If you were a guy who was terrible at talking to women, who liked affordable drinks and a jukebox with old-school hits, and didn’t mind urinating next to someone standing on top of the men’s room sink who was doing the same, The Junction (41 North Court Street, Athens, Ohio) was a really great bar.
It’s gone now. The heart-and-soul of my social life at Ohio University has been gutted, sanitized (in every possible way) and replaced. I wish the new owner good luck, and I hope the current students enjoy the J-Bar, as it’s now known, but at the risk of sounding like the alumni who visited campus in the 1990s and told us how Court Street was fun but “it’s not the same,” well, it’s not the same.
The Junction was the perfect dive bar. The men’s toilet had no stall. I’m not entirely sure it had a seat. There was a Foosball table, a dart board and a jukebox that had not been updated since 1989. It did not serve cooked food, although I heard the owner kept a can of soup from the 1970s behind the bar to meet some city zoning law. The interior was ensconced in dark wood, which patrons wrote graffiti on—mainly the names of whatever bar shuffles they were on. (My wife Jen actually snagged a plank with her name on it last summer. We’re going to build our own home bar around it someday.) Stools lined the bar, and there were benches built into the walls and interior, but most people stood. It was a standing bar.
Unlike the other 22 bars in Athens, The Junction had an indoor balcony that ingeniously allowed an extra 50-75 or so people in the room. The space under the balcony, sunken off the main floor, was the perfect place to make out with someone you met 10 minutes ago.
The Junction also had a creepy off-limits-to-patrons basement, which everyone managed to sneak into eventually. I think Buffalo Bill lived down there.
We saw the bartenders there so often we nicknamed them. There was “Jesus,” who looked like Jesus, “Witchy Woman,” who looked like a witch and was a woman and “The Twins.” You can guess how she got her name. This was a common conversation in our house senior year.
“Was Jesus at The Junction tonight?”
“Yes, He returned. Jesus always returns.”
The reason we went to The Junction, in the beginning, was Quad Night. On Thursday nights The Junction sold mixed drinks with double or more the amount of alcohol of a regular mixed drink. You could get a Junction Punch, Patio Lantern, Screwdriver, 7 and 7 and probably other drinks I don’t remember (why would that be?) for $2. It was the perfect price point for the poor college student.
We had a tradition. We’d get to the The Junction around 9 or so for Quad Night, post up around the jukebox and play the same songs by the same artists (Jimmy Buffett, Tom Jones, Barry White, Journey, The Marching 110) every week. I’m pretty dense, but even I knew then that this was something I would miss when college was over—getting a dozen or two people together, laughing our asses off, dancing, closing the bar, grabbing a slice of pizza from GoodFella’s and walking home down Mill Street together.
Favorite Junction memories: every Quad Night, our Ohio University Parrothead Club meetings, which consisted of the very important tasks of drinking Corona and dancing in a conga line, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” playing us out every Thursday, grabbing the odd beer at 6 pm on a Friday when it was just a few of us and the owner Keith, hearing “Closing Time” the last night we went there my senior year, the time on Dads Weekend when Jeff’s dad bought us all shots of Crown Royal (who buys shots of Crown Royal?!?), firing them back and then watching one of our buddies projectile-vomit his against the wall and, best of all, whenever members of the Marching 110 played inside the bar.
I saw The Junction for the last time last summer. My wife (also an OU grad) and I held our bachelor/bachelorette parties in Athens. Word got out that week that the owner had sold it, but I had no idea how much it would change between then and when I returned a few weeks ago for the student newspaper The Post’s 100-Year Reunion. All of us who were there last summer were thankful we got the chance to grab a few more rounds there.
This is a lot to write about a bar, right? There’s a reason it’s remembered fondly. Many of us who hung out there together were nerds who didn’t enjoy high school all that much, because who likes being ignored or made fun of for four years? Then we nerds met up in college and discovered that having a social life was not only possible, but enjoyable. We needed a place to gather—not the frat bar (Pawpurr’s) or the sorority bar (The Crystal) or the jock bar (Cat’s Eye) or the grunge bar (The Union) or the townie bar (The Smiling Skull) or the freshmen bar (The Greenery), we needed a place where the miscellaneous kids on campus could gather and have a good time, and we found it on the corner of Court Street and State.
The Junction floor will forever be sticky with beer and memories.
Joe Donatelli graduated from Ohio University in 1998. He is the author of “The Marching Band Refused to Yield: The true story of the time Ohio University’s alumni band fought the Miami of Ohio football team.” Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Junction facts and such:
–Here’s the recipe for a Junction Punch, from my buddy Kevin Holbert. He told me, “There was actually something called The Junction Handbook, which some of this information was taken from. I asked two former bartenders and they argued over one point, which was discussed further.” Junction Punch ingredients: vodka, gin, rum, triple sec, wildberry schnapps, sour, 7-up and grenadine.” Kevin says a bartender told him, “When you make the Junction Punch and you are busy you leave out the triple sec for time reasons. However, the actual recipe calls for triple sec.”
– The Junction was purchased by Dave Cornwell from Keith Martin.
– It was previously known as Igor’s.
– The Junction has been the site of a student bar “for generations.”
– The guy who invented the XFL, Basil DeVito, invented Quad Night in 1975.
– The last time The Junction was sold it went for $800,000.
UPDATE: My buddy Jim sent me this photo. You are welcome to send yours: contactjoed(at)gmail.com
More Ohio University posts:
– Returning to Athens is for foolish, brave alumni (The Post)