Smile Politely

What to drink at the legendary Rose Bowl Tavern

A lot of people wonder how any bar could have survived the challenges of COVID-19. For the Rose Bowl Tavern, many wonder how they survived not only COVID-19 but also The Great Recession of the 2000s, pop-punk, 90’s grunge music, the Cold War, techno-pop, generations of hippies, generations of country music, 50’s style rockabilly, and all the happenings in between.

One year after World War II officially ended, Rose Bowl Tavern has operated under the same name, out of the same location, conveniently tucked into Downtown Urbana just north of Main Street on North Race Street.

Photo by Kyle Tasch.

Rose Bowl Tavern opened its doors in 1946, and it has been serving drinks and hosting live music for close to a century. There are plenty of tall tales and even true legends that grew out of the phenomenon. It is said that a young Alison Kraus (Grammy award winning Western music star) would loiter outside the bar, too young to be allowed entry, just to listen to the musical talent playing inside at the time. It’s hard to confirm if she did, in fact, spend time around the Rose Bowl Tavern since unfortunately bars do not have historians like other institutions might.

Photo by Kyle Tasch.

Rose Bowl Tavern is well known for their live music. Even though the banner says “Home of Country Music,” that is just a small fraction of all the varieties of music you can find at the Rose Bowl every single passing day. While the bar has a historic indoor stage, the bar now features a large outdoor stage in the north parking lot that sits under a large circus-sized tent.

Photo by Kyle Tasch.

Rose Bowl Tavern allows patrons to bring in outside food, too, so you are welcome to bring takeout from any of the fantastic nearby restaurants, and there are many to choose from like Masijta Grill, Bunny’s Tavern, Siam Terrace, Rick’s Bakery, Sakura, Tres Nopales, and more. There are classic nuances you can find throughout the bar. The decorations are mementos of the bar’s rich history and tasty beverages available at the bar. You will find footprints of past generations of patrons and entertainers.

So what about the actual food and drink? It’s so easy to get lost in the nostalgia of this space. It’s easy to overlook the attention to the needs of all drinkers across the board. Rose Bowl’s massive circular bar allows all patrons a spot to order a drink. The highly motivated bartenders are so attentive, and you have the opportunity to try whatever type of drink you like all night long. The bar is known for their cocktails, and the excellent bar staff ensures your drink will be generously proportioned and tasting excellent.

When I go to Rose Bowl, I often order a vodka, soda, and lime ($4 with well vodka).

Photo by Kyle Tasch.

When I ordered the drink, the liquor was well mixed, and the drink was so refreshing. The bite of the vodka of my choice was subdued by the cool mixer with the perfect amount of ice. The price tag on this cocktail makes this bar even more of a hidden gem.

Photo by Kyle Tasch.

The rattlesnake cocktail ($6) was good cocktail, and the ingredients are a bar secret. There’s so many more cocktails that you can choose from. If you just look at the bar’s liquor selection, you can tell that all whiskey and rum drinkers would be more than satisfied and all other liquor connoisseurs’ bases are more than covered.

Photo by Kyle Tasch.

Rose Bowl Tavern is known for their unique shots too, so make sure to see what they have to offer to you partying folks out there. This watermelon shot was only $2, and it was great.

I often order whiskey, vodka, and tequila shots. It’s a great way to shock the senses without having to sip on a drink for a while. Nothing says, “I’m responsible” like well tequila. All bars have a bottom shelf liquor choice for people like me, but the lingering taste of a well liquor can be avoided for a very reasonable upcharge in order to get a smooth liquor which is readily available for each spirit.

Photo by Kyle Tasch.

Rose Bowl Tavern’s beer selection is incredibly unique, and all types of beers are available on tap. Their selection of draft beers read like a poem itself on a glowing draft beer menu, as you likely have not heard of what they have on tap here. Rest assured: there are so many options that you will find a tasty, cold beer that fits any palate.

When I go to Rose Bowl, I’ll often order a draft beer. Although IPAs can often do a number on the belly, there are lighter craft brews that are still easier to drink with a great alcohol by volume percentage so you get more bang for your buck (ie. you get more alcohol per cup). So figure out your favorite amount of hops, and sip a frothy craft beer right from the cold keg through their variety of taps!

Photo by Kyle Tasch.

I enjoyed a draft pour of Triptych’s Dank Meme for $6, but you can get a special price of $4 on Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. 

All your favorite hard seltzers, Budweisers, Miller Lites, wines, and so much more let you feel that warm at-home feeling. Rose Bowl Tavern also has special, colorful cocktails everyday for the alchemists out there who prefer to have every luxurious ingredient at their request. I myself love a great hard seltzer when I’m out on the town. I like the slight flavor-enhanced alcohol that is still not too sugary and sweet but will also provide more watery, bubbly nourishment for the night’s activity than, say, a shot of tequila.

Photo by Kyle Tasch.

Rose Bowl Tavern has a big, vintage-style popcorn machine that always churns out buttery, flavorful, fresh popcorn that is free of charge all night. It serves as great munchies while you wait for your takeout to arrive — or to hold you over as you stay all night because Rose Bowl has a powerful way of keeping you at the venue for hours on end. The friendly staff and patrons make you feel at home the whole time.

Rose Bowl Tavern is just an outstanding bar to go and drink with (or without) your friends and family. The service is excellent; even when you are sitting outside, you can expect to be served consistently throughout the night (with a guilt-free bar tab).

Make sure to visit the Rose Bowl’s website to check out their calendar of events, or simply head to the bar and wait for the live musical magic to begin. After nearly 80 years in business, Rose Bowl Tavern continues to be a hub for local (and touring) artistic and musical talent. The owners and staff are not only well connected in the local music scene, many are musicians themselves.

Be sure to check out Rose Bowl Tavern’s new massive rosey mural outside the bar. 

Photo by Kyle Tasch.

This towering, beautiful art piece was just added to the outside North façade of the bar this summer. It is called Native Prairie Roses by artist Kinsey Fitzgerald funded by Pat Sammann and Urbana Arts and Culture.

Rose Bowl Tavern
106 N Race St
Su-F 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Sa noon to 2 a.m.

Top image by Kyle Tasch.

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