From Irish bricks to lethal Long Islands, East Lansing's bars are lively until last call
A night out in East Lansing can mean anything from a escape to Ireland to Long Island Iced Teas strong enough to keep customers buzzing all night.
It can mean belting out show tunes to a crowded room or munching on salty crack fries that are as addicting as the name implies.
Some of the city’s watering holes have been standing for decades. Others opened their doors just in time for this year’s Rose Bowl viewing parties.
But with traditions old and new, the East Lansing bar scene has remained an integral part of student culture.
The luck of the Irish
MSU boasts some of the best study abroad programs in the country, but not every student can afford a trip overseas.
Fortunately, a trip to Dublin Square Irish Pub likely won’t break the bank, and might be a worthy compromise — after all, it’s been serving all things Irish since St. Patrick’s Day in 2007.
Formerly the East Lansing post office, the 72-year-old building has served students for quite some time.
When breaking ground for the pub, the owner decided he wanted to make an authentic Irish environment a priority, said Dublin General Manager Rick Sauer.
“This is real Irish wood,” he explained, knocking his knuckles on the mahogany bar.
Students enjoying half-off Wednesdays likely don’t know that the bar itself and some of the walls were originally constructed in Ireland. The original bar was taken apart, shipped to East Lansing and reassembled.
So naturally, it’s become the primary St. Patrick’s Day destination for students and residents alike. By 7 a.m. this year, there were roughly 250 students anxiously waiting in line to celebrate the holiday.
“It was a blast,” Sauer said. “We dress up for (St. Patrick’s Day) every day of the year — we’re ready for it.”
Business junior Jake Sterling said Dublin is his favorite bar in town because of its specials and a fun atmosphere that still manages to be upscale.
“The DJ is a lot better than most bars,” Sterling said.“The deals are great and it’s a lot classier than most of the (other) bars here.”
30 years of karaoke
The walls are covered in ink, there are students sharing large buckets of beer and the room echoes with the sounds of tipsy karaoke singers: welcome to Crunchy’s.
Even with a rich 31-year history, Crunchy’s has managed to be progressive.
It became a destination for unique craft beer brews since the late 1990s and was the first establishment in East Lansing to do so. In fact, Crunchy’s owners were some of the first to catch on to the growing craft beer industry in Michigan.
“We had the foresight to see the potential growth in the industry,” Crunchy’s General Manager Mike Krueger previously told The State News. “It was a step towards changing Crunchy’s focus and creating a new niche for the business while supporting Michigan businesses and educating our customers about craft beer.”
Last spring, Complex Magazine named Crunchy’s No. 6 on its list of the 25 Best College Campus Bars.
What sticks out the most about Crunchy’s is still the tradition of tone-deaf karaoke performances on weekends, bartender Scott Pagel said.
“You’ll see people that have been coming in for thirty years, since we’ve opened, who still come back every week to sing karaoke every weekend,” Pagel said. “The types of songs will vary from Disney songs to Shaggy. It goes all across the board.”
Marketing senior Carson Lo said he loves the environment at Crunchy’s.
“There’s definitely no other bar in East Lansing quite similar to (it),” he said. “It’s a homey type, a hole-in-the-wall joint that everyone loves, (so) it’s not actually a hole in the wall.”
Lo said the Crunchy’s regulars remind him of the 90s sitcom “Cheers.”
“It’s a bar where everyone comes back weekly,” Lo said. “The karaoke atmosphere is wild but no one really judges and everyone has a great time. And the good food and beer are definitely a bonus.”
Brewing up business
With an indoor capacity of 500, a patio that holds 150 more and a downstairs dance venue, Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub is one of East Lansing’s largest bars.
Every week, hundreds of students gather in Harpers for a night of entertainment, said manager Mike White.
“When you walk into a bar this large and it is just packed to the rim, you know you’re getting yourself into something that no other bar can give you in East Lansing,” he said.
During game days, students gather around a video wall containing numerous TVs and two projectors to cheer on the Spartans or other Michigan sports teams.
Other nights, students are amused by the various live music performances, disc jockeys or the homemade beer — Harper’s has East Lansing’s original brewpub, which produces six homemade beers.
“From what I’ve heard, Spartan Wheat is one of the most well-known beers on campus,” White said. “If you go to the bars throughout your college years, it’s impossible to make it out without knowing or trying once what Spartan Wheat is.”
And Harpers is home to the original half-off Wednesday in East Lansing, a deal that’s been available all 16 years of operation.
Media and information junior Eric Morrow said he finds himself there almost every Wednesday and said the deals make a good excuse for partying in the middle of the week.
“You can’t beat (the deals), he said. “How am I supposed to say no to cheap beers and great night with friends?”
New kids on the block
Despite the bars that have been around for years, East Lansing continues to welcome new ones to the mix.
Bars like Spencer’s and Hopcat sprung up in 2013, and in their wake, there’s been debate among city officials over limiting the local bar scene.
One proposal deferred earlier this year looked to cap the number of patrons at establishments serving alcohol past midnight to 3,300.
Because the current approved occupancy allowed for these businesses already is 3,892, the proposal would effectively prevent any future bars in East Lansing from opening unless another closed.
But for many students, newer bars like Peppino’s, Spencer’s and Hopcat provide a breath of fresh air.
Spencer’s, known previously as Stateside Deli, decided it was time for a name and menu change.
“We’ve got a great bar feel, but (we’re) unlike most bars around here where you don’t get great food,” said owner Spencer Soka. “You get one or the other, but here you come and can get both.”
Social work junior Samantha Linck likes to make stops at Spencer’s to unwind after class.
“It’s a more sophisticated bar,” she said. “I think it’s nice. It’s different because it’s a lot smaller than most bars and it’s not as crowded yet.”
Aware his bar is the new kid on the block, Soka said he’s ready for the local competition.
“We’re trying to go after the bars that students are used to going to,” he said. “We’re directly going at the competition.”
The two-story East Lansing Hopcat, a bar originating in Grand Rapids, is famous for its numerous craft beer selections and one-of-a-kind crack fries.
Construction management senior Matt Nicholson said he enjoys going to Hopcat often.
“I like the atmosphere, it’s more relaxed,” Nicholson said. “It’s not really “bar-y. It’s got more of a restaurant feel.”
Hopcat owner and MSU alumnus Mark Sellers was excited to bring Hopcat to his former college town.
“We’re for the student who likes to think about what they drink,” he previously told The State News.
Worth the wait
The long line wrapped around the corner of Abbot and Albert Road never keeps students from enjoying a night in the basement of Rick’s American Cafe.
“Most nights I go out, I end up at Rick’s,” said nursing junior Cole Jennings. “I feel like I’m almost compelled to go to this place.”
Rick’s was once a primary destination for live music in the 1980s, perhaps most famously hosting the Red Hot Chili Peppers in November of 1985.
Notorious now for being the last stop during many bar crawls and wild nights out, Rick’s boasts dirty dancing and no entry charge for ladies on Tuesdays.
Every Thursday from at 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Rick’s starts off the weekend with “Pizza Palooza” where students can get in without a cover price, buy half-off drinks and eat endless amounts of free pizza.
Human biology junior Alexis Jones said she likes Rick’s because she can hang out with friends from different groups of friends.
“All of my friends go to Rick’s,” Jones said. “Unlike a house party or other bars, I can come here and expect to see multiple groups of people I know.
“It’s Rick’s. It doesn’t exactly need an explanation,” she said.
Lethal Long Islands
A chilled glass. A sour lemon. Four shots of alcohol and a splash of Coke. Long Island Iced Teas have kept customers coming back to the Peanut Barrel for decades.
The Peanut Barrel was established first as a restaurant in 1973, and became a bar in 1979. In the spring of 1983, the patio was put in overlooking the promenade on Grand River Avenue, where it remains a popular spot today.
Being one of the oldest bars in town, the Peanut Barrel known to attract a wide mix of students and locals, who flock there to play darts and pool, or enjoy a Rodeo Burger in the sunshine.
“It’s not a meet and greet kind of place,” said Joe Bell, who has owned the bar since 1980. “It’s a place where generally you come with people you know or you expect to meet people here that you know.”
Psychology senior Dean Chelios said the Peanut Barrel provides a relaxed setting.
“They have a good staff and it’s a fun place to go and hang out with people in a more quiet environment,” said Chelios, who often comes to the Peanut Barrel with friends after class to enjoy a few beers and several rounds of pool.
And the patio is the best part of the changing seasons, he explained.
“The patio in the summer is packed and I love it,” Chelios said. “We’ve actually wanted to tough it out, but they said that 45 degrees is a cutoff.”
And though students might be tempted to keep themselves warm with multiple Long Islands, they’re so potent that there’s a long standing two-drink limit.
Bell said they’re sticking to it.
“Some of it is just tradition,” Bell said. “Some of that is it creates a mystique if you can only get two, but most of it is to keep people safe.”