Come September, thousands will be making the trek to Athens for home games at Sanford Stadium. Many come in a day or two early; others linger through the weekend, enjoying the other attractions of a city widely acknowledged as one of the best college towns around.
Of course, you don’t have to wait for football season to enjoy the offerings of Athens, some of which are hailed in the current issue of Garden & Gun magazine, which calls Athens a place where “music, food and football” come together.
Besides hundreds of places to drink beer (as you’d expect in a college town), there are rich cultural offerings thanks to UGA and some great restaurants. (Last year, I ran down some favorite places to eat in the Classic City, and to that list I’d add the Royal Peasant Pub in Five Points, a tiny spot offering some of the best fish and chips around.)
But the thing Athens is best known for besides UGA and football is its internationally renowned music scene, which takes center stage at the annual AthFest festival of bands, movies and offerings for kids this weekend.
Any time is a good time to sample music in Athens, however. The best known venue in town is the 40 Watt Club, which books a mix of big names and local acts drawing both townies and the college crowd. And this time next year hopefully the rebuilt Georgia Theatre will be back in business, too.
In the meantime, the Melting Point, located in what once was an old foundry (and which oldtimers might remember as the Athens Steam Company nightclub), is probably the listening spot most alums would like since it draws a somewhat older crowd with its mix of singer-songwriters, country, jazz and bluegrass.
As for what places besides the 40 Watt and Melting Point are worth checking out, I threw that to my 25-year-old son, who got two degrees at UGA, and he said it depends on your taste in music.
Reports young Bill:
“Caledonia Lounge is a pretty initmate spot with some really good indie rock, though it’s not always everyone’s cup of tea, as it can also be really weird indie rock.
“I actually like the outdoor area at Farm 255, which has a stage with those white Christmas lights and outdoor seating. That can be really nice on a pleasant evening and they do jazz, etc. in addition to rock. (A lot of these bars do different genres of music actually.)
“Flicker Theatre & Bar is another pretty small space and can get into pretty obscure local indie stuff, but it’s not all bad. They also have a popcorn machine with free popcorn. I’ve never been to New Earth Music Hall, but it draws a pretty decent lineup, especially in the post-Georgia Theatre days. Little Kings Shuffle Club has bands and it has a large outdoor area with seating and cornhole (the game where you toss beanbags. Beloved by tailgaters.)”
Bill warns that those of us who get goosebumps when we hear the trumpeter in the southwest corner of Sanford Stadium “might not be so into places like Flicker and Caledonia, as those are the domain of the indie/artsy crowd of Athens. If they really want to see the Athens music scene, those are places to go,” but his experience is that many fans in Athens for a football game “want to get drunk in a bar that plays Journey at obnoxious levels and hit on some of the lovely co-eds. (Fortunately, there are about 40 of those bars downtown.)”
Bill says that’s why “I was able to sit at a table and have a conversation at Manhattan Cafe (westside of downtown indie bar where I’ve seen Mike Mills of R.E.M. multiple times) and could barely move in the Allgood Lounge (large undergrad bar with loud music and virtually no decor or charm to speak of) on the Saturday night after the South Carolina game.”
One thing’s for sure, whether the loud bar scene is your thing or you’d rather sip a quiet one at Trappeze or the Globe, Athens is a great place to hang out, even when the Dawgs aren’t playing. And, hey, if you drop by Bailey’s American Tavern, you might even run into Boss or Champ!
After a game or anytime, what are your favorite Athens nightspots?