The historic Rose Bowl Tavern in Urbana has long been known as this area’s premiere country and western bar. Since the mid-50s, musicians from all over have performed live on stage. Country, folk, bluegrass, you name it — this is the place to experience great local talent, a friendly atmosphere, and cheap drinks. 

On Monday nights in particular, Rose Bowl Tavern plays host to a good old-fashioned Hootenanny. Think of it as an open mic night for folk music. Now, I’m sure we can all say we’ve experienced our fair share of painfully awkward open mic nights, but can anyone say they’ve ever been to a lousy hootenanny? I think not.

What’s been labeled as the Urbana Hootenanny, this event has been a local favorite for a handful of years now. Usually there will be a headliner with other local acts filling out the rest of the evening, even if you’re not a regular performer. Everyone is encouraged to join in and show off their talent.

For this month’s date night, I decided to grab some friends and see what it’s all about. We arrived around 8:30 p.m.-ish (the event kicks off around 8 p.m. and ends at midnight) and the crowd was light. Throughout the evening, more and more folks trickled in and it got pretty lively in the later hours. A pool table just off the stage slowly filled with more and more instrument cases as the evenings musicians arrived.

As we saddled up to the bar and ordered our first drinks (a pitcher of PBR, $8.50), we quickly realized just how friendly this place is as regulars routinely introduced themselves. I was also pleased to see a couple local beers on tap: Riggs and Triptych. If you really want to fit in with the regulars, order up a Lone Star beer (bonus: there are puzzles under the caps, ask the bartender to save it for you).

I’m a fan of acoustic for many reasons, but what makes it nice in places like this is you can actually hold a conversation with friends while also enjoying the music. There’s ample seating (it’s bigger on the inside), open space for dancing in front of the stage, and the bar is huge. The bathrooms on the other hand, are friggin’ tiny. And I’m not a fan of the swinging saloon doors on the stalls, but with all that in mind, it’s your typical dive bar atmosphere.

We continued to drink on the cheap the rest of the evening with those in our group alternating buying rounds. There’s no food served but there is free popcorn. There are a few restaurants nearby if you wanted to order carry out and bring it over (Black Dog and Crane Alley would be good options).

What I loved about this place is just how chill and low-key it was. It’s a great place to unwind after a long day. I also love all of the talent we have in this town and it’s clearly evident every Monday with those that take the stage. I encourage you to soak it up if you haven’t already; it’s free! Every Monday. You won’t be disappointed.

Rose Bowl Tavern
106 Race Street 
M-Th noon to 1 a.m.
F noon to 2 a.m.
Sa 1 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Su 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.

All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake