A True “College” Bar

“College” has a bar, and it is named KAM’s – all caps, just like R.E.M. and UNICEF. KAM’s is located in Champaign, Ill., on Daniel Street, across from some University of Illinois Greek residences, the Psychology building and hopefully not far from the local hospital. It smells like the inside of a shot glass filled to the brim with Jaeger, tobacco, vomit and lowered expectations, which I guess smell a little bit like Sears.

When I say “college” I mean the popular, universal term built on a premise of fantasy. Actual, real college is a combination of classes, parties, rites of passage and newfound and newly appreciated independence. I think it’s fair to say that in college we experience change internally based on how we react and adapt to the mix of people and ideas constantly floating around us, whether we acquire this evolved persona in the classroom, the Sorority/Frat house/dorm, or the bar.

“College” is the flawed perception we inherit and envision as reality after watching a bunch of crappy, R-rated Tom Green movies during our adolescence. It’s Road Trip when a girlfriend destroys a boyfriend’s car because she fears he’s cheating on her, or Van Wilder when Ryan Reynolds acts like a douche in every scene, or Old School when Snoop Dogg performs in a front yard and we all go streaking. There are no books at “college,” the keg never runs out or even needs to be pumped, and the girls are all 10s. Jennifer Garner would be considered unattractive in “college.”

College is awesome, but on most nights, probably for the better of America, it’s not “college.” KAM’s, though, is “college.”

I went there on Saturday night. The weather was pleasant, crisp enough for a jacket, yet warm enough to go shirtless (this detail will make sense later). Many students milled about downtown, a majority wearing the blue and orange of the Illini. For a town plagued by terrible sports teams for so long, the school spirit is surprisingly strong. Even the porta-potties are painted blue and orange.

I went out with a colleague who is 32-years-old and married. We were not of the college crowd, least of all the “college” crowd, but he had distant memories of KAM’s from visits to Champaign during his college years. He didn’t actually remember the bar. He just remembered it as a place that existed. We decided to go.

The smell greets you first, holy hell does it greet you first. The stench oozes out of the doorway onto the sidewalk, turning away the conscious and enticing the blacked out, the aroma of puke and High Life not unlike the temptation of gorgonzola for mice.

A doorman checked our I.D.’s, scanning them without saying a word. When we walked in, I wondered if he had checked anyone else’s. The majority of the crowd looked like the type who obtained their Papa Giorgio I.D. by sticking their head through an opening of giant, novelty license and having a friend take their picture. Welcome to KAM’s!

Unbeknownst to my friend or myself upon entry, KAM’s is actually famous, or maybe famous. Multiple Yelp users indicated that KAM’s was named the top college bar in America by Playboy. This is highly possible because Hugh Hefner graduated from Illinois, but Wikipedia attempts to discredit this fact, saying it might or might not be true and lacks certified evidence.*

*I’m all for pointing out half-truths and discussing the need for legitimate evidence before posting something online, but come on, right back at ya Wikipedia!

Top college bar or no, the stick greets you second. Alien plasma covers the floor, or maybe just liquor. I’m convinced it’s alien plasma, though. You better select a great spot to stand/watch sports/hit on a member of the opposite sex because within minutes your feet will lock themselves in place, trapping you without mercy, making it awkwardly impossible to do the Cupid Shuffle.

I ordered each of us a tall Miller High life, and we settled into the spots from which we would not be able to leave. Loud hip-hop and pop music played. Then the sound of a crash split through the bar. It sounded like a piano falling and was actually a structure of the same size. Some drunken idiot knocked over the DJ booth. Repeat: A Ryan Reynolds wannabe knocked over the DJ booth.

I looked around expecting security to swarm. At bars in Lawrence, security throws you out for drinking one minute past 1:30, which is thirty minutes before the bar closes. Here, no one came. The music kept playing, and the DJ booth was set up right a few minutes later.

That’s when I noticed there was no DJ. I’d heard a voice shouting on a microphone, but it did not belong to a partying mercenary. This voice actually belonged to a common man. Patrons were just walking up to the DJ booth and picking a songs off a MacBook and some of them felt like shouting drunken messages over the sound system.

I looked to my left. A college kid was leaving with two lady friends. He finished a beer, walked right by a trash can and continued walking. Instead of disposing of his bottle, he threw it as hard as he could against the floor. Crickets.

The atmosphere made it seem like the bar’s owner was out of town, and the Illinois students decided to throw a destructive party while he was gone. At one point, three girls were dancing on tables, two dudes were chilling on top of the bar rather than on barstools, and another guy entered wearing sunglasses and no shirt. Thank God he had shoes.

We had stumbled into a fantasy world. I expected the ghost of John Belushi to appear at any second. Hell, I wouldn’t have given a weird look if Bacchus walked through the door, carrying a fake I.D. and the ancient Greek equivalent of Franzia, asking someone to slap the bag.

It was amazing. If you live in Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, or Abu Dhabi, make it a vacation and go to this bar. Just don’t wear flip-flops.

At one point, I needed to get another drink and spotted one of those mobile bars in the corner stocked with a few bottled beers buried in ice and one bartender to sell them. I made the journey over, my soles super-glued to the filth. Lifting each foot required the brute force of John Henry and the dainty precision of Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

The bartender laughed at my sticky feet. What are the odds, I joked.

I asked her about the place: Is it always this crazy?

“What are you talking about?” she replied, perplexed.

Her voice had the inflection of a “college” woman. This was KAM’s, where Animal House plays in vivid reality apparently all the time, and, by the way, it was only 11:30.

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155 thoughts on “A True “College” Bar

  1. Chief says:

    Kams: The new Wild West.

    • tk says:

      I must apologize. I think it was 1977. We needed to clean our ‘sacred chapter house’ ffor homecoming. Myself, and a friend of mine, on sort of a dare, figured the easiest place to get a mop bucket was Kams (The Kmart was too far away), since we knew the place so well. Into the basement we went, out we came with their mop bucket. That being said, the place hasn’t been cleaned since then. Sorry.

  2. KAMS4LIFE says:

    As a graduate of the University of Illinois and a former manager of this fine establishment, I must say that you hit the nail on the head with this one. This was always the one place on campus you could go and just make a total ass out of yourself and for those memories, I love KAMS. Homecoming is coming up in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to spending every minute of my day there.

  3. Filliam H Muffman says:

    Trust me, they don’t pay us enough to deal with those asshole customers.

    Veteran KAM’s doorman here. Its the strangest job in the world.

  4. I have not laughed as hard at anything, as I did throughout the entirety of the article. As an ’09 Illini Grad I will state that this a 100% accurate account of KAM’S! Absolutely hilarious -this should be included in Freshman Orientation packet without a doubt!

    • R C Florey says:

      I am a ’67 grad and this was an accurate picture of the place then too. A Frat brother of mine used to like buying a pitcher of beer, stand on a table with the pitcher in one hand and lead the singing with the other, all the while sipping from the pitcher. Getting down from the table was the hard part.. (We didn’t have establishment DJ’s then. Would have probably ignored them anyway.)

  5. Anonymous says:

    As a ’08 grad I must say this is spot on. I can’t even tell you how many different IDs I used to get in to this ‘fine’ establishment. I must say I am sad to hear you didn’t make it on a Monday night. Back then (and hopefully still going strong) was country night! Once a week the suburban kids would borrow there ‘southern’ (South of I80 in Illinois) friends boots and shirts and have a grand old time… I must say what I miss most is ‘KAMS Feet’. You could always tell how drunk you were the night before if I chose to forgo washing of your feet before going to bed…
    The real gem of this place is the basement. If you thought the main floor was a dive….. think about that becoming the ceiling…..

    • Anonymous says:

      too fucking true bout that basement

    • Anonymous says:

      Tuesday night is country night now!

      • KAMS Feet... the sins never wash off says:

        I think it was always Tuesday night… My regrets. I always get ‘Wine Night’ (Please only drink shitty wine right from the bottle and try and make it hope w/o getting stopped by the cops for only having one shoe on night) @ Clys….. that was Monday night.

      • Anonymous says:

        Wine night! Country night! The best was mug night!! Wasn’t that Wednesdays at R and R’s

    • R C Florey says:

      ID’s? What are they? We all just went in there and bought our beer and didn’t bother with ID’s and neither did KAM’s. Probably why the State of Illinois sent troopers there every once in a while to check us out. Never got caught myself. Ah, those were the days: ’63-’67.

  6. KAMS Feet... the sins never wash off says:

    As a ’08 grad I must say this is spot on. I can’t even tell you how many different IDs I used to get in to this ‘fine’ establishment. I must say I am sad to hear you didn’t make it on a Monday night. Back then (and hopefully still going strong) was country night! Once a week the suburban kids would borrow there ‘southern’ (South of I80 in Illinois) friends boots and shirts and have a grand old time… I must say what I miss most is ‘KAMS Feet’. You could always tell how drunk you were the night before if I chose to forgo washing of your feet before going to bed…
    The real gem of this place is the basement. If you thought the main floor was a dive….. think about that becoming the ceiling…..

  7. Anonymous says:

    A friend of mine once saw someone gain entrance to Kam’s by showing the doorman/bouncer a video copy of “That Darn Cat”. No ID – just the VHS tape.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The only bar I’ve ever actually been kicked back into. Love me some Country Night and $2 Beam and Cokes out of a mason jar.

    Truer words have not been spoken: “‘KAMS Feet’. You could always tell how drunk you were the night before if I chose to forgo washing of your feet before going to bed…”. This also applies to CO’s Bomb nights.

  9. Anonymous says:

    THIS IS KAAAAMMMMSSSS

  10. FoxyBoxing@Kams says:

    I was a ’05 grad and fondly remember my first time going to KAM’s after the smoking ban went into effect. It is amazing smells that haze used to cover up!! And God forbid the one time I slipped on the dance floor and my pink t-shirt was indefinitely stained an odd gray green color….I don’t even want to know….

  11. Anonymous says:

    It’s too bad Gullys isn’t still around for this guy to check out.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I visited U of I exactly a year ago and I still can’t wash the KAM’S off my feet (or the Blue Guy stain off the centimeter border making up the circumference of my lips) – the memories adhere just as strongly as my black sandal to the floor, which I believe still remains in the corner from where I couldn’t pry it before I left.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I graduated in 1978 and the basement was pretty bad then, much worse than upstairs, and it was the place that the “tan legs contest” was held.

  14. JUSTANOTHERNIGHTATKAMS says:

    As a former frequenter of KAM’S, I concur with everything previously said. If KAM’S had a personality trait, it would be “enabling”. And for that, I thank this establishment of establishments.

    I would like to note that this author is not a former KAM’S-goer and commend him for this review. Not only was he able to capture the true essence of what KAM’S is on the surface but also the glory that it deserves.

    SHOUT OUT to Dawn at Silvermine.

    • KAMS4LYFE says:

      hahahhaaha love the shoutout…dawn was on her game last night.

      • JUSTANOTHERNIGHTATKAMS says:

        You saw her last night? I assume you ordered a Cripple Creek or DOB with ranch and marinara.

        Who wants to carpool to Chamapaign tonight? Car leaves at 6pm from Chicago.

  15. Anonymous says:

    As a former tour guide, I was instructed to point out all the historical/important buildings around campus and I never fully understood why admissions prohibited any speaking of any kind about KAMS…. It’s the most well known historical building on campus! #tradition

    On every tour I had to consciously prevent myself from making a reference “..and there’s where you students will actually be spending most of your time regardless of major, age, and sorority house”

  16. U of I says:

    As a frequent patron of KAMS from ’02-’06 I have very fond memories in this place. I am assuming that the basement is now closed or else the writer did not have the nerve to enter the dungeon!

  17. Anonymous says:

    um………i wish you had gone to the basement too. your head would have exploded

  18. Anonymous says:

    the “nice” bathrooms are all in the basement……………..accompanied by the worst smell in the entire world

    • BigTex1206 says:

      I was a student at the U of I from 2006 to 2010. I attended an exchange in the basement, during which time one of the women’s toilets began overflowing. No effort was made to stop it. A worker simply placed a caution wet floor sign near the door. Over the next hour the basement flooded with about a 1/2 inch of water… and the exchange proceeded with ever increasing intensity. I grew up 1 hour west of Champaign and being involved in agriculture was no stranger to country night. On several occasions we would stomp and kick the floor, breaking tiles and generally destroying sections of the floor. On another occasion we tore several facing boards off the stage and threw them in the beer garden. A door guy told us to be careful of the nails. During the summer or either ’08 or ’09 the health department closed KAMS after finding a tape worm in one of the beverage dispenser hoses. KAMS really is the wild west and every Tuesday night we tried our best to help it live up to that reputation.

  19. 40,000 Watts of Sound says:

    Say what you will about Wikipedia, but fat Champaign resident Eric Meyer is an accurate statement. Wikipedia also forgot to include the descriptions “dumb,” “clueless,” and “dumb” a second time.

  20. Mark Dent says:

    Illinois alums – thanks for the all the comments. I can’t wait to go back to KAM’s someday and check out that basement

    • Anonymous says:

      You won’t be disappointed. Everything they are saying is true. It is 10x as special as the main floor… I was there once for a party (in the basement) and it flooded, but the party continued anyway.

    • Thom Davis says:

      Mark, you need to edit the article a little, that isn’t Wikipedia that attempts to discredit the claim, it is the UofI Wiki which is a different entity. If it were Wikipedia, you could edit it and I’m pretty certain Wikipedia wouldn’t castigate anyone as being “Fat”.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Bart Urbanek, works at KAMS. Enough said

  22. ILl-INI says:

    Ah KAMS! The memories may grow more distant and fuzzy, yet I’m glad to see that some things will never change. I am almost ashamed to admit that I met my husband in confines of KAMS, one crazy weekend in the fall of 99. A proud memory to share with our children, to be sure!

  23. Barcrawl = private basement mayhem says:

    I was only 20% through the article and and felt my gag reflect…remembering dancing in the basement on the Chief and going to vomit in the ice-filled urinal. Two guys friends have also pissed on the bar, with no consequences, and that popcorn machine gave life.

    Fun old school fact: KAMS used to be STAN’S and the real KAM’S is either CO’s or was absorbed into KAMS.

    • Former MI member says:

      Wow, I used to live above the bar in the mid 70’s when it was called Stan’s, in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment with three other girls. It was so noisy, and we only lasted living there one semester. The worst was when the Theta’s from across the street would sing their sorority songs, which would carry through the ceiling. That would make you puke just listening to them. Next door was a little shoe repair store run by Mr. Durso. Then next door to that was Dooley’s, another bopping bar, where we would dance to the Doobey Brothers. Ah, fond memories!

      • Anonymous says:

        Theta’s are the bomb. I’d be happy to get into their house anytime of day or night as long as I was with one of those girls, they are HOT! That’s the best part about KAMS! The Theta’s are always there which means there are always beautiful girls to look at!

    • R C Florey says:

      Kam’s and Stan’s Gridiron were 2 different places back in the 60’s. Stan’s was famous for their grilled brats. My every Friday night treat.

      • Steve "Pat" Patterson says:

        Rick,

        Thanks for setting the record straight. In the early 60s, Kams offered hot beef sandwiches w/green peppers…Stan’s could not compete with that. A “beef and beer” were mandatories following one’s last class on a friday PM.

        Steve Patterson

        PS: So sorry about Washington, IL.

  24. Blue Drankz All Day says:

    Nice Bathrooms? I’d have to say the most comforting, yet terrifying, bathrooms would have to be the one forbidden place at the rear…, aka back alley/door/whatever you call that 4by25 foot landing spot. Regardless of your gender, stature, or apparel that night, there was no doubt that at one point or another one couldn’t just wait in that horrendous line so succumbed to the back, where you risked getting kicked out? some glass in the shoe? or better yet a high-five! While it didn’t beat the awfully juicy sorority gal gossip, it sure did beat the risk of peeing your pants and treading the lakes of who knows what…Just sayin’

    • Anonymous says:

      The back ally has now been renamed Club AIDs where a bottle of alcohol is hidden and a bunch of us asshole go back there and chug it for free. Extreme inebriation is the only possible way to withstand the “college” nuance that Kams holds.

    • Anonymous says:

      Excellent point! As a female and very frequent patron of KAMS, I probably used the “back bathroom” about once a month, a lit cigarette dangling precariously from my mouth every time. Looking back, I’m wondering why I bothered putting up with the real bathrooms.

      • Princes says:

        A psychiatrist is a pahcisiyn who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. I have a bachelor’s degree in the social services field. For several years, I have worked with children who have been diagnosed with mental disorders. It is upsetting to see children victimize at an early age and even more disturbing to see them as predators as early as 5 years of age, however knowing that I am doing my part to assist them in becoming functioning youths and adults is rewarding. The empathy, confidentiality and maturity of a medical assistant are definitely needed in this area. I enjoy establishing a rapport with these clients and helping them to find adequate coping skills to deal with their disorders, therefore I would like to work for a psychiatrist.I would not like to work for an emergency pahcisiyn for several reasons. I will explain a few. Patients who come to the emergency center typically have serious injuries or trauma. I would not like to have my mind constantly focused on who is coming thru the door and how sever the prognosis is. Knowing myself, I know that would be my focus and I would not be very productive. Also, in the emergency room the staff has to be prepared for anything, I would prefer an area that focuses on a particular specialty. Most importantly, I do not wish to see excessive amounts of blood loss on a regular basis. Actually, not even a minimal amount of blood loss on a regular basis. Giving my opinion and thoughts about this specialty, I would not be an effective employee.

  25. Ed Deline says:

    This brought back some great memories. I was a regular in 1996-2001 and this is spot on what it was like thursday through Saturday.

  26. csmcdem says:

    uofiwiki != wikipedia.

    otherwise, accurate article

  27. IMI987 says:

    it’s really a shame you missed the basement. i went down there once and only once back in ’06 i believe. the stairwell to the basement could best be described as entering the gateway to hell. it literally looks like a basement you would hang out in high school with god awful flourescent lighting and cheap, wood paneling. there wasn’t one spot on the floor that didn’t have some form of liquor spilled on it and a guy kept trying to kick open a locked door in the same fashion a horse would kick a person standing behind it. nobody batted an eye.

    CO’s is not much better. everytime i went there i woke up with a mad case of “bar feet” since flip flops were were typically my footwear of choice.

    GOOD TIMES.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Once, I saw a guy puke on the floor and someone came and just spread it around with a mop. Needless to stay, it is still one of my favorite bars

  29. 04 Alum says:

    Great summary. I did once see a fellow sorority pee on the floor of Kams. That seemed to be the only act of indignity that awoke the fury of the bouncers who made her clean it up with a mop … though she was not kicked out.

  30. Anonymous says:

    TAUS RUN CAMPUS!!!

  31. Anonymous says:

    Pee stands two inches deep on the bathroom floor most nights. Never wear sandals!

  32. jamiepants24 says:

    Reblogged this on jamealame and commented:
    KAMS is a little smelly slice of heaven.

  33. Kelly ' 77 says:

    Kam’s was born in 1975 (my junior year). Previously Stan Wallace’s Gridiron (Stan’s) occupied the east half of the building. The west side was Durso’s Shoe Repair. Kam’s more than doubled the size by taking over the whole first floor. Before Kam’s, the most popular Greek bar was Second Chance (aka 2C) on Sixth Street. When 2C mysteriously burned down in 1976, Kam’s became THE frat bar (conspiracy theorists take note). Does anyone remember Pork and the Havana Ducks Band playing there on Friday afternoons? I doubt if the floor has been washed since they opened.

    • Sully '78 says:

      I made sure my schedule was clear for Friday afternoons …quarter beers and dime hotdogs… jammin’ to the Havana Ducks…. 2nd Chance, Boni’s or Dooley’s couldn’t compete with KAMS… it’ll always be “home of the drinkin’ Illini”…

  34. Anonymous says:

    Alright Kelly ’77 that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. Us doormen take pride in our ability to mop the shit out of that floor with nothing but hot water and bleach. Sometimes when Eric’s feeling generous we get to use the Orange cleaner but it just makes the floor sticky too.

    oh before i forget, don’t order beer from a pitcher. just don’t.

    • Anonymous says:

      I ordered beer in a pitcher once. When I finished it, I realized there was a piece of chewed gum in the bottom the pitcher.

  35. Kris says:

    Like everyone has said, spot on article. I’m an ’02 grad, and we always used to say If you were at KAMs you were either a freshman or a slut. I partied there all four years I attended U of I, so I guess I was a pretty big slut back then ;) !

  36. Anonymous says:

    One time I wandered down to the basement (which was extremely crowded at the time) and found two of my friends who bartended there practicing a new trick they’d learned – how to smash beer bottles over each other’s heads.

  37. [...] KAM’S (click here ya idiots) [...]

  38. Anonymous says:

    Everyone should experience KAMS once I guess, it’s a shame you were here in town and didn’t get to experience one of the best bars in the state though, a mere mile and a half from KAMS is the Blind Pig and Blind Pig Brewery, 39 of the best taps anywhere.

  39. Anonymous says:

    hahah Deaf on…KAMS was Insane… I remember one drunken night I was sitting at the bar whilst the bartender, or one of the old managers pissed in garbage behind the bar staring right at the people sitting on the other side of the bar top. Then topped it off with walking around half naked holding a baseball cap around his junk and pouring bottlesof liqour on the girls bar tending…..TRUE STORY.

  40. #TAUS says:

    CO’s basement, nuff said…

  41. Anonymous says:

    I remember when KAMS was Stan Wallace’s Gridiron.. (grad of 1978)…. we’d stumble out of KAMS at closing time, walked down the street for a beef sandwich at Bambino’s.. priceless…years later got into a fight with a drunk Smurf when I was back as an Illini Dad .. classic…

    • mar says:

      KAMs was not there in the 70s. Next door to Dooley’s was Stan’s (where KAMS is now). KAMS was there in the 50s and 60s where Dooleys was in the 70s.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Made the mistake of wearing flip flops. The stick and urine didn’t bother me as much as the unbelievably full, USED condom that I walked into in the middle of the damn bar. Never will I be able to wipe the memory of that damn squishy thing twisted up in my shoe. Gag!

  43. Anon says:

    Oh the stench, backed up sewer, and so many other stories I could tell of KAMS. I graduated in May ’12 and have missed country night ever since!

  44. ArmoryAvenue says:

    It’s eerie how well this guy nailed it. Don’t forget you get into Kam’s when you’re 19 so life as a freshman explodes when you go there. I’ve seen a kid bartend the basement naked, watched a friend throw his brother through the big plate glass window into the beer garden, and survived the Illinois State Police/USA Today joint raid. But damn it, before they shut down the Taps tournament there was no other place on earth I wanted to be than Kams on a Friday at 5!

    • ILAGR says:

      The shallow pool of beer/liquor/urine/youth that covers the main floor eventually drains itself into the basement through one solitary sagging ceiling tile with a perpetual drip. My friend once caught a single drop in his beer, gave me a twisted smile and tipped it back. He graduated with honors and has a baby now.

    • Anonymous says:

      I can absolutely confirm the naked bartender. Spring of 05, I believe. I have a photo of it somewhere. Among other things, Kams served as an afterhours liquor store for my fraternity. Just go in through the outside basement doors, grab a case, leave an IOU and it was all good. The best part about Kams is it does not discriminate. Every student on campus, from athletes to chinese mathletes, feels welcome at Kams.

      • jdrch says:

        “The best part about Kams is it does not discriminate. Every student on campus, from athletes to chinese mathletes, feels welcome at Kams.”
        – And this is how I know your story is fake. Kam’s has the frattiest, most elitist crowd of any UofI campus bar and any college bar I’ve been to except The Swamp in Gainesville, FL.

  45. greg says:

    As a ’89 grad and a former resident of 618 E Daniels Street ( I lived above this fine establishment for three years) I’m glad to see that some “great” things never change.

  46. Hilarious, very well written. Do not order pitchers here.

    Correction: ‘Wikipedia’ doesn’t attempt to correct anything, you linked to an Illini Wiki that’s not affiliated with wikipedia.org

  47. dewey95 says:

    Buckets in the 90s for Friday happy hour were always good. There were actual DJs playing back then too. The best place to hang out was always in the walk-in cooler/keg coolers in the basement. There used to be food served in Kam’s, imagine eating there! Needless to say, best semester was when I had a 2:00 M/Tu/Th psych class across the street and always went straight to the bar. Great memories in KAM’S along with being told about even more things that happened that I was involved in though I cannot confirm nor deny them. Was in Champaign from ’91 to ’01 and it was the same the whole time.

  48. UofI93 says:

    Class of ’93 here. Sounds like not much has changed, except as dewey95 notes they had DJs then. I didn’t go there very often. I was more likely to be found at O’Malley’s or R’n’R, both long gone.

    If the crowd seemed young, even for college, that’s because you only have to be 19 to get into the bars in Champaign. Technically you’re supposed to still be 21 to drink, but you didn’t see anyone checking IDs a second time at the bar, did you?

  49. D says:

    Class of 2010…Is the Chief logo still in the basement floor. For being the basement that didn’t get *quite* as much traffic…it was just as sticky!

  50. Anonymous says:

    I painted those letters!

  51. anonymous81 says:

    Class of 1981 — nothing has changed. I bought a pair of boots exclusively for going to KAMS, which featured shattered beer bottle glass floors most nights — particularly when Pork and the Havanna Ducks were playing (“operator, operator put me through to Decatur…”). Once mouthed off to a bartender — he pulled me over the bar to his side! Before he could punch me properly, I grabbed a fire extinguisher and foamed my way out of there. I was welcomed back to the same stool the next night….

  52. Anonymous says:

    I can tell I’m the oldest person leaving a reply but the original Kams was in the Dooley’s spot when Kams was Stans -all great bars in the early 70’s

  53. Biff '82 says:

    The ceiling in the basement was so low, you could stand under the can lights and pretend you were in a Star Trek transporter room – a geek fact never mentioned at this bar. I once met a girl dressed as a Green M+M down there and took her home. Was it Halloween? Probably not. Another time, this time at Halloween, we watched a group of drunks chase a guy dressed up like a Christmas tree (just wrapped in battery lights) get chased down the street so they could piss on him like dogs. Never saw that costume again. I used to hang out with this punk redhead girl there – you ’82s would remember her. Did it help to be Greek in there? Absolutely, but went anyway and had a great time!

  54. Jenna Pitcher Rasche says:

    Kams “Home of the drinking Illini”..so true! Funny how people are taken back the stench alone…my brother used to be the manager there (now he owns Pia’s off campus..great place and good food!) years ago when they used to serve food and I must say that back then it was actually clean and enjoyable! Back in 2003 I visited Kams again when I was of age to enter and I couldn’t get over how much the place has changed. I do know owner Eric and he must be doing something right to have it still in business!

  55. UofI90-94 says:

    Way to bring back the awesome memories! As a Theta I woke up to the beer specials on the sign across the street every morning and capitalized on them most nights. We had every initiation party in the basement dressed in black dresses and heels in puddles of god knows what?! The saving grace was that I rarely had to use the bathrooms there cause I’d just run back to my house. As for ids, I was 17 as a freshman and was always let in. I did however get in the DI “police Roundup” sophomore year for underage drinking and false id, but I figured it was the “cover charge” for having the best times ever there and was back the next night!

  56. Commwest says:

    ’79 grad. The greatest thing is that it never, ever changes. I remember they used to have one of those shuffleboard bowling games to the right as you walked in the bar. If we’d had enough to drink it became time to discard that little round metal disc and would instead propel our bodies, arms outstretched as the appropriate way to get a sure strike.
    I can still hear Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” cranking out at an ear splitting level. Good times for sure.

  57. Anonymous says:

    Not as bad as the basement at Deluxe….

  58. Anonymous says:

    Grew up as a Townie who graduated high school in 1983. Went there every Sunday night from my junior year in HS through college at EIU (roadtrip!) for quarter beer night. Wasted beyond what I thought was possible and never took more than $5 each time. Think it used to be Olympia beer back then for quarter beer night, but it was never about quality.

  59. Anonymous says:

    KAM’S BABY

  60. matt says:

    ’97 grad, spot on. While reading this article, I could actually smell the place.

  61. Greg says:

    I once pissed on the floor. Like, the floor. In the middle of the bar. Sadly, sterile urine was probably the least gross thing on the floor that night.

  62. Kelly ' 77 says:

    One more story. An innocent friend lamented that he had never “partied” on his birthday. Jeff, the Kam’s bartender, accommodated. At one point he offered the birthday boy a flaming shot. Back then all shots were served in small plastic cups. The guy was too slow to drink the shot, the cup started to melt and the flaming booze spilled all over his face. We slapped the fire out fast enough to prevent permanent scars. It was the most unforgettable birthday that guy would never remember.

  63. Faithful KAMS goer says:

    Pretty much spot on. Laughed through this whole thing. But the manager is a great guy and does a lot of good things with the bar. The bar wouldn’t be the same with out him!

    • Adam says:

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  64. Anon says:

    Ha! Ha! (from the “60’s). While all you clowns were puking your guts out I was making you now wife in the parking lot.

    The sin bin lives forever in the heart of every Ato

  65. Margaret Oakes says:

    Middle booth on the left side from 78-82 (well, longer for law school). May Kam’s live on forever!

  66. Anonymous says:

    On really crowded nights all you had to do was walk behind the bar and act like you belonged there. I’d serve my friends and several other patrons before being caught, and even then they’d just tell me to get out from behind the bar. Between that and the 20,000 watts pumping out those sweet sweet melodies, I don’t know if there’s a happier place on earth.

  67. 08Grad says:

    My cousin actually fell on the dance floor and chipped her tooth…on the floor. Can you imagine your mouth having contact with that? I never asked if she got shots, but he probably should have.

  68. Celeste says:

    As I clicked the link my friend posted on facebook, I was so hoping for a flip flop warning, and you didn’t disappoint.

    As an ’08 grad, I wouldn’t say I went to KAMS very often, but reading this made me miss KAMS… Not really KAMS per se, but the whole U of I experience.

  69. Anonymous says:

    A friend just reminded me of a Kam’s story, the night Princess Diana died, the way everyone found out at the bar was the DJ just got on the mic in the middle of a song and said ‘Princess Di is dead’ and then played Celebrate Good Times.

  70. Anonymous says:

    I was a KAM’S bartender from ’84-’86. Crazy times…back then “bar wars” were Sun: quarter beers, Mon: $1 16oz beer, Tues: $1.50 Kamakazees, Wed: “the Wheel”, Thurs: $1.50 Long Islands/TnTs… There was no dance floor and no DJ. The basement was mostly for rented parties and not open all the time. Thank God we could use the bathroom downstairs. The highlight of KAM’S “lows” was probably the “shot a minute of beer” contest with big trash cans set up next to the table — once you puked you were out… I’ll never forget some guy stood up, turned around missed the trash can and puked all over some poor girl standing there watching. I went back to UoI fall of ’07 and walked into KAM’s for the first time since ’88 — it smelled exactly the same!

    • Anonymous says:

      Spent the summer of ’84 in Champaign with 3 fraternity brothers, living above Theta’s, best summer of our lives. Could crane our necks out of the balcony to assure no line then sprint over in less than a minute. Celebrated my 20th birthday at Kam’s, “Cement-head” Joe spinning The Wheel, got so unruly I was actually tossed out. Amazing. Comparatively, Kam’s was the ‘classy’ bar compared to C.O.D.’s. The metric to decide? Kids lined up 100-deep to get into Kam’s on a sub-freezing night when they could stroll into C.O.’s without breaking stride. Same flat beer, same sticky floors.

  71. Trocadero says:

    Even in our late 30s, my Illini college friends and I still frequently shout “THANKS FOR COMING OUT!” “KAM’S IS CLOOO-SED!” and/or “GET THE F*CK OUT!” at the end of a long day of drinking and watching our football team lose. I saw all the defining points of a “college bar” at KAM’s in seven years of ‘paign…guys peeing on the side of the bar (it was too crowded to get caught, or to push to the smelly and too cozy urine trough), bottles chucked to start fights, fake police badges flashed and girls dancing on tables, all accompanied by deafening hip hop and the stale, un-cleansable stench of cigarettes (which because of Champaign’s early 2000s smoking ban no longer masks a noxious olfactory cocktail of vomit, B.O. and stale beer). Ironically, my love of KAM’s has grown over time. Indeed, when we return to CU, we revel in leaving our professional worlds and urban high life of mixologists, Mouton, and Michelin-starred restaurants for KAM’s, “Home of the Drinking Illini” and the place where everyone forgot your name. Despite too-young looking faces, KAM’s remains a living portal to our cherished past starring clones of the same bent-bill-ballcap-wearing d-bag doormen, bartenders who make martinis with Sprite and obnoxiously drunk patrons that we encountered. We all know UI’s worldwide fame and accolades, but I must confess that whenever I befriend a charismatic alum on this continent or another, sharing memories of KAM’s is a certain, and mutually fun, activity. Trial lawyers, doctors, real estate developers…we’ve all been there, or even worked there. Salute!, and be sure to tip your bartenders.

  72. Janine says:

    Having spent many a post-game night and autumn afternoon washing the taste of getting-our-ass-kicked-at-everything out of my foul mouth with stale PBR, I can personally attest to the validity of this article. The floor is so sticky that if you stand still long enough, the decades-long accumulation of filth allows a believable “Matrix” impression. That is, unless you actually fall, in which case you’ll be impersonating someone stuck to a velcro wall wearing a velcro one-sie. Cheers, Illinois. I’ll be back for Homecoming to relive all the glory. –A woman Architect living in Lakeview, Chicago (i.e. College Part Deux…with money and less Ramen), Class of ’08 and ’10

  73. CD says:

    As a former Kam’s Budman (yes they sponsored a softball team) and ’82 grad this is a perfect description. It’s great to hear some things never change…..thanks for the memories…

  74. [...] If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to attend the University of Illinois, and perhaps any other Big Ten Institution, read this: “A True College Bar.”  [...]

  75. Anonymous says:

    As a 2010 grad….this is also spot on! Fond memories at jam and bomb nights at co’s

  76. Chuck Davis says:

    u of i 1967– best bar then, best bar now. the only thing that has changed is the price of beer– a pitcher of bud was $1.50. how much now?

  77. Anonymous says:

    I saw a guy take a poop in a garbage can there. No joke, I know him. We’re still friends.

  78. Kirk Hartley says:

    I was a Kam’s manager – 77 – 79. Lots of great people and memories – I recognize some of the names on comments above, and the names bring back lots of great memories. But no one has mentioned one of the best memories of all, Jim Beckman, a TKE. Jim was blind but NOTHING stopped him. He mastered walking anywhere on campus. Then, Mel (Jeff) hired Jim to bartend at Kams. Jim was fabulous – he memorized all the locations for liquor and beer, and ran the register just fine. Maybe once a night – if that – he would stop one of us and ask: “I think this is a $ 20 but it feels funny – is it a $ 20 ? He was almost always right. Another Jim story – most of us had too much to drink one night, and we needed to drive somewhere to a party, very late, with the streets not crowded. Jim did the driving, and did it amazingly well. Jim went on to law school, passed the bar, and became an Assistant US Attorney. The not so good news is that Jim died of cancer in his 40s. So all you Kam’s fans, raise a glass to Jim and his zest for life and people. We did about three years ago when many former bartenders gathered for a Kam’s reunion. Like Kam’s, Jim is one of a kind.

  79. Anonymous says:

    O9 Illini grad..I’m a black guy and my favorite Kams moment is getting in underage using a white guys ID lol

  80. SKAM-4-EVER says:

    As a 2001 graduate and frequent patron of “The SKAM” I have to say your assessment was right on…as is your recommendation to avoid flip flops. Did you visit the basement? It somehow smells worse than upstairs if you can believe it.

    God I miss ‘college’

  81. Mike says:

    Yes, it is always that crazy.

  82. Anonymous says:

    ’88 grad here! My best KAM’s memory is flipping a coin with my cousin to see who got dibs on the HOT head doorman. She won the toss and they have now been married for 20 years and have three kids! Talk about a great Quarter Beers night ;)

  83. Anonymous says:

    Triple-D, KAM’S bartender ’83-85…

    Best tip nights: Homecoming & Dad’s day
    Best tipper: Mike White on a bender
    Worst tip nights: Quarter Beers
    Worst tipper: any freshman girl
    Longest cleanup nights: Halloween
    Sloppiest hookup nights: St. Patrick’s Day
    Most dangerous night: your birthday
    Most memorable night: every night

  84. jdrch says:

    I always tell people this: if you’re worried about the smell at Kam’s, you’re missing the entire point. Which is the clientele. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that.

  85. Wannabee Reep 05 says:

    Where to start? I have many stories and Kams wasn’t even my prime spot. I went there Sr. year of HS the night before my placement tests. Ended up with an underage drinking ticket and a fake ID charge. This caused me to have to take many non-credit Freshman classes to make up for the gaps in my knowledge…. One time me and a buddy were at the bar and it was so crowded we couldn’t get out. We were at the far end by the bathroom. We just both walked on top of the bar to the exit. No one said a word….I was once pissing on the bar and simultaneously ordering a drink from the bar tender…I went there for a Christmas party where I did 36 shots (not exactly the hardest shots). I pucked on the bar at around number 28 or 30. But they didn’t cut me off until 36….I saw a football player piss in Cleveland’s beer and Cleveland didn’t say a word about it and drank the beer….Me and about 7-8 friends would drink a 5th of liquor each starting at about 1:00 on Fridays. Once we were done around 3 or 4, we’d go to Kams for the DJ and Taps tournaments and still dominate….Went back for Homecoming in 06 or 07. Told the bar tenders I was a DX Alumni. Served my friends drinks for an hour. They only told me I couldn’t serve anymore when I started giving away mixed drinks. But they never asked me to leave….There’s many more but those are the highlights that I can remember. I preferred CO’s because I never had to pay a dime there. But always loved Kams for the “true college bar” that it was. I definitely saw it as such well before this article and I take pride that an out of towner like the author pegged it exactly for what it is.

  86. [...] article here describing KAMS glory if you haven’t read [...]

  87. Bobedandrus says:

    As a Class of 1969 Alumnus, I can say that some things never change.

  88. Anonymous says:

    Class of ’87 Tridelt (key – house was walking distance, exactly 1 block away.) The “smell” is definately unique. Many good times started or ended at Kamm’s!

  89. SLW says:

    Class of 79. Was a townie too. We used to drink in the dungeon in high school and also at the Illini Inn basement. KAM’S was the proving ground for many a bored and wayward student. Not recommended as a regular hang-out for those serious about their education, but great fun in moderation!

  90. Anonymous says:

    Kam’s Class of 1981 to 1986 (yeah, it took me five years…blow me!)

    I was an early adopter of Urbana “bar life”, as they were 18 to get in instead of the TOTALLY UNREASONABLE Champaign 19 standard.

    But once I had my 19th birthday in spring of ’82, I hied over to Dooley’s, where I experienced my first mid-ankle puke and beer soak. Transcendent, really.

    I had pledged FIJI’s in 1981, and experienced the glow of the Willy’s MUG club and 55cent brews and free drinks, since I was an architecture student and could do caricatures of fellow patrons for free brewskis and slices. But despite the relative proximity, I de-pledged since they (the south side Irish) were, in fact, inbred south-side Irish meatheads who treated girls like they were second world supplicants. And pledges, well, like they were way worse.

    So my first visit to KAM’S was as a fresh PKT pledge as a wizened Sophomore. One of our number had so much fun at our formal pledging, he filled an entire empty pitcher with his vomit. Totally non-plussed, the Chi-O on deck dumped it, and replenished,without a rinse.

    I went on to occupy every Friday Happy Hour at the big screen to watch “All My Kids” from 11am until it was time for PKT’s all campus after hour many, many hours later. Every Friday.
    In at least a financial sense, during those years I was a King of Kams. And a happy kingdom it was.

    In fact, four weeks before graduation (time is an evil bitch who’s a bitch) I run into a fantastically hot and awesome KD who currently sits next to me know while I post crap like this.

    Viva, KAM’S! Whatta F@cking Bar!

  91. Nostalgic for COLLEGE says:

    My favorite KAM’S memories include but are not limited to:

    – Ripping a huge white sign off the wall and dancing on top of it with 10 of my friends for no reason and then waking up the next morning to find said sign sitting in my living room. No one wanted to touch the radioactive hazard and so we launched it (with gloves) over our balcony (duh). Someone else’s problem.
    – Waiting for creepy satin jacket guy to show up without fail, every time we were there. Lurking and staring, we made it a game to capture him in the background of all of our pictures.
    – Rarely ever actually daring to go into the bathroom and if I did, needing two friends to stand in front of me because I was peeing in the Men’s bathroom which had no stall doors and was only slightly more bearable than the Women’s bathroom and had no line.
    – The “Make your own bloody mary” bar created especially for Dad’s weekend, where the “classy” frat guys took their Dads for the best of the best in drink service. If you actually used said bar, you got stared at as if you were putting your life on the line.
    – Blacking out on Unofficial with my last memory being KAMs beer garden and calling my roommate’s boyfriend from another school by a different name. I later learned he was disappointed. *shrug*
    – Trying to finish a group project on my friend’s 21st birthday and running to KAM’s only to find him not inside but sitting on the sidewalk by the Quad puking his brains out post-KAMs and eventually requiring 9 guys to get him home.
    – Only once in my life attempting to go into the basement, getting halfway down and immediately reversing back up the steps and vowing to never enter again.

    I also agree that once the smoking ban took place, I had to avoid walking down Daniel’s past the bar in the daytime because the smell literally triggered vomit in my mouth.

    KAM’S and Illinois for life!!!!! – Class of ’07.

  92. simon says:

    Hilarious… I’m an old-ass 2002 grad and its nice to hear NOTHING HAS CHANGED!

  93. Anonymous says:

    Flush twice its a long way to kaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmmssssssss

  94. Bill says:

    Even 50 years later, I still remember drinking and puking my way through freshman week in the fall of 1961. Most of it at Kam’s, although I did fall down two flights of stairs at the Thunderbird, which used to be across the street. The last time I was there as a student was December, 1963. I was in the basement which was packed to the rafters, listening to “California Sun” by the Riveras. We were celebrating the Ilini leaving for the Rose Bowl. They lost, but we were probably too drunk to care. Hard to believe that 7 years later I got my Ph.D. and went off to teach at NIU in DeKalb.

  95. Anonymous says:

    I saw Meir do a line of blow off a strippers stomach after the Puddle of Mudd show after party in the basement. Too bad camera phones weren’t so common back then.

  96. Linds says:

    Kam’s isn’t downtown….. Thank goodnes. We keep the animals on campus so that they won’t wreck downtown.

  97. Anonymous says:

    Perfect article! but I wish it included something about the constantly flooding bathrooms that reflect a scene from the Saw movies.

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