The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Students reflect on the nightlife in downtown Fredericksburg, or lack thereof

6 min read

Billiken’s Smokehouse has been a staple of UMW nightlife for years. | Ian Chapman, The Weekly Ringer


Staff Writer

No matter if you’re a transfer student or came to UMW right out of high school, we all made the choice to come to a Division III school in the small city of Fredericksburg, acknowledging the obvious drawbacks that would come along with it—especially in regards to student nightlife.

The nightlife here is very routine. Week after week, students pile into the same bar and move in a pack-like formation to another location every few months. It seems as if every year a new bar is the go-to, bouncing back and forth between Jay’s Downtown Sports Lounge and Brock’s Riverside Grill. Regardless of where the students choose to go on their Saturday night, I can’t help but hear constant complaints from peers regarding the nightlife. I must admit, I am sometimes disappointed seeing the same exact people every time I go downtown on a Saturday night, too, but we don’t necessarily have the largest student population to interact with. 

Because students tend to frequent the same couple of bars, here’s a breakdown of the most popular spots and the pros and cons they offer on a night out, as well as a few honorable mentions around town. 

Jay’s Downtown Sports Lounge

Jay’s Downtown Sports Lounge seems to be the “it” place this year. Even I admit that, at the start of the year, the bar’s reopening was something to be excited about. The bar’s casual atmosphere and younger crowd make it an easy place to feel comfortable while enjoying a few of your favorite beers or mixed drinks. Between competing in arcade games, fighting for the high score on the punching bag, capturing a moment at the photo booth or schooling your friends in a game of pool, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy during your time here. But here’s a warning: if you use the photo booth, be prepared for drunk townies photobombing and harsh looks from blondes in hot pink tank tops with their hair slicked back into high ponytails. Regardless of your feelings about the addition of arcade games replacing the traditional dart boards, Jay’s attempt to keep up with current trends and make their customers happy is noticeable, and it makes for a fun night out. 

However, as the college crowd claimed the bar as its own, Jay’s began to make changes that have turned some away. At the start of the school year, gratuity was something that the customer had control of as they paid their bill. However, as the bar’s popularity grew, they began adding an automatic 25% tip on customers’ bills. Although this is not an excessive amount to some, many customers were unaware of this and would tip on top of the automatic amount. You could just read the pieces of printer paper taped behind the bar stating, “Automatic 25% gratuity added,” but even English majors have a hard time reading after a couple drinks. Recently, the automatic gratuity has been increased to 30%, along with a $5 or $10 cover charge through cash or Venmo upon entry on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, leaving many with a bitter taste in their mouths about visiting the bar—and I don’t mean the watermelon sour that they offer on their menu. Because of the extra fees associated with Jay’s, it leaves students with a choice: go to another bar and not be surrounded by their peers, or stay home. 

“I like Jay’s, or at least I used to before the new changes,” said senior business administration major Noah Adcock-Howeth. “Recently it feels like they’ve been allergic to smart decisions. The cover is absolutely idiotic, and I’ve got no interest in paying just to get in the door. It’s a nice place, but if they think that spot is worth a cover charge they need to look in the mirror and see what the world sees.”

Brock’s Riverside Grill

Back in the day—in this case, the year 2019—Brock’s lured customers in with $1 beers, enticing broke college students to stumble into their bar every weekend. Even after this deal ended, the bar continued to accumulate a large following and even opened up an outdoor patio during the warmer months. Following the reopening of Jay’s, the student traffic through Brock’s began to calm down, picking up sporadically on random nights throughout the month. The upside to Brock’s is that they only charge a cover fee on Saturdays past midnight, and your admittance includes indoor and outdoor options with seating, allowing customers to move around freely. 

Despite the reputation of having more expensive drinks, the cost of drinks at Brock’s is almost identical to Jay’s and doesn’t include an automatic gratuity charge. However, with a bar this large, there is a wider variety of clientele. As a young woman, it is seemingly impossible to move around Brock’s without having to combat creepy comments made by older men who live in town, which is seen as a major turnoff to many—as it should be. Although a variety of people can be positive, it can be stressful having to worry about whether or not somebody’s grandpa is going to make a comment about your low-cut top. The bar also attracts a sizable military crowd, and as much as I respect those who serve our country, I’m not going out with my friends to serve as their entertainment for the night as they tail me walking around the bar. 

“Many of the townies try to get too handsy not only with me but my friends,” said senior biomedical sciences major Michela Attianese. 

In addition, some of the fellow bargoers seem to lack social cues and knowledge of how to exist in a public setting, as well as normal conversation skills. “I have seen a lady that was high on some type of drug partake in sexual activities with a man at the bar and then proceeded to tell me she built all of Fredericksburg and forced me to put her number in my phone because she said she wanted to hire me,” said Attianese.

Honorable Mentions

Despite the seemingly endless and redundant routine of visiting the same bar until the student body is either deterred by drama that occurred there, rising prices or looking for a change, there are other bars in the area that can offer a reprieve from the chaos of the aforementioned spots. Many of these other bars seem to be used as pre-gaming locations, where students have a few drinks before heading to their final destination, which tends to be Brock’s or Jay’s. From belting out T-Swift at Fork N’ Biscuit, dancing to live music at Billiken’s Smokehouse or enjoying the rooftop bar at Castiglia’s Italian Restaurant during the warmer months, it seems the only variety this school leans towards is where their first few drinks come from. These pre-game spots are not open as late as Jay’s and Brock’s, which has proven to be one of the main reasons they do not gain as much traction, hence why I’ve shunned them to the honorable mentions category. 

Finally, the place where few dare to venture: Spirits American Bar and Grill. Admittingly, many of us have stumbled up the bar’s uneven, creaky stairs once or twice following a long night out. However, despite the layout that would seem to be enticing to a younger crowd, the bar seems to bring in a more eccentric crowd of strange townies, which has proven to be a turnoff to college kids.