Long nicknamed as “College Town, U.S.A.,” Columbia boasts an impressive number of young adults (and young-at-heart adults) wanting to go out on the town for a good time. And though it is different from how it was 50 years ago, one thing remains: The city’s bar culture has continued, and will continue, to prosper.

A blurry bit of history

Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, most drinking establishments in Columbia were “3.2 Beer Joints,” with an alcoholic volume limit of 3.2 percent. Considering that a regular beer’s alcoholic volume hovers around 5 percent, and some heavier beers now reach the alcoholic heights of 8 percent and more, 3.2 percent might sound like little more than water to some of today’s beer drinkers. But at that time, there weren’t many other options.

In fact, Columbia didn’t have liquor by the drink until 1968. Dick Walls, of Boone Tavern and Heidelberg fame, was among the first to have a hard liquor license. Jerry Bethrow, a former owner of Booches, recalls that by about 1977, there were only a dozen or so places downtown with liquor licenses. Booches itself didn’t have a license to serve liquor until 1982. Now, downtown Columbia alone claims more than 70 separate liquor licenses.

 Reigning it in

At various points in Columbia’s history, drinking culture, especially among youth, has been a point of contention that many believed needed more control and oversight. One of the first waves followed the death of student in the University of Missouri’s Greek Town in the 19__s. Following the tragedy, liquor agents began to heavily patrol the bar scene.

During that time, much of the liability for underage drinking rested upon bar owners. For example, Richard King of The Blue Note recalls one young man who had been caught by the liquor agents lying that he did not need to show an I.D. to enter the music venue. Knowing this was unlikely, King convinced the young man to eventually show the two fake I.D.s he was hiding in the sole of his shoe.

Following another youth drinking tragedy, in which a young woman fell from a patio at Quinton’s and fractured her skull and neck, drinking culture was once again under a microscope — only this time, King says, the bulk of the liability rests on the shoulders of underage drinkers. Now, liquor agents enter bars, write drinking tickets and may barely even talk to the bar owner.

Driven by drink specials

During the early days of drinking culture, King says there were three staples of the best bars: Stephens College girls, cheap beer and live music. Deep drink discounts have always drawn good crowds. People of all ages who have ever spent a 20-something weekend in Columbia know that each bar and club has its night to shine, based on its drink specials.

In the ’80s, Tuesdays were spent at Stein Club, Wednesdays at The Blue Note or Field House, Thursdays at Déjà Vu or Harpo’s, with other bars running the weekend rotation. The weekly rotation these days is different, but penny pitchers, $1 double-wells and quarter draws are just some of the deals that bring locals out drinking on more than just the weekends.

Another important element is to be locally owned. Bar chains from Missouri’s major cities have had a hard time of it in Columbia, according to King, often striking out quickly and hard.

So Columbians do more than drink to have a good time; maybe it’s a soberly calculated decision to support the local economy? Maybe not. Either way, cheers to that!


(1884-Now) Booches began its pool hall history in 1884, under the ownership of Paul Blucher Veneble. As a child, Veneble was sitting along the street when children’s poet Eugene Field asked his name. “That’s no name for a little boy,” Field said, dubbing him (more appropriately) “Booch,” says Jerry Bethrow, a former owner of Booches. Bethrow came to know this story when Booch’s daughter dropped by in 1984, at the age of 85, to visit her father’s old establishment.

First opening across the street from its current location, Booches hopped over Ninth Street to its current location in 1928 and from 1928 to 1983 had no sign to bear its name on its storefront. It was one of those places Columbians just “knew.”

(1947) Stein Club was a rowdy little joint at the intersection of Broadway and 10th from the 1940s to the 1980s, where bands such as The Jolly Brothers would tear down the house and a gaggle of Stephens College and MU girls could always be found — with a group of guys following shortly behind.

(1960s) Poor Richard’s was a popular bar back in the 60s, located where the Shakespeare’s downtown location now preps its pizza pies.

(1960s-Now) The Heidelberg has been serving Columbians good food and good times since 1963. Back then, it was located further from MU’s campus — where Coffee Zone is now — but this CoMo staple has always been all about MU. Come on, they’ve got a tiger-striped toilet seat. What more could a tiger fan want?

(1970s) Ford’s Theater was one of the most eclectic bars of the 70s and drew crowds from MU’s Greek system, along with plenty of locals and Stephens College girls through its doors, now those of Field House on Broadway.

For thirty years prior to opening as a bar, the space acted as a showroom for new Fords, according to a 1974 MU publication showcasing local hot spots. The publication also recalls some of the unique theater props circulating around Ford’s Theater, including a mannequin in a dental chair, said to have died from “overdosing on laughing gas” acquired through a dental apparatus located at the bar.

(1970s) Gladstone Manufacturing Co. was the live music joint in the ’70s. With its dirt and concrete floors, potbelly stove and a live goat behind the bar, this place was so far out in the country (across from the Ski Hi drive-in movie theater on Old 63) that patrons could hoot and holler without a care in the world.

(1970s-Now) Harpo’s has shared a lot of Columbia history. Not only was Harpo’s the first stop of the goal post when MU beat Oklahoma at the 2010 Homecoming football game, but the bar has also been noted as one of the top post-game bars by the Bleacher Report and The Post Game.com.

Although it was located on Fifth Street for its first year, Harpo’s has served Columbians from its current location for its subsequent 38 years and now offers both a patio, SkyyBar, and a dance club, 10Below.

(1970s-Now) Déjà Vu got its start in 1975 where the Candy Factory now sits. Initially, the entertainment venue and nightclub tried its hand with live music before becoming Columbia’s go-to place for comedy shows.

(1980s-Now) The Blue Note, downtown since 1990, first opened in 1980 on Business Loop where Club Vogue is now. That particular location had a long history of late-night entertainment, previously serving as popular bars Captain Louie’s, 19th Amendment and The Brief Encounter.

Owner Richard King still remembers the day The Blue Note first opened. “It was August 1980 — the hottest day of that year on record — with no AC.”

(1980s) Lee’s Lounge was a hangout in the 1980s located on the old West End, at Ash and Garth, what some consider the “last vestige of the old strip in Sharp End.” In 1982, the local blues band Chump Change was born here.

(1980s) The Silver Bullet had a long history in serving Columbia with significant country music acts. The warehouse began as Cody’s before becoming the Silver Bullet, and is now Whiskey Wild.

Most people don’t know that Shiloh’s first home was where Bengals now sits. It was only in ___ that Shiloh moved to its current location, which had previously been both a restaurant called Katy Station and one of Columbia’s first sports bars, The Coliseum.

Campus Bar & Grill, formerly known as Big 12 and Sudsuckers, started in __, is located at Ninth and Elm. Boasting its sports bar appeal, $1 burgers on Sunday and an airy rooftop patio along with its proximity to MU, it’s a game-day favorite among students and alumni alike.

(2000s-Now) With its true deli feel at ground level, a subterranean club below and multiple stories of sleek patios with a great citywide view, Quinton’s and Tonic appeals to a wide variety of crowds. It’s been sitting pretty on 9th Street since before the millennium.

(New & Now) Shot Bar is a new favorite on the scene, having opened in 2011. Located at 100 S. Ninth St., the bar has developed as a quick place for a shot or two before hitting the next locale around downtown.

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