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Opinion: Nightlife around ASU is changing for the worse

The city's nightlife has changed from a vibrant and diverse cast of bars and clubs and is now losing a sense of community


Exterior of Brickyard Amuseum on Mill Avenue in Tempe on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023.

Rúla Búla will make its triumphant return to Tempe in the northern endzone of Mountain America Stadium for a week on Nov. 10.

The week-long event will include memorabilia and the menu of the iconic Mill Avenue Irish pub, once a staple of Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe. This is a sign of the times that ASU's growing real estate influence, coupled with Tempe's changing infrastructure, is suffocating the once-bustling nightlife in the city.

It is a deflating development as the University attempts to shift its perception from "party school" to the No. 1 Innovation Research Institution. Skyrocketing real estate costs have also pushed out classic college bars and hangouts across Tempe that once served a young and broke college population.

The closings of Vine Tavern, College Bar and Grill and Rúla Búla have shown that the classic watering holes for students, alumni and other residents will soon be a thing of the past.

For alumni like Jon Tarno, the scene has changed dramatically since he graduated from ASU in 2018.

"One word to describe it would be electric, as there would be lines and waits almost anywhere you went," Tarno said in a written statement. "Comparing back then to now, the scene has completely changed and the overall environment doesn’t come close to what Mill Avenue used to be."

The nightlife is different in Tempe now. Gone are the seedy college bars with cheap drinks and approachable vibes. In are the nightclubs like CASA and Varsity Tavern, the only two places mentioned in any plans on Mill Avenue on any given weekend night.

With this change comes another loss, as the watering holes from the olden days were close to home football games, providing a space for students to bond.

Joe Healey used to own College Bar and Grill located on the corner of College Avenue and Fifth Street, right across the street from Mountain America Stadium. Open from December 2017 to December 2019, he said it was a bar that wanted to attract a wide audience, including the obvious college-aged population.

"Proximity to things is huge, as far as you know a bar being there and a place that people want to go before and after games," Healey said. "Obviously just the aesthetics of it are cool to people just hanging out."

However, bars that depended on a college student population and the ability to pack the place were stripped of their entire clientele in 2020 with pandemic shutdowns. Combined with the rising costs of real estate in the area, it became difficult for the older, more established businesses to stay afloat, according to Healey. 

The loss of bars like Healey's isn't just a loss of physical space to drink and watch TV. The change deprives students of an important sense of community that remains years after they graduate and brings them to revisit their old haunts.

I was at CASA last February on a Saturday afternoon while the Sun Devils were playing an important basketball game against UA in Tucson. The game was on the TVs, but no one was really watching.

When Desmond Cambridge Jr. hit a full court buzzer beater to beat ASU's biggest rival and give the Sun Devils a boost into the NCAA tournament, the people at the bar – most pregaming for Innings Festival down the street – met the occasion with mild applause at best, a far cry from the electricity that used to characterize the area.

Although it's a popular place, CASA lacks what College Bar and Grill was. Healey said he talks to people who do not know where to watch a road game in Tempe.

"I've had people that I'm involved in all these different ASU groups, and people are like, 'What's a good place to see a road game?' I had somebody just ask me this past weekend. Like, I don't know, I literally don't know," Healey said. 

College Bar and Grill closed in December 2019, after almost two years of operation. Healey said the bar was not retained in the building on College Avenue and Veterans Way because ownership changed hands, and "they did not want a bar there."

The building is now called Studios 5c and was sold to University Realty in 2019. According to its website, University Realty "receives, cultivates, advances and monetizes commercial and residential real estate to support the mission of Arizona State University." 

University Realty also owns Brickyard on Mill, a building on Mill Avenue with classrooms, offices and other establishments completed in 2002, and Mirabella, a senior housing facility that sued Shady Park, a bar and music venue on University Drive across the street, in 2021 over "unnecessary and excessive noise" at late-night hours.

READ MORE: Judge sides with Mirabella and restricts Shady Park's concert noise, hours

However, there are still exciting new places moving onto Mill's vibrant strip. Bang Bang Tempe will be an Asian fusion restaurant until late at night when it will become a nightclub. Hopefully, the new place brings a badly needed breath of fresh air to downtown Tempe.

The city is changing, and with that the culture. I am of the firm belief that every college town is enhanced by the existence of a seedy bar with an insane deal on a weeknight, like the "Vine Wednesdays" of old. I think the campus community lost something special when Vine Wednesday went away.

Edited by Mia Osmonbekov, Sadie Buggle and Angelina Steel.

Reach the reporter at and follow @shanebrennan71 on X.

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Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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Shane BrennanEditor-in-Chief

Shane Brennan is the Editor-in-Chief at The State Press. He was a sports and politics reporter, before becoming the editor of the politics desk. He has covered local and state politics for the Arizona Capitol Times and Cronkite News.

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