Downtown Blacksburg: The Definitive Guide

By Preston Huennekens | September 15
Downtown Blacksburg: The Definitive Guide

Well, it finally happened. Virginia Tech and the Town of Blacksburg officially announced that they decided to jointly ban tailgating for all fall sports (read: Football) in 2020. Yes, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, but this is still terrible news. Tailgating makes fall in Blacksburg that much more special, and their absence this year will be a huge financial blow to the town itself which benefits enormously from throngs of fans gathering in Blacksburg.

But that does not mean the fun ends! Fortunately, there is plenty to do in Blacksburg outside of tailgating. Southern Living magazine voted Blacksburg as one of the best college towns in the south. Downtown Blacksburg, especially, can replace that empty void in your life now that tailgating is kaptuz. Bring along your mask and you’ll be right as rain.

The scene in Downtown Blacksburg is outstanding. While the storefronts sometimes change, the general vibe of Downtown has remained steady for some time. As a casual fan of Virginia Tech, you may only visit downtown once or twice when you’re in town for a game. As a student, I can almost guarantee that you’ll spend a significant portion of your time and money in college laying siege to one of these haunts.

Here, I analyze this paradise in a completely accurate and wholly unbiased way designed to give past, current, and future Hokies a glimpse into the inner-workings of Downtown Blacksburg. I listed these in no particular order. Without further adieu, let’s dive in -

The Heavy Hitters

El Rodeo

El Rod’s is not really a bar, unless you decide to sit at one of the four wobbly bar stools that stare directly into the kitchen. El Rod’s brings the whole package - cheap Mexican food, endless chips, margaritas, and flaming birthday shots.

You cannot begin a proper campaign of downtown Blacksburg without forcing down a margarita and inhaling an Arroz con Pollo plate. For those in dire financial straits, I highly recommend substituting a full meal for a simple side dish of cheesy rice. You can also substitute that margarita for a crisp PBR pitcher if you’re feeling dangerous.

Hokie House

“Turn that off!”

“The same song has been on repeat for 20 minutes!”

“This is unbearable!”

These are just some of the rave reviews heard inside Hokie House one evening when an unnamed Scribe of Saturday played “Hustlin,” the 2006 debut single of Miami rapper Rick Ross, on repeat for over an hour during peak happy hour (5-9pm). Hokie House is a quintessential Blacksburg downtown destination. It has been in business for decades and there’s no surprise why.

Multiple TV’s. Free darts. A shuffle board with an adequate amount of sand. The famous “Hokie Burger.” Pool tables galore. Indoor smoking. A recently-installed Golden Tee. These are some of the things that make Hokie House feel more like a Hokie Home.

There are, of course, some downsides. In 2016, they raised their Happy Hour drink prices by a single dollar. It was outrageous. It was unfair. They began charging three dollars for a double well drink, instead of the standard two. Someone actually tried to erase the announcement on the chalkboard that the staff used to list the beers that were on tap. Of course, everyone eventually built a bridge and got over it because $3 for a mixed drink is still an incredible bargain.

Sharkey’s

Ask any Hokie what their favorite downtown bar is, and there’s a great chance they’ll tell you it is Sharkey’s Rib and Wing Joint - where good friends go!

Sharkey’s is always popping off, day or night, weekday or weekend. In addition to their expansive menu of food, their drinks are some of the best in town. Their Happy Hour special promises to “turn back the hands of time” with “old-school prices.” But tread carefully - many proud Hokies have found that too many Long Island Iced Teas erased time entirely as they woke up panicked and hungover the next morning.

Sharkey’s gives you the added luxury of serving your drink - including mixed drinks - in actual glassware. They even give you a “Happy Birthday!” glass if you come in on the day of your birthday. Their Sunday spread is unmatched in the Blacksburg area, with a Bloody Mary bar and food specials that entice you to spend an entire NFL football binge session in a single comfortable booth.

Cabo Fish Taco

Cabo is the upscale answer to El Rodeo and a particular favorite of recent graduates. The fish tacos are delicious (naturally) and their margaritas are nothing short of divine. There is even a club you can join by completing the Herculean task of sampling a shot from every single tequila bottle in their collection throughout the course of a school year.

This is a great place to bring the visiting parents if traditional “college bars” is not their thing. You’ll probably find yourself on a date or two here. Regardless, you just can’t go wrong with Cabo.

Champ’s Sports Bar

Champs is an underrated classic. They have pretty wild drink specials, including one on Monday for $1.00 burgers and $0.50 PBR. That's right - 50 cent PBRs. That is unheard of. In the summer of 2015, they advertised a Karaoke/Ladies Night on Wednesdays, but there was no food or drink special. They just encouraged ladies to go out on a Wednesday and fire up some karaoke. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single human being sing karaoke at Champ’s, but I’m sure it has happened. In addition to these head-turning deals, they also have good wings, arcade basketball, and a fierce darts scene that is one of the best in the Downtown area.

Top of the Stairs (TOTS)

Top of the Stairs - or TOTS, as it is colloquially known - is arguably one of Blacksburg’s most famous bars. Often, your non-Hokie friends will have heard of this place and request a visit to take a photo in front of the Virginia Tech neon flag. Like Hokie House, it's been in business for decades. It features one of the most legendary cocktails in Southwestern Virginia - the Rail. The Rail is a monster. It will chew you up and spit you out, especially if you’re ordering this poison close to last call. TOTS can get crazy. People still try to hurl themselves over the fence in an attempt to avoid paying a cover charge. Incredibly, you can actually get up on the roof of the building and run across the top of the businesses that connect to TOTS. I cannot emphasize enough that if you do this, the chances of being arrested are extremely high.

The best TOTS is summer TOTS. If you decide to stay in Blacksburg for a summer (which you absolutely should), TOTS is significantly more relaxed and offers the best deck and outdoor views in town.

Downtown2
Photo by DowntownBlacksburg.com

Lesser-Known Favorites

Souvlaki

I learned that Souvlaki sells pitchers of Bud Light for $4.00 the night before I graduated from Virginia Tech. Don’t make the same mistakes I did - visit Souvlaki for an evening gyro and tack on a pitcher for good measure.

Lyric Theater

Full disclosure: this is not a bar or even a restaurant, but it is *allegedly* haunted. That’s sick. Get a seat in the upper deck for the full paranormal experience.

Boudreaux’s

Journalists have to speak truth to power, and the Scribes of Saturday are no exception. It has to be said: Boudreaux’s sometimes feels like the Ryan Leaf of downtown. The concept of a Cajun restaurant in Blacksburg is awesome. Their menu is interesting, and you can get exotic fare such as gator bites. But most importantly, Boudreaux’s has a rooftop bar.

That said, Boudreaux’s is not really a “bar” bar. You will probably never wind up here after 5 pm because they do not have a happy hour, which prices most of the college students out. They also suffer from what I call the “Parent Syndrome.” That is, many parents do not want to go with you and your degenerate friends to Hokie House, TOTS, etc., so you try to take them somewhere like Cabo or Boudreaux’s. The problem is that everyone else in Blacksburg has the exact same idea as you - and Boudreaux’s is simply not big enough to handle that kind of traffic.

Boudreaux’s is a great scene when you have a bit of money in the pocket to enjoy the rooftop and gaze upon the beauty that is downtown Blacksburg. Save it for special occasions.

Rivermill

Ah, car bombs at Rivermill. Or, river bombs at CarMill. Whatever you call it, this place is the perfect location for a midday sandwich or a random car bomb to hold you over before you wait in the Tot’s line. It is also deceptively enormous, so you could make it a full stop in its own right. Without question, this is the place to be on St. Patrick’s Day.

Abby’s Bar and Grill

I have NEVER stepped foot in this place. Some of my friends claimed they did, but I don't believe them for a second.

London Underground

Don’t go here unless you are a Blacksburg local or a graduate student. Seriously - just don’t.

Preston Huennekens

Preston Huennekens

Following in the footsteps of my dad and uncle, my dream growing up was to attend Virginia Tech for college. When it came time to choose what school to attend, the choice was clear. I enrolled in Blacksburg in the fall of 2012 and graduated in 2016 with a degree in Political Science. While at Virginia Tech, I was a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and a fundraiser at the Student Calling Center, which I still maintain is the best on-campus job because you do not work weekends.


I now live and work in Washington, DC doing swamp-creature things, but I'm always planning my next trip to Blacksburg.

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