Though its exterior displays little more than a quaint sign and a few flyers, nothing extraordinary grasps the attention of those who pass Micawber’s Tavern on Aurora St. Yet upon entering the dark bar, it’s hard not to be impressed by the floor crowded with Ithaca College students, enjoying the kitschy vibe.
Senior Tyson Jurgens is a frequent bargoer who said he enjoys Micawber’s for its casual atmosphere.
“I love coming here,” Jurgens said. “Even though it’s not too fancy in here, you can definitely have some fun catching up with people from classes or hanging out and enjoying the crowd.”
The fall tends to renew interest in the Ithaca bar scene, as seniors embark on the rite of passage of celebrating their 21st birthdays and final semesters. A return to campus means that most seniors will be of legal drinking age, and more groups head out for a previously forbidden experience.
Senior Becca Pariser, who is a bartender at Kilpatrick’s Publick House on Tioga St., said the influx of college students coming back to Ithaca from a summer away increases business and alters the clientele of the downtown hotspots.
“During the summer, you mostly see local regulars whose faces you begin to recognize,” Pariser said. “During the school year, it gets a lot busier because the college kids are out to get drunk, have a good time and spend money. For them, it’s a change of pace from house parties.”
Many of the taverns in Ithaca are revered for their different styles. 2nd Floor Bar draws in a fair share of the college’s senior class with “Sports Center” playing nonstop. Across the way, Korova attracts the hipster sects with cushy seating, a lounge-like atmosphere and music of the indie persuasion.
Just down the street, Chanticleer is perhaps best-known for its clientele, a mix of colorful locals and like-minded, adventerous college students. Ithaca residents tend to flock to the bar, as it is one of the few not dominated by a college atmosphere.
Moonshadow Tavern, with an old-world, wooden feel, is frequently crammed with people because of its specials that attract students looking for the cheapest drinks. Students tend to favor either Moonshadow or Micawber’s but aren’t always above making a quick dash to catch last call at both bars.
Collegetown, the haunt for Cornell Unveristy students, is also popular with Ithaca College students. Hot spots include The Nines for live music and the Chapter House and Dino’s more for traditional bar fare.
Senior JJ Ignotz, a bartender at Micawber’s, said though there are no swank city clubs in Ithaca, there is enough variety in the nightlife to please everyone.
“All of the clubs in the area give students an option as to where to go out,” Ignotz said. “Each has their own characteristics and draws different cliques. I work at Micawber’s because I think it has the friendliest crowd.”
Aside from obvious restrictions for underage students, bar activity is also affected by expensive drink prices. Senior Sam Raymond said she has to be in the mood to go to the bars and spend money.
“Unless you are with a large group of friends, [bars] are expensive, loud and filled with people who get obnoxious as they drink more,” Raymond said. “Oftentimes it’s a lot more fun to stay at your house and relax with friends with a great bottle of red [wine].”
Money aside, the less-than-sober faces of those who stumble out of the bars after last call look satisfied. But since the bars close at 1 a.m., students are often looking for something to do with the rest of their night.
According to many drinking-age students, the solution to this problem is often heading to an after-hours house party, scanning the sidewalks for someone attractive or simply heading home for a long night of studying.
Still, Jurgens said the fraternal bond of bar-goers makes hitting the scene more fun than many alternatives.
“It is a little expensive to get drinks at the bar, but it is nice to hang out with an older, more mature crowd,” Jurgens said. “I love meeting new people, and it sure beats running around town trying to find somewhere to hang out.”