Student life: Two words seemingly con-tradictory, but every student must try to strike a balance between the two. It’s a vital skill to manage, if you are to, as Van Wilder put it, “get out alive.” Fact is, when you’re subject to the mental strain of absorbing five classes worth of material—often in fewer than 90 days—it doesn’t take a Sociology masters student to determine why going out is a regular part of the student routine. It does, however, imply a responsibility to pick your battles—that is, if you find you’re out more than a handful of times a week, you’re getting wrecked in more ways than just one.
Having said that, a student’s choices of local sociable hangouts are plentiful in number and present a variety of appealing—and variably interesting—qualities. While I would love to claim these observations are a complete and definitive guide representing downtown Halifax after dark, it is probably neither.
It is, however, an accurate assembly of observations from a recent undergrad, pulled together with the purpose of allowing you to make your own choices and solve the irony of the “student life” equation for yourself. Because, as a more respected Wilder (I mean Wilde) put it, “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
The Argyle (1575 Argyle)
From September until the colder months set in, The Argyle’s patio is a requisite of the Thursday student routine and by far the most attractive nightclub patio in the city. Situated on the fringe of what could be considered the “Yorkville” of Halifax, undergrads flock here willing to sustain perpetually long line-ups—often having downed a few cheaper ones at the Split Crow beforehand. Known in campus circles as “The Palace on a Patio,” it maintains a naughty appeal that contrasts with its classy layout. If you’re looking to put on your dancing shoes, DJ Jimmy Z spins Thursday nights in the basement dance pit where suitors escape to get their groove on. The restaurant area provides a break if you need to grab a seat and the outdoor terrace isn’t such a bad place to hear the sound of your own voice.
The Dome (1741 Grafton)
When female friends solicit my opinion of a guy, I usually apply the “American Eagle Rule”—never trust a guy in a golf shirt and a flipped-up collar. I use this phrase a lot when I am here. However, the fact remains that this multi-faceted venue and its reputation have dominated students’ Wednesday night agendas in ways Thursday morning classes have never done. The goal of The Dome is to appeal to all, although the volume of the music on every level is so loud you can’t actually talk to the person next to you: The Attic touches on being upscale, Cheers houses a pub atmosphere with live pub bands (as well as karaoke on off-nights) and downstairs, there’s cheap booze! The Attic also plays late-night host to some of the city’s—and Canada’s—best up-and-coming bands.
The Fireside (1500 Brunswick)
Who doesn’t drink on a Monday? Some students don’t know the answer to this question, which is why Martini Mondays are so popular that there’s usually a bouncer outside tending to a perpetually long, anxious line-up. The Fireside is a nice change of scenery where someone can throw on khakis in a more “adult” atmosphere for a quiet night of drinks with some friends. It’s also a place where you would bring a parent and claim you’re a regular because you don’t have to head to class on Tuesday until after lunch. Also a popular student-date place for those interested in conversation, along with the Economy Shoe Shop (1663 Argyle), Henry House (1222 Barrington), Bitter End (1572 Argyle), Stayner’s Wharf (5075 George), Rogue’s Roost (5435 Spring Garden) and Granite Brewery (1662 Barrington).
The Gorsebrook (SMU Students’ Centre, 923 Robie)
Last summer’s renovations at the Saint Mary’s University campus pub were a half-million dollars well spent. Efforts to create a comfy, upscale pub-feel were accomplished and the result allows the student association to meet the drinking needs of its students. Wednesday’s open-mic nights were hosted last year by Jon McKiel, Coast readers’ choice as their favourite, new local musician. The evening is one of the most popular open stages in the city, consistently drawing between 200 and 300 people. If you plan to play, make sure you head in knowing a cover song or two. The week is rounded out with pub nights on Thursdays and live entertainment on Fridays. Saturdays are set aside for special events.
The Grawood (Dalhousie Student Union Building, 6136 University)
The fabric of the Dalhousie student community, this short write-up wouldn’t be enough to list all the issues plaguing the campus pub at this time last year. However, the ’wood changed directions last January with an increased emphasis on original local acts (including Paul Murphy of Wintersleep, Matt Mays, In-Flight Safety, The Super Friendz and Mike O’Neill), paired with cheap cover and drink specials. Students got behind the idea, attendance increased and a huge void in the campus-spirit department was filled. There’s still room for pub acts at Dal though, with genres alternating, depending which Wednesday you hit. Thursday trivia nights are well attended and Friday society nights allow more than 200 student-union societies an opportunity to raise some dough. This year introduces Monday-night football, film screenings on Fridays and an increased number of special events.
Gus’ Pub (2605 Agricola)
Not everyone’s idea of a good time blends seamlessly with the image of downtown partying. Gus’, at the corner of North and Agricola, is a haven for NSCAD students and those looking for a refreshing change of scenery. It might be the best place to find this niche in a neighbourhood pub, and still be able to afford the beer. Many of Halifax’s most progressive bands got their start on the corner stage, also home to the annual North By North End fest. It has a chilled-out, comfortable atmosphere where you can feel at home away from home with tables filling out most of the bar, along with a small dance floor. This place has character, talented musicians and reasonable drink prices.
The Halifax Alehouse (1717 Brunswick)
Nobody pays a five-buck cover at venues where pub bands play without raring to drink their face off. A cabaret disguised as a Celtic pub, social principles follow the same morals as the Alehouse’s neighbour, The Palace, but the debauchery is presented with traditional east coast appeal. That being said, it’s a stellar place to dance until about the time the sun comes up, or chill and have a beer upstairs in the seated area or by the bar. Always packed to the nines, it’s one of the most popular weekend student destinations and not a bad place to grab a bite to eat during the day if you can get the visuals of last night out of your head—if you can remember it. The same crowd might frequent the Peel Pub (5650 Spring Garden), with the Peel being the more likely destination during the week with dinner and drink specials.
The Lower Deck (1869 Upper Water)
Your search for the aesthetic of a beer commercial is over! Nova Scotia is synonymous with its sociable good times and The Lower Deck is one of the best establishments in the city at characterizing our high-spirited, Celtic tradition. It’s an intimate atmosphere known as “home base” for the city’s most popular and least overexposed pub acts. It is guaranteed to be jammed wall-to-wall no matter what day of the week it is. A multi-dimensional approach to hospitality also makes it the ideal spot to grab a beer and a bite to eat, with a patio on the Halifax waterfront and live entertainment beginning as early as mid-afternoon. For all these reasons it is a great destination to bring a friend visiting for the first time, to find some much-needed relief no matter what the time of day, or to provide an escape from more “bawdy” locales.
The Palace Cabaret (1721 Brunswick)
Cages. Scantily clad bartenders. Sexy legs and hard bodies competitions. The last chance for romance. It’s the bar where it seems virtually everyone is a VIP, and where every pub crawl makes its last stop. The Palace Cabaret features a live DJ, competitive drink prices and a 4am last call at the bar. It is what it is. And its late (or early?) closing time is also the biggest reason why house parties aren’t erupting all over town at 2am causing noise complaints.
The Pogue Fado (1581 Barrington)
The management behind the Pogue has certainly put much thought into its marketing, since perhaps no bar in Halifax separates students from the working stiffs so perfectly. Wednesdays, with former Crush co-songwriter Cory Tetford, have a strong student following, and Dalhousie Commerce nights on Thursdays attract droves of students with inexpensive, free-flowing alcohol and live pub music all winter. Then, seemingly overnight, the demographic switches from being predominantly a student hangout to being a fun stop for those who may be lamenting that their student years are now behind them. While the Pogue isn’t as much of a student hangout during the weekends, it’s another Wednesday and Thursday hotspot—you know, Wednesday and Thursday, the student weekend.
Reflections (5184 Sackville)
The best dance bar in the city attracts the least hostile crowd. Everyone has fun on their minds when they pass through Reflections’ doors and, at least on the weekends, it’s as great a place to be straight as it is gay. The size of the one-floor cabaret is pretty large and dancing isn’t even reserved solely for the dance floor itself. The rest of the week’s entertainment at Reflections is rounded out with DJs, drag and bands. If you haven’t been there yet, I recommend you give it a try.
The Split Crow (Granville Mall)
Generations of university graduates won’t be able to return to Halifax without paying their respects to the student hangout of all student hangouts. Students have been literally falling out of The Split Crow’s Thursday and Saturday power hours for years—events described by regulars as celebrations well-earned (many students don’t have class on Fridays), as opposed to ordinary bar nights. Liquor and food prices are sympathetic to the plight of stretched student budgets, and pub acts play as space-strapped bar-goers young and old—but mostly young—sing along and clink glasses to countless “sociables” in the Halifax pub tradition. The Old Triangle (5163 Prince) offers a similar Celtic appeal alongside a shared noble reputation for not being pick-up bars. The unofficial NSCAD campus hang, it’s the best place to prove Halifax is the best student town in Canada and your claims that three beers for five bucks isn’t a myth. See you next Thursday.
Stage Nine (1567 Grafton)
As marketing and promotions guy at The Grawood, people often ask me to where to go see live bands. While students still pass through the doors of the Marquee (2037 Gottingen) and increasingly of the McInnes Room (6136 University) and of the North End Pub (2776 Gottingen)—Stage Nine has established a monopoly as the most obvious place to stumble upon your new favourite band. Recently, touring acts controller.controller, Josh Ritter and Jason Collett have been well balanced with bookings of local heroes The Grass, In-Flight Safety and The Stance. Wednesdays cater to the reggae crowd and grooving continues Thursdays with The Mellotones, the ever-popular dance-the-night- away funk band. Stage Nine’s patio is also worth an honorable mention alongside the Argyle. Some nights might also call for a concert crawl involving venues The Seahorse (1665 Argyle) and Ginger’s Tavern (1662 Barrington), also nearby.
Tribeca (1588 Granville)
Over the past year, Tribeca has slowly gone from the city’s best-kept secret to a place making a significant impact on the city’s student nightlife. Formerly perceived as just a great place to get drinks or catch an interesting band on occasion, the club has found success in carving a reputation refreshingly distinct from other nighttime options. Saturday dance nights featuring rotating genres of music—depending on which weekend of the month you pay your five bucks—have become a huge hit. Thursdays feature national and local celebs Matt Mays and Tim Baker as reggae spinsters, the Dartmouth Soundsystem. Tribeca has also made a move by booking original bands on Wednesdays as of late. El Baker’s other gig, The Silver Tongued Devils, has moved its Tuesday show to Tribeca from the Seahorse. No doubt due to a carefully calculated evolution, Tribeca is now a place to experience a distinctive brand of nightlife as well as enjoy a few drinks.