Two months ago, a can of beer was thrown from the second floor of a fraternity house that will remain unnamed. Said beer can happened to find my head, and while the bruise healed, my motivation to #turnup has remained a little weak these days.

Illustration by Megan Mulholland

Early in December, a new bar hosted its soft opening, and it was packed. Every two weeks at Mighty Good Coffee, this pop-up event draws people from all over Ann Arbor to its non-alcoholic bar.

It is safe to say the organizers of Brillig Dry Bar are not aiming to attract undergraduates on a Saturday night, but as a 19-year-old living in a world where underage drinking is not only common but expected, having a social experience that doesn’t involve sweaty frat bros, Natty Light, skin-tight skirts in the middle of December or the lonely, emotional hangover that follows is rare, and the whole idea sounded pretty rad to me.

Frankly, it’s classy. And while I might read George Elliot and Jane Austen for Intro to Victorian Literature, my regular mono-meals of Swedish Fish and the credit card bill I got last week filled with Pizza House entries don’t indicate I do much classy shit.

So this got me thinking. Ann Arbor is one of the best college towns in the nation, if not the best, and I rarely see it. When Ann Arbor is relatively student-free over breaks and summers, townies jump for joy. But why?

If we never leave South U. and State St., we might never find out. I know that it’s a place of hippies and killer food, that it retains a small-town feel while offering some of the perks of a city and that weed has been decriminalized for years, but what exactly does the off-campus scene have to offer?

Alcohol and substance abuse at the University of Michigan — the campus of work hard, play hard — is a problem, and I’m definitely not the only one who thinks this way. The University cut Welcome Week short this year for a reason, and according to the National College Health Assessment, 70 percent of undergraduates consumed alcohol in the past month and of those, nearly half did something they regretted in the past year. Not to mention the 18 percent of students who had unprotected sex.

But it’s more than the numbers. It’s someone’s abortion story that will stay with them forever. It’s a ruined friendship resulting from a drunken mistake. It’s the need for an emotional crutch — a.k.a. alcohol.

So, it’s events like a non-alcoholic bar — away from the party mentality — that have an unusual sense of freshness. Where I can sip on a Vernors Cranberry Sour wearing an entirely mismatched patterned outfit, discussing the next Ferguson meeting scheduled downtown or Michigan’s win in the GLI final. It’s the diversity of people at these kinds of events — events that just scream Ann Arbor — that is so attractive, and it’s the opportunity to engage in conversation with a clear mind in a new and unusual environment that will keep me coming back.

In this column and over the coming semester, I plan to see what makes the real Ann Arbor tick. Off-campus events — what it means to live off-campus and what your neighborhood says about you, new restaurants, old restaurants, the people who make Ann Arbor what it is, and what it would mean for students to engage in their town as invested citizens.

As I write this, watching my childhood best friend twist open another Smirnoff Ice, I resolve to enjoy all that the college experience has to offer, but also to allow myself to resist succumbing to the expectation of perpetual intoxication — one might throw around the phrase binge drinking — for the refreshing, unusual, potentially pretentious, innovative offerings residential Ann Arbor presents.

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