St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and that only means one thing: university students across the country are gearing up to hit their campus bars in droves with the singular goal of getting totally smashed.
And with three major post-secondary institutions in Edmonton, if any students in this city are hoping to expand their green beer-guzzling horizons, there are plenty of options beyond their campus home base. While just about everyone at the U of A probably visits RATT or Dewey’s at some point in their student life, there’s a whole world of beer-soaked university floors to explore.
In pursuit of discovering which campus bar reigns supreme over the others, The Gateway’s Jennifer Polack, Madeline Smith and Griffin Cornwall teamed up with staff members from the NAIT Nugget and the Grant MacEwan Griff on a guided tour of each other’s local watering holes.
Our journey started in north Edmonton at NAIT and moved south to finish off across the river at the U of A. It was a long night of investigative partying, and there were more than a few surprises and new discoveries along the way.
Owned by the NAIT Students’ Association, the NEST Taphouse Grill serves a campus population of about 30,000 students, the majority of whom are in part-time or continuing education programs. NAIT is largely a technical college with professional programs, and the Nest has a rowdy sports bar atmosphere. The bar was fully renovated in 2012, and it also has daily soup and drink specials.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., closed Saturday and Sunday
Beers on tap: Budweiser, Kokanee and Bud Light — $5.75 for a pint, $15 for a jug
Most expensive menu item: Three-way tie between Charbroiled Sirloin Steak, Pork Tenderloin Medallions and Nest Notorious Nacho Grande — all $14.95
Least expensive menu item: Creamy Smashed Potatoes and Gravy — $3.95
Just getting to the Nest was a heroic effort. There isn’t much parking available around the campus, and because the area around the school is under construction for the upcoming LRT station, the outside of the campus is a maze of concrete barriers and dirt. On a warm day of melting, we trudged through slush, puddles and slippery patches of mud for a good 15 minutes before we finally made it to our elusive destination.
2:56 p.m. - Arrive at The Nest. It’s very obvious we’ve left the U of A’s hipster haven. “I feel like I’m surrounded by bros,” Madeline says.
3 p.m. - Realize this bar actually looks pretty nice. Not only are there leather seats, but a fancy circular bar, cool artwork and high-end TVs throughout.
3:04 p.m. - Beer arrives pretty quickly after the server takes orders. There’s a pretty good beer list, but the limited number of beers on tap is disappointing. Griff opts for something fancy while Jen goes for a classic tap brew.
3:05 p.m. - Jen checks out the bathrooms. “They’re like the illegitimate love child of Earl’s washrooms and a dive bar,” she says.
3:09 p.m. - Realize that the only females in the bar are servers.
3:17 p.m. - Our Grant Mac cohorts arrive, and they’re shocked. “This actually looks like a real bar!”
3:27 p.m. - Delve into the bright orange menu. Unlike what you might expect from a campus bar, the menu is pretty impressive and well-designed rather than just a single laminated page. We’re intrigued by the Cajun Corn Fried Oysters, listed for $7.95
3:28 p.m. - Note that although the Nest’s steak is one of their more expensive items, it’s still two dollars less than RATT’s.
3:32 p.m. - Jen orders the Cajun Corn Fried Oyster Po Boy for $12.95
3:34 p.m. - We take a moment to take in the atmosphere. It’s incredibly busy and a little dark and dungeon-y. But on the bright side, it’s obviously been renovated recently, and the changes are stellar. The fact that you may feel like the only set of ovaries in a three-kilometre radius is only a minor annoyance.
3:55 p.m. - The table of dudes next to us starts screaming for no reason.
4 p.m. - The food finally arrives. While Jen’s Cajun Corn Fried Oyster Po Boy sounded promising, it’s essentially a batter sandwich with some veggies. Luckily, the fries are good — evenly salted, not too soggy, and not too crisp.
4:21 p.m. - One of the waitresses drops a glass and the whole bar bursts into applause.
4:25 p.m. - One of the guys at the table that screamed earlier starts harassing one of the three non-server girls in the bar and gets shut down hard.
4:29 p.m. - Our server completely forgets if we ordered drinks despite the fact that they’re on the table in plain sight.
4:31 p.m. - Our attempts to find the server and pay for our meals stall as the server disappears into the crazy busy bar.
4:33 p.m. - We finally succeed in paying for our food, and we head for the door.
4:36 p.m. - Spend the next 20 minutes attempting to navigate our way back through all the construction in front of NAIT. We step in something that looks, but does not smell, like mud.
4:37 p.m. - Stinky mud seeps into Jen’s sock through a hole in her boot.
VERDICT: The Nest has a bit of a dude-bro atmosphere, but it looks great — it’s definitely a campus bar with some extra polish. While the menu looked promising with some genuinely creative options, we were a bit disappointed with what we ordered. On the other hand, we may have just made a choice that was a little too risky. The Nest’s fries, however, a campus pub staple food, were satisfying. Service was a little lacklustre and tended to be slow, but we can give our waitress the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to the intensely busy atmosphere. There weren’t many servers working, and they were all run off their feet. A major deterrent for getting in to the Nest is obviously the lack of accessibility, but once the LRT is built, this campus pub might actually be worth the trip to the north side.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., closed Saturday and Sunday
Beers on tap: Keith’s, Kokanee, Shock Top, Canadian and Rickard’s Red
Most expensive menu item: Tie between Towers Chicken Burger and Chicken Chop Salad — $11.75
Least expensive menu item: Soup of the Day — $5.25
Located centrally on MacEwan’s downtown campus, there’s far more accessible parking and walkways on the way to Towers than the Nest. But once we were in, we were confused — is this really where the campus bar is? For the U of A students, it looked more like CAB Café than a place that served alcohol.
4:57 p.m. - Arrive at Towers. Try to figure out where the cafeteria ends and the bar begins. Fail miserably.
5 p.m. - Ask about ordering food, and discover the kitchen is already closed — at 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.
5:07 p.m. - Nicole, the Editor-in-Chief from the NAIT Nugget, receives a creeper note with a phone number on her way back from the bathroom.
5:08 p.m. - Since there’s nothing else entertaining going on at Towers, everyone at the table conspires to text horse porn to the creeper — we have to make our own fun here.
5:09 p.m. - Wonder if a server is ever going to appear to take our drink orders.
5:10 p.m. - Realize that Towers does not have servers. Cry deeply.
5:10 p.m. - Try to build the resolve to actually go get our own beverages from the bar. Realize we’re not plebes — if we’re going to pay $5.75 for a beer, it needs to be poured and set down in front of us by someone attractive.
5:17 p.m. - A game of quarters ensues — remember, here you have to make your own fun.
5:18 p.m. - Once again attempt to define the line separating cafeteria and bar. Fail even worse than before.
5:20 p.m. - Stare at the small stage in the bar, which looks like it would be ideal for a DJ or rock band to entertain patrons. Wonder why it’s completely deserted on a Friday evening.
5:21 p.m. - Table sinks into an awkward silence. Everyone pulls out their phones and pretends they don’t know each other.
5:25 p.m. - Random guy at the table beside us starts rapping awkwardly in the silence. Everyone glares at him with a mixture of admiration and horror. Bad beatboxing tapers off to a soft spitting sound.
5:31 p.m. - Come to the realization that this place has nothing going for it. We require something deep-fried to munch on — a campus bar should at least be able to provide that much.
5:47 p.m. - Reach a breaking point because Towers doesn’t serve food. Flip the table in rage and storm out, because the only fun that can be had a Towers is fun you create yourself. By flipping tables.
5:48 p.m. - Take one final glance around the elementary lunchroom-style tables and tiny bar with barely a single soul in the whole place, and feel profoundly
5:48 p.m. - Leave Towers for good.
VERDICT: Towers left us underwhelmed, disappointed and above all, hungry. While the pub’s menu looks decent enough, it’s pretty disappointing that they close their kitchen at 5 p.m. when the bar itself is still open for another three hours. But that might be an indication of what Towers is supposed to be: this isn’t really a nighttime entertainment bar. This is a place to go in the middle of the day so you can grab a lunch beer to sip while you check out your readings for your 3 p.m. class. The whole thing looks like a lunchroom, and that’s because it basically is. Lower your expectations if you’re hoping for an exciting night out at Towers — on a Friday evening, campus was already cleared out, the bar was dead and let’s remind everyone one more time: they weren’t serving food.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Saturdays, closed Sundays
Beers on tap: Wicked Panda, Aprikat, Yellowhead, Grasshopper and more — $5.75 for most pints, $17.25 for most pitchers
Most expensive menu item: A tie between the No. 12 Burger and the Fish and Chips — $12
Least expensive menu item: Veggie Plate — $6
6:10 p.m. - Some of our MacEwan and NAIT friends arrive at the U of A before we do and attempt to go to RATT — only to be stopped by the bouncer demanding to see OneCards they don’t have.
6:15 p.m. - We arrive in SUB and puzzle over why RATT is suddenly deciding to check OneCards, today of all days. Contemplate if we’ll even be able to get our whole crew in.
6:20 p.m. - Bring everyone up to RATT and manage to convince the bouncer to let everyone in with three OneCard-holding students.
6:22 p.m. - Having accumulated a few more people at Towers in their desperation to leave MacEwan’s subpar pub, we seek out a table that will fit our group of about 10.
6:24 p.m. - Come to the realization that this is impossible. It’s Friday evening and RATT is bumpin’. There’s a single free table with three lonely chairs, but it’s not nearly enough room for everyone.
6:26 p.m. - Our Grant Mac friends marvel at the panoramic view out RATT’s windows and the comparably classy atmosphere from Towers.
6:28 p.m. - After some deliberation, we give up. We’re ready and willing to put RATT’s beer and food to the test, but there’s just no space to settle in.
6:30 p.m. - Leave RATT and squeeze back into the elevators to go back down to the main floor of SUB.
6:33 p.m. - Do what you always do when RATT isn’t an option: head to Champ’s across from Lister.
6:37 p.m. - On the way to Champ’s, we jaywalk across the street and a Grant Mac cohort sprains her ankle.
6:38 p.m. - Partying is derailed as we try to figure out if our injured companion is out of commission or can rally to make it to another bar.
6:45 p.m. - We triumphantly make it to Champ’s and settle in to the ample space provided — it might be Friday night, but in the absence of Lister kids, the bar is gloriously dead, as usual. For a while.
VERDICT: RATT is the only campus bar with the bizarre elitism of only allowing students with OneCards up to its hallowed halls. While this can be sidestepped by bringing up a bonafide U of A student with a OneCard to accompany your non-student self, it seems like a bit of an unnecessary barrier.
Due to the fact that it actually has servers and the kitchen is open well into the evening, RATT proves itself to be head-and-shoulders above MacEwan’s Towers. It also has far more of a “real bar” atmosphere, making it more classy and inviting than Towers. While we didn’t get the opportunity to put the service or food quality to the test on this particular night, neither of the other bars blew us out of the water in either of these areas. RATT doesn’t have the renovated sports bar polish of the Nest, but in the absence of trudging through blocks of muck and construction, the main U of A pub doesn’t actually seem half-bad.
The remnants of chivalry still linger today, especially in the dating world.