If ever there were a universal rite of passage to usher former students into true college alumni status, it’s this: complaining about changes on campus.
When the University of Missouri made the jump to the football powerhouse that is the Southeastern Conference in 2012, I had my well-vocalized doubts. For Missouri alumni like me who’d grown up directing our (usually playful) hate at Kansas and Illinois, the change was hard. What would happen to all our carefully cultivated Jayhawk insults? But progress continues in College Town, U.S.A., well after your “Pomp and Circumstance,” even if that progress is difficult to swallow.
But despite the changes, we alumni return. That’s tradition, too. We come back in droves for football weekends, resplendent in black and gold with plush tiger tails flying from trunks. (There’s a reason hotel rooms are booked months in advance, and a reason I planned my Columbia wedding on a football bye week in 2014: The crowds can be intense.) And we’re all aiming for the same weekend goal: to recapture some semblance of our college days. We pack into the last remaining bars from our time on campus and make new memories to reminisce about. And we scream M-I-Z! until the clock runs out, whether it’s Kansas or the Razorbacks as our rivals.
Even 10 years removed from my first weeks on campus, I can retrace my steps from class to coffee shop once I’m back in Columbia. Like the University of Arkansas, Missouri’s campus—tree-covered, walkable and the anchor of the small Midwestern town—melds seamlessly into downtown. Storefronts along the main arteries of Broadway and Ninth Street manage the tricky balance of old haunts and new discoveries, making it possible to navigate without the ego crush of having to pull out a map. After all, classics like The Heidelberg, Harpo’s and Shakespeare’s have been around long enough to usher in multiple generations. A downtown restaurant that shall remain nameless managed to be both the site of my parents’ first “I love yous” and my first introduction to quarter-draw night some 25 years later. Only one was regrettable.
But not every block is a throwback. The sidewalks may feel the same under my feet, but the skyline is shiny and new. Like many college towns, Columbia has seen a recent boom in luxury student housing, displacing worn apartment buildings in favor of high-rise structures. And while we can all agree that it’s probably for the best that the downtown apartments with balconies of questionable stability and windows long painted shut are gone, I still miss the suckers. Such are the woes of progress.
Shakespeare’s Pizza is the ultimate example of the blend of old and new. The original location at Ninth and Elm streets has been around since the ’70s, churning out hand-tossed pies that are good in a way that has as much to do with the restaurant’s atmosphere as the heavy layer of cheese. Situated mere feet from classroom buildings, the dive-y restaurant often saved my busted undergrad bank account with its cheap lunch slices and branded plastic cups that have followed me through countless moves. And there are more recent memories: I count the hours cheering the Cardinals over pitchers of Blue Moon and slices of pepperoni during our wedding-rehearsal dinner as some of the best memories from the weekend. On that night, even for the nonalumni among us, the place felt weirdly like home.
So it’s no wonder that when the restaurant announced on April 1, 2015, that its home building was being demolished and redeveloped, we all thought it was a joke. It wasn’t.
But Shakespeare’s knows Columbia and the way alumni want to return again and again for nostalgia. So when the new multistory building was completed, Shakespeare’s moved back into the ground-floor space, recreating the interior with the same brick walls, same ceiling tiles, same worn red washcloth napkins. Shakespeare’s 2.0—“Fakespeare’s” if you’re feeling salty—opened just in time for students to return to campus this fall and is poised to once again play host to both the home team and visitors. Maybe I’ll go back. But you can bet I’ll complain a little. I’ve earned it.
Blame it on my years living in Little Rock, but I’ve even learned to accept the Arkansas-Missouri rivalry. After all, it’s brought a couple of bright spots with it: Since joining the SEC, Columbia has seen the addition of a major hotel within walking distance of the stadium in The Broadway, and the expansion of Faurot Field to include seating for another 6,000 fans at each game. And those seats aren’t reserved for the crowd chanting M-I-Z! Z-O-U!
Even though the rival team—ahem, Arkansas—thoroughly trounced the team in their last meeting, Mizzou maintains the tradition of its Midwestern niceties. Pack a little Southern charm along with your Hog hat, and you won’t be banned from The Quad or denied a Shakespeare’s slice. Head downtown and enjoy the best of both the new and the well-seasoned. Just leave the Woo-Pig! chants for the stadium, please.
Some traditions just aren’t meant to be accepted in CoMo.
The illuminated “Tiger” sign atop this downtown hotel has been a city fixture since 1928. But the hotel hasn’t just been gathering dust. The interior underwent major renovations in 2011, including the restoration of terrazzo floors in the lobby and the re-hanging antique of chandeliers. Now, the hotel’s modern rooms boast soaking tubs along with sweeping views of downtown. (23 S. 8th St.; thetigerhotel.com)
One of the newest additions to the Columbia hotel scene, The Broadway—a Doubletree Hotel—is perfectly situated for a quick walk to all that the college town has to offer, including Ragtag Cinema, Booches, Shakespeare’s and more. (1111 E. Broadway; thebroadwaycolumbia.com)
Yates House Bed & Breakfast
Just a 20 minute drive from Columbia, Rocheport offers small-town charm near the bicycle-friendly Katy Trail, allowing visitors to take a break from all the college rah-rah-rah. Yates House offers six rooms in two updated houses, along with gourmet breakfast and to-die-for butterscotch chip cookies provided by innkeeper Dixie. (305 2nd St., Rocheport; yateshouse.com)
//EAT & DRINK
This iconic Columbia pizza joint is so beloved by its patrons that when development meant the original building would be torn down, owners had the restaurant re-built in the same spot nearly brick-for-brick. The new building may be a little taller than the last time you visited—the extra five floors above are now occupied by housing—but the food, decor and even the booths are exactly the same as before. (225 S. 9th St.; shakespeares.com)
Located on Columbia’s main downtown drag, Sycamore is date-night caliber, but also worth a stop for a quick lunch. The lunch and dinner menus are upscale American—think burgers, BLTs and meatloaf alongside fried duck wings, grilled trout and short ribs. Interested in dinner? Be sure to call ahead. (800 E. Broadway; sycamorerestaurant.com)
Logboat Brewing Co.
This local craft brewery can draw big crowds on weekends when both its taproom and outdoor tables fill with students and locals alike. On warm days, people use the expansive outdoor green space like a local park, with frisbees and bocce balls flying. Pair your afternoon with the refreshing Shiphead ginger wheat. (504 Fay St.; logboatbrewing.com)
Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream
With its green exterior, bulldog statue mascot and walls filled with quirky art, this funky ice cream spot is hard to miss. More importantly, with ever-rotating options like mandarin-orange-dark-chocolate, cake batter, red velvet, lavender-honey and maple-sea-salt, its flavors are even harder to forget. (21 S. 9th St.; facebook.com/sparkyshomemade)
Consider Booches Billiard Hall Columbia’s answer to Little Rock’s Midtown—or maybe it’s the other way around. After all, Booches claims roots going back to 1884. Stop in for small, but not quite slider-sized burgers served up on wax paper along with a bag of chips and some chili. Fair warning: The hall is closed Sundays, has limited seating and only accepts cash. But yes, it’s worth the trouble. (110 S. 9th St.; 573-874-9519)
//SEE & DO
It’s not a trip to Columbia without taking in Mizzou’s famous columns. Located on a swath of grass known locally as “The Quad,” the columns were once located at the front of Academic Hall, which burned in 1892. The columns were all that survived the blaze and have served as a campus trademark ever since. (University Avenue and 9th Street; missouri.edu)
For more than 15 years, Ragtag has been the go-to for independent and art film in Columbia. Its current complex features two theaters, along with food and drink from the attached Uprise Bakery (rosemary-ginger latte before showtime? Yes, please). The theater’s not-for-profit parent organization, Ragtag Film Society, also hosts the yearly True/False Film Fest each spring. (10 Hitt St.; ragtagcinema.org)
The Missouri River views alone are worth the short drive to Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport. Try the Blufftop Bistro for a more formal dinner (think blackened ahi tuna and black Angus strip steak) or grab a table (and a bottle) at the more casual A-Frame, which overlooks the river and Katy Trail below. (If you’re headed that way in November, know that it’s open weekends only that month, from noon until sunset.) (14020 West Hwy BB, Rocheport; missouriwine.com)
Warm Springs Ranch
Make the 20-minute drive from Columbia to this 300-plus acre ranch where the TV-commercial-famous Budweiser Clydesdales are born and raised. The breeding farm is home to more than 70 Clydesdales and hosts guided tours from March through early November. Tours are $12 per guest and feature a sample beer. The horses may not offer up an autograph, but they’re happy to pose for a photo. Reservations are available online and fill up fast. (25270 Missouri 98, Booneville; warmspringsranch.com)
Have an aversion to all things black and gold? Stop by this downtown store for souvenirs that aren’t emblazoned with Mizzou logos. The boutique features wares from Missouri artists, as well as a few from surrounding states. Looking for hand-carved wooden children’s toys or a new scarf (maybe in Razorback red)? Look no further. (13 S. 9th St.; bluestemcrafts.com)
Top 10 Wines
Whether you’re taking a bottle back to your hotel or packing one for the road, Top Ten offers vino for every budget in an intimidation-free atmosphere. Keep an eye out for weekly wine tastings and plan to hang around for a glass or two at the bar. Not a wine fan? Top 10 also offers a selection of craft brews on tap, along with cocktails perfect for sipping on the sidewalk patio out front. (111 S. 9th St.; toptenwines.net)
Yellow Dog Bookshop
This locally owned bookstore is the only one of its kind in downtown Columbia. The shelves hold both new and used titles, allowing you to save your pennies to spend along 9th Street. Check out the shop’s website for an updated calendar of author readings, kiddo story time or poetry nights. (8 S. 9th St.; yellowdogbookshop.com)