College students find ample nightlife at bars and restaurants close to campus
Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a new, occasional series on nightlife in Baton Rouge. LSU student Matthew Jacobs looks at going out on foot near campus.
Keith Johnson and two friends darted across Nicholson Drive in the pitch black of a Friday night, with only the headlights of oncoming traffic and the gleam of nearby nightspots to guide them.
They headed away from the illumination and trekked down the neighboring East Boyd Drive. The lack of sidewalks forced them to walk along the street, and the minimal lighting prompted them to scurry to their destination quickly.
Johnson and his buddies were leaving the popular Tigerland area, where throngs of LSU students can be found carousing on any given night. They were traipsing down Boyd to another set of bars: Bogie’s, Shady’s and Mellow Mushroom, a trifecta of Tigerland alternatives that are equally popular with local partygoers.
Setting out on foot to get there is not uncommon, and anyone driving near Tigerland between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. is almost guaranteed to see college students crossing the street as their evening itineraries shift from one location to the next.
These bar-goers are coming from all sorts of places: nearby apartments, adjacent restaurants where they’ve just dined or even as far as the LSU campus itself.
“You don’t have to worry about cabs or drinking and driving,” said Johnson, a recent Georgia Tech graduate who moved to Baton Rouge for work.
Johnson was exploring the LSU bar scene for only the second time last Friday. Despite his hesitancy about the inundation of LSU- and Saints-themed taverns, he was impressed that so much is within walking distance of his new apartment at Southgate Towers, located on Nicholson just minutes from campus.
Like Johnson, many students leave their cars idle on Friday nights as Tigerland staples such as Fred’s and Mike’s invite them to revel in the bars’ close proximity to LSU. The setup is also advantageous for students who live on campus and can take what is colloquially known as the “drunk bus,” a Tiger Trails route that services the Tigerland area after hours.
Michaela Jones just completed her freshman year at LSU. She lived on campus without a car, forcing her to rely on friends and her own two feet for transportation. Like many students, Jones caught a few rides on the “drunk bus” so she could make it to Tigerland safely.
“You don’t even have to worry about getting there or not. You just find the app and go,” Jones said about the security of taking the “drunk bus,” whose routes can be tracked via smartphone.
The “drunk bus” is off duty for now, as none of Tiger Trails’ routes run after 6 p.m. during the summer, according to LSU’s Office of Parking, Traffic and Transportation. The night routes will return when the fall semester begins in August.
The absence of the “drunk bus” doesn’t seem to be deterring students from visiting Tigerland, however, as plenty of bar-hopping pedestrians can still be seen crossing Nicholson each night.
Along with convenient excursions to Tigerland, students who live on campus like Jones can easily access a bastion of additional nightlife options by walking along Highland Road until they reach the north gates of LSU. Favorites like The Chimes, The Varsity Theatre and Splash tantalize students with their handy locations and multifaceted offerings.
“LSU is really great with how it’s set up, with CVS and all the local restaurants,” Jones said.
She and her friends visited popular State Street diner Louie’s every Sunday night, an example of the many North Gate traditions that students experience during their time at LSU.
Rachel Shipman, an assistant manager at Reginelli’s Pizzeria on West Chimes Street, estimates that about 60 percent of the restaurant’s business comes from LSU students. Michelle Gendron, a manager at The Chimes, expects that “at least a quarter” of their business comes from LSU.
The area provides suitable nightlife for campus dwellers as well as those who don’t care to venture to the Tigerland area.
Amy Bourg, who just finished her sophomore year, has never been to Tigerland. She lives on campus without a car and describes her group of friends as “apartment chillers.”
Bourg said she’s conscientious of safety concerns while traversing the campus at night, but she and her friends have walked to The Varsity and other hot spots to find fun without having to leave the LSU vicinity.
The ability to avoid driving is a chief factor for many college students and recent graduates as they decide how to spend their free time.
Johnson said while he’s interested in checking out Baton Rouge’s downtown bar scene, he may be deterred from doing so because he can’t walk there.
LSU senior Abby Kern agreed. She lives on East Boyd and said she walks to Tigerland about “75 percent of the time” when going out.
“I honestly would love to go downtown, but the driving issue and the parking issue is something that holds us back,” Kern said. “If I do go somewhere … I could easily leave my car there overnight, but downtown, there are so many regulations about where to park that it’s kind of impossible to leave your car in that area.”
Like Kern, every student has an opinion on the best method to travel to his or her nightlife destination of choice, with some praising the “drunk bus” and others preferring alternative modes.
Johnny Phillippi, an LSU senior who visited Tigerland last weekend, said he favors living nearby to taking a bus from campus because it’s less of a “hassle.”
“When you’re trying to be responsible, it’s better to walk a block than get on a bus,” Phillippi said.
Despite the variegated opinions, one thing is sure: Walking along roads like Nicholson and Highland is a universal part of the LSU experience.
Although Jones won’t be living on campus next year and will be graced with a car, she said she’ll miss the easy access of being able to set out on foot to reach her destinations.
“The walking aspect is great,” she said. “Being able to get up and go wherever you want without having to think about traffic. It’s the mindless aspect that’s enjoyable.”