Uruguay alongside Italy and France, with a roof deck that overlooks the city’s skyline just over a mile from the UT campus. There are also 18 wine flights that come with an informative lesson by knowledgeable staff members. Don’t worry, no quiz follows the tasting.
Pictured: Mezcaleria Oaxaca
Schools: Art Institute of Seattle, The University of Washington, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University
The University of Washington, a sprawling 30,000-student enclave about four miles north of downtown Seattle, offers a wealth of imbibing options. A few blocks west is Smash Wine Bar & Bistro, offering creative wine flights and a legendary truffled mac & cheese. Among Seattle’s numerous bars and pubs, the Purple Café and Wine Bar is a standout for its huge wine selection and upscale atmosphere.
Pictured: Charles Smith Wines Tasting Room
School: Whitman College
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect wine country setting than Whitman. Just a few blocks away from the tree-lined campus are dozens of downtown tasting rooms, notably Charles Smith, Doubleback, Tero Estates and Browne Family. Grab a glass and enjoy live music at Sapolil, Olive, Walla Faces or Main Street Studios.
A few miles east is the Green Lantern, a self-described “crossroads for farmers, academics, hillbillies, carpetbaggers and malingerers of every ilk.” It features up to a dozen microbrews on tap, excellent burgers, pizza, fish tacos and seasonal specials like fried asparagus.
College Cellars, a non-profit teaching winery at the Center for Enology & Viticulture, is just up the road and worth a visit. The wines are student-produced, and proceeds from sales support the program and students.
Pictured: Georgetown University
Schools: American University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, University of the District of Columbia
While there are plenty of places pouring wine in the capital, Cork Wine Bar is perched less than two miles from George Washington University. It offers 30 wines by the glass, mainly Old World selections along with savory plates to share like house-marinated olives and rosemary chicken liver bruschetta with shallot marmalade.
In a beer mood? Head to The Tombs, located on the edge of Georgetown’s campus. Housed inside a Federal-style townhouse that dates back to the mid-1800s, the watering hole has delicious pub eats to complement the brews. Try the Bulldog Burger with Yuengling cheese sauce, house-cured roasted pork belly, arugula, malted zucchini and yellow squash on a springy pretzel roll.
- 2Tempe, Arizona
- 3Orlando, Florida
- 4Boston, Massachusetts
- 5East Lansing, Michigan
- 6Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota
- 7Columbus, Ohio
- 8McMinnville, Oregon
- 9Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- 10Austin, Texas
- 11Seattle, Washington
- 12Walla Walla, Washington
- 13Washington, D.C.