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Get Your Drink On 

Dormitories, Ramen noodles and other staples of student life prove that in college, convenience almost always trumps everything else. College bars are a testament to this fact; they are conveniently located in walking (or often, stumbling) distance to the area universities. Location is the reason Friar Tuck's, The Boot and The Raven (formerly T.J. Quill's) have been undeservedly dubbed the Holy Trinity of College Bars by generations of college-age drinkers. That fact that these bars consider Beer Pong a competitive sport and dancing on elevated surfaces as acceptable behavior might also help.

While it may be blasphemous to say, there is life outside the aforementioned bar triad. And not even too far outside " many quality bars exist only a few blocks or a streetcar ride away from campus. Because they are accessible, affordable and willing to embrace a youthful crowd, these watering holes are raising the bar for college nightlife. University Area Close to Loyola and Tulane universities are bars that could rival the Big Three any day. Ensconced in a small space on the Oak Street strip, Maple Leaf Bar (8316 Oak St., 866-9359) seems barely able to contain its patrons when Rebirth Brass Band takes the stage. The band plays every Tuesday, yet you'd never know it from the crowd it consistently draws. The combination of people and noise threatens to blow the walls off this tiny music club. While a treat for out-of-state students, a Rebirth show never gets old even for the most jaded locals.

Cooter Brown's Tavern (509 S. Carrollton Ave., 866-9104) is like the seemingly dumb jock in high school who, behind a wall of muscle and blond, turns out to contain a surprising amount of substance. A short walk from the Uptown universities, Cooter Brown's looks like a generic sports bar with its big-screen TVs and bloated bar menu of Buffalo wings and burgers. But even the most astute drinkers can appreciate the impressive beer selection " more than 400 kinds of beer, 42 on draft and 350 imports. But at the end of the day, Cooter Brown's is still a sports bar and is known to get crowded for Saints and LSU football games.

The Columns Hotel (3811 St. Charles Ave., 899-9308) has become popular among students, probably because the classiness of this historic St. Charles Avenue mansion negates the frat parties, all-nighters and the other more base aspects of college life. The sprawling porch, high ceilings and Victorian Lounge will make you feel unworthy, but isn't it nice to pretend for a night? To maintain this air of sophistication, go to the Columns on Tuesday nights when 1718 " a literary group of Loyola and Tulane students " sponsors readings that feature student writers and poets laureate. Off the beaten path These bars may not be within walking distance or very close to the streetcar line, but college students always seem to find their way there.

Unlike your dorm or rented apartment, Bridge Lounge (1201 Magazine St., 299-1888) is extremely dog friendly " so much so that its walls are adorned exclusively in black-and-white photography of dogs. Bring that furry friend you've been hiding from your RA, or invite your human friends for an evening that can be sophisticated or laid-back, depending on your mood. On any given night, you're bound to see both Cosmopolitan-sipping urbanistas and neighborhood residents stopping in during a dog walk.

Bridge Lounge's music is some of the best in town, with bartenders playing anything from Motown standards to indie bands like Arcade Fire. The bar is filled with quirky concoctions like the Key Lime-tini, which is exactly what it sounds like " pie in martini form. But don't have too many of those milky cocktails or you'll find that your evening will, as they say, go to the dogs.

Perhaps the most sought-after commodity among college students is free food. Handsome Willy's (218 S. Robertson St., 525-0377) has free or dirt-cheap food opportunities nearly every night, which is great when eating Easy Mac five times a week starts to get old. Bookended by free red beans and rice Mondays and free seasonal seafood Fridays, Handsome Willy's has cheap tacos, chili and barbecue every day in between. If it didn't already give enough food away, the bar has events like Porkfest where it cooks up pounds of free pork. There's also the monthly Night Flight dance party, with DJ Jonesbird and J Daiquiri spinning indie, hip-hop and mash-ups.

Most college students know Frenchmen Street as the place to wear sexy cop and nurse costumes on Halloween, but everybody else knows it as the strip with the best bars and music venues in town. While places like d.b.a. host more traditional jazz fare, Blue Nile (532 Frenchmen St., 948-2583) is home for the younger generation of musicians who fuse techniques of their jazz idols with elements of modern rock. The club draws the college crowd when it hosts bands like City Life, Fay Wray and Antenna Inn, all comprised of Loyola students. Dancing Need an occasion to wear that gold lamé American Apparel unitard? Not far off the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line are bars known for events drawing hipsters and indie music lovers in fashionably dressed droves. If Vh1 were a bar, it would be Republic (828 S. Peters St., 528-8282) on Friday nights. The club's Throwback Friday thrives on nostalgic kitsch with themes like 80s Prom and The Goonies. Throwback also is laden with promotions for students on a budget, which is every student. After having an open bar at the beginning of the night, there are drink specials and a free tab awaiting anyone who solves a Rubik's cube (a task even more daunting after a few beers).

For a no-frills night of dancing, Circle Bar (1032 St. Charles Ave., 588-2616) hosts the Defend New Orleans Action Action Reaction indie dance party on the first Friday of every month. Just be forewarned that the amount of people crammed into this little Lee Circle bar will make things get really sweaty, really fast. You might rethink the unitard.

Bars with outdoor seating Someone should amend the old adage 'work hard, play hard" to acknowledge that both can be done simultaneously. Who says you can't study at a bar? I find that you can successfully trick yourself into thinking you are at a coffee shop at any bar with an outdoor patio. Besides having excellent (and inexpensive) mojitos, St. Joe's Bar (5535 Magazine St., 899-3734) has a patio in the back that provides a relatively quiet respite from the bar's bustling interior, but the pool table could beckon to procrastinators.

Further down Magazine Street, both Balcony Bar (3201 Magazine St., 895-1600) and The Bulldog (3236 Magazine St., 891-1516) have outdoor seating. As its name implies, Balcony Bar's outdoor area is its wraparound balcony that is great for people-watching. The Bulldog has a patio and beers from all over the world. Both bars also include the perfect companion to studying: food. But if you find yourself playing harder than you work, Rue de la course " a real coffee shop " is within walking distance. End of the night A few bars are notable in earning the 'Best After 3 a.m." status. Something about these places can only be understood through the lens of late-night drunken delirium. Luckily, being in college is the perhaps the only time in your life when pulling such marathon nights renders the least amount of consequences. These places also take the term 'dive bar" to a whole new level.

For those definitely-not-going-to-class-tomorrow kind of nights, Ms. Mae's (4336 Magazine St., 895-9401) marks the beginning of your downward spiral. At this legendary dive, most well drinks and beers cost only a dollar " perfect for when cash inevitably starts to wane. Then there's the ultimate late-night mecca: Snake and Jake's Xmas Club (7612 Oak St., 861-2802, which might not even exist except in the drunken hallucinations of many. The Boot also draws in a wee-hours crowd, and the pizza at the neighboring Dough Bowl is the antidote to drunken food cravings (and is just as good when you're sober). Promoting these bars may seem opposed to the message of college students raising their standards, but after a long night " you deserve it.

Lauren LaBorde is a senior communications major at Loyola University and a frequent contributor to Gambit Weekly.

click to enlarge CHERYL GERBER
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