They told us to take a lap. So, we went to three different Illinois universities to see if their parties are as lit as ours.

Illustrations by Rachel Hawley

Imagine: you and your friends are all dressed to the nines and ready to go out on a Friday night. Where do you go? You’ve been to countless sweaty Northwestern basement parties. You’ve downed Four Lokos in Bobb and then thrown up in the communal bathroom sink. You’ve Ubered all the way to the Deuce just to find out it’s dead and then ended up at IHOP. You might find yourself asking, what else is out there? I’ve asked myself this question throughout my time at Northwestern. I wanted to experience something different. I wondered what other Illinois schools’ parties were like. So, in my investigation for NBN, I turned to Tinder matches and old acquaintances to help me find the best parties at three different schools with wildly different reputations.

Located in Hyde Park on the South Side of the city, the University of Chicago is notorious for being “where fun goes to die.” This reputation wasn’t going to stop me from finding a party, though. I was confident I’d be able to finesse something. After nagging countless UChicago students on Tinder, however, my search was fruitless. Discouraged and frustrated, I finally decided to bite the bullet and venture there on a Saturday night with no idea what to expect. My friend told me there was a weekend long hackathon happening on campus, so I went there to pregame. You heard that right. Dressed in ripped jeans with a leather jacket and armed with a mixed drink inside a Contigo travel coffee mug, I did something I never imagined myself doing. Surrounded by budding computer scientists tirelessly coding their fingers away, I chugged a vodka Sprite. After trying unsuccessfully to convince some other hackathon attendees to join us, my friend and I ventured out. We went to Woodlawn Tap, better known by UChicago students as Jimmy’s. Only a short Uber ride away, it was a small, quaint pub with a bit of floor space but mostly filled with tables for people to sit and talk. The atmosphere was calm and sophisticated, a quiet gathering place for friends. No one at this bar was dancing, singing or being rowdy. No one was shouting or throwing up in the bathroom. There was a certain elegance to the place. It felt cozy and inviting, certainly not wild like some of the other schools’ parties. Jimmy’s is a great place to hang out with friends for a drink and a long conversation. I would direct those looking for a crazier, more college-esque party elsewhere, though, as the UChicago parties are often closed to outsiders, requiring a school ID at the door.

High: A 30-year-old doctor bought me a drink (an actual doctor!).
Low: Sleeping on the floor, underneath a table, at a hackathon while computer science majors judged me.

Despite not speaking since age 15, my ex-best friend from high school invited me to her friend’s party at DePaul University. Located in Lincoln Park, DePaul is known for its hipster, artsy, free spirited crowd, and that’s exactly the vibe I got from this small off campus apartment party. When I arrived at 12:45 a.m., the party was winding down, but the small living room was still filled with people talking, smoking and dancing under multi-colored disco lights. A fully-stocked DJ booth was set up in the front of the room, and various aspiring DJs gathered there periodically to play upbeat, funky music throughout the night. Abstract artwork and string lights lined the walls. With no proper drinks in sight, people combined random beverages and made do with concoctions like rum mixed with cheap beer. As the party wound down, people were still half-heartedly playing beer pong, lounging on the couch and talking in the kitchen. It was a very friendly atmosphere, as even though I knew only one person at this very small party, I was greeted with open arms. I would highly recommend attending a DePaul party if you’re looking for some chill, mellow vibes. You might even meet the hipster DJ boyfriend of your dreams!

High: Seeing a girl who used to bully me on in high school.
Low: Trying to use the bathroom sink and the entire sink coming out of the ground

As the Princeton Review’s #1 party school in 2016, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) has quite the legacy to live up to. Though a hefty three-hour commute from Northwestern, I’d argue that the long drive is worth it. I mean, you can’t find a raging party scene in the middle of cornfields just anywhere. My UIUC excursion led me to Kam’s, one of the most iconic bars on campus. All bars at UIUC are strictly 19-and-over, so most students prefer them over frat parties. They are also conveniently located around campus, within walking distance from most dorms and apartments. As the night fired up, the ripped-jean and tube top-wearing girls (myself included) lined the sidewalks, seemingly immune to the bitter cold of winter. Entering Kam’s was like stepping into another world. Outside were hardworking students rushing around with their backpacks. Once inside, bar patrons were welcomed in warmly by Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch” blaring through the speakers, with the bass so loud the floor shook. Twinkling lights and the rowdy banter of intoxicated young adults continue to draw you in. The floor was covered in a thick layer of dirt and spilled drinks, creating a slippery paste. Loud, unshaven men lined the bar and ordered eight drinks at a time, and crowds of girls huddled together, talking and taking drunk Snapchat stories. The atmosphere was lighthearted and fun and made you want to dance the whole night away to the tune of unnecessarily strong $3 drinks. If you’re looking for a good time — and a long time, UIUC’s bars are the way to go.  

High: A guy gave me three drinks because he had to go home to take care of his drunk friend.
Low: Throwing up on the side of the road at 5:30 a.m. the next day.