You don’t even need to say it, I already know. As a graduate of Ohio University it’s absolutely, positively despicable that I haven’t spent the night in Athens for 10 years. A place that’s affected me in such a wonderful way. A place that’s given me so many memories it’s hard to conjure up every one lucidly. A place that’s just magical, there’s no other way to put it. All that being said, I finally made my way back and here’s some of what I found.
The brick streets still just feel right. Of course this isn’t a revelation, like I somehow expected them to be gone, but there’s just something about the old-school feeling they give uptown Athens. Something about the way they feel on the bottoms of your shoes. I wish every town had brick streets…wait, no I don’t. Save it for here.
On to my favorite lunch spot and quite possibly my favorite in the state of Ohio — Bagel Street Deli. Everything felt exactly the same, albeit a little bit busier. Classic rock bellowed from the kitchen, this particular time I think I heard some Zombies and Zeppelin.
A perfectly straight single file line stretched down the narrow corridor filled with hungry college students debating which one of the 50 or so sandwiches they’re going to choose. Will it be the simply Tom’s Turkey with sprouts on a pretzel bagel (my favorite), or the veggie-centric Kimmie Gibbler. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, they’re all fantastic and so are the names that describe them.
Bringing back even more nostalgia, I had to take my finely crafted sandwich across to College Green and sit indian-style in the grass. Much to my dismay, there wasn’t anyone else taking advantage of the green space although it’s fair to point out no one expected a sunny 70-degree day in mid-November. Nonetheless it was fantastic, view of the Burrito Buggy and all.
Right down the street is the new Jackie O’s Brew Pub, which for me will always be O’Hooley’s, but that’s okay because there’s enough of the old staple inside to make an alumni feel at home. I’ve had plenty of Jackie O’s brew in the past, but these guys really are making some seriously great beer. Beers like the Paw Paw Wheat and Mystic Mama IPA are solid, but if you get the chance, score one of their Bourbon Barrel Stouts which are ridiculously good.
Now it wouldn’t be a return visit without a night at the bars and by all means this is debatable among the OU elite, but Cat’s Eye is still my favorite. That’s not to say other taverns aren’t great or even close to top of the list for that matter, but there’s no replacing an old personal staple. And I’m happy to report nothing has changed, not a single thing at least as far as I could tell. Beers are outrageously cheap, the two front window seats are still highly coveted perfect for people watching and speed quarters (not ashamed), and the bartenders still have that like-it-or-not-I’m-going-at-my-own-pace attitude which in my opinion, is perfect. Bottom line: the Cat’s Eye is timeless.
While I certainly could talk about more of my favorite tavern experiences, like Hot Nut shots at Tony’s and the fact that the Court Street Shuffle is still going strong, I’ll skip to the late-night food scene which any Athens dignitary knows is strong.
Souvlaki’s is just like I remembered, uptown’s oldest eatery and still killing the gyro game. A souvlaki and seasoned fries is really all you’ll need here, although you can certainly add grape leaves for a little extra Mediterranean flare. But make sure to strike up a conversation with the owners because they’re just as nice and relatable as I recall. Also, if it’s Friday or Saturday night skip eating inside where it’s too busy to move and opt for a curb outside, nobody’s judging.
Then there’s the old pizza staple, Goodfellas, where you can still get a slice of cheese pizza for $1.50. Thick, doughy and delicious, one slice will usually do it, even for the most hearty of appetite. I say that not owning up to the fact that I always and just recently bought two in one sitting.
I could go on and on about all the good places to eat, about how dive bars only get better with time and can’t be made, but that could take eons. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s just something magical about Athens. Maybe it’s because I’m from northern Ohio or that I’m simply an Ohio University Alumni reflecting on the past, but even the air smells different down here. A funky little college town whose character rivals most large cities, Athens is a town for me that will never get stale.
Oh yeah, we came across a deer roaming around downtown — Only in Athens.