(Per usual -- this document brims with the life of a thousand rainforests, and will adapt to changes in the East Lansing bar scene. Your comments can help shape the face of said document. Thanks!)
Chances are if you're visiting East Lansing, you'll arrive on a Friday night and be looking to hit the town. If you're looking to have a couple drinks, this is the guide! Here I'll outline most of the bars in East Lansing, grouped by the kind of night you want to have.
TIP: If you want to avoid lines for most of these bars, arrive before 10 PM just to be safe. You might be fine before 11 PM, but with two bars either closing or moving out of downtown East Lansing this year (The Post and Lou and Harry's, respectively), they might start filling a bit earlier. Cover for some of these bars is usually $5 , but many places will wave it if you get in before 10.
And to get home safe, there's a multitude of cabs on Albert between Abbot and MAC. The cost is about $2-$3 per mile.
ROADHOUSE PUB (Corner of Harrison and Michigan just past Harrison Roadhouse), BEGGAR'S BANQUET (Abbot between Albert and Grand River), WOODY'S OASIS (Grand River between Abbot and Charles), PEANUT BARREL (Grand River between Division and Bailey)
All of these places are excellent if you want to relax with a couple drinks (with the possible exception of Roadhouse Pub -- if I'm wrong I'll move it to another section). All have their individual charms; Roadhouse Pub is a small, warm bar removed from the busiest parts of East Lansing, Beggar's Banquet is a great place for wine, microbrews, and has a shuffleboard table (I can't stress this enough. Shuffleboard. Table.), Woody's Oasis has great hummus if you want a midnight snack and a good selection of microbrews, and while the Peanut Barrel doesn't have the beer selection of the previous two places, it does have the best Patio in East Lansing, and Long Islands that'll instantly relax you.
KARAOKE! KARAOKE! KARAOKE!
CRUNCHY'S (Grand River, right next to Valley Ct)
Once more for emphasis -- Karaoke! Crunchy's has Karaoke on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights barring any Michigan State games. If you're looking for the best selection of beers on tap in East Lansing and can tolerate "Sweet Caroline' every hour, this is the place for you. If hearing "Black Velvet" isn't your thing, head a few minutes east.
BAR WITH A DANCE FLOOR?
HARPER'S (Albert between Abbot and MAC)
Sometimes they have a dance floor, sometimes they don't. If they do it'll usually be live music, If not there'll be tables where the dance floor is. As I said in the food section Harper's only has its microbrews on tap, which could be a dealbreaker to some. The service can be iffy at times as well, but the patio is large and sometimes has live music or a DJ.
BARS WITHOUT DANCE FLOORS
THE RIV (Corner of Albert and MAC)
There's kind of a dance floor, but usually this is filled by people playing an oversize game of Jenga. It has one of the best drink specials in town with $3 mugs of Labatt every day, and the clientele is a diverse cross-section of MSU students -- not too many frat types, just a lot of regular people having a good night. If you feel like having a good time in a bit more festive atmosphere.
WARNING: Make sure you empty your bowels before you come here. Trust me on this one.
BARS WITH DANCE FLOORS
THE LANDSHARK (Grand River, directly east of the corner of Grand River and Abbot)
PT O'MALLEY'S (Abbot between Albert and Grand River, entrance not on the street)
RICK'S AMERICAN CAFE (Abbot between Albert and Grand River)
A visitor will find these places mostly indistinguishable, but there are a few differences. P.T. O Malley's (aka P.T.'s) is the only above ground bar of the three, shaped like a U with the bar in the middle. The dance floor is at the bottom of said U, making it hard to get a drink sometimes. The standout here is the shot wheel -- give the bartender a few bucks and he'll spin the wheel; if you get lucky(?) a Jager Bomb will be all yours.
The Landshark (aka the Fratshark) got its nickname for the multitude of Greeks who would come to drink every weekend every weekend (myself included, depending on where the lines were). I'm not sure how Greek it is now that they have Co-Op Fridays, where Co-Op members get in for reduced or no cover. Regardless, there are worse options for places for you to drink, and if you do come here with your friends, make sure to order a shark bowl. I don't know if they still have the gummy sharks, but those things were tiny alcoholic treasures.
Rick's American Cafe (aka Rick's) is the gold standard of E.L. dives. This is the bar that typically fills up the fastest, and if other bars don't have lines, go there. As my friends and I say, "It's just Rick's!" If you do want to come here though, you'll find that it has a lot of bar space, one of the friendliest dance floors in the city, and a deceptive beer selection (I once had Founders' Porter from Rick's. On tap.). If you want to party hard this is one of your better options, but don't wait in line here if you can get in somewhere else.
This should go without saying, but if you don't defecate before you head to any of the three above places, I can't be held responsible.
I often had a good time getting crazy at PT’s and Harpers, but depending on who we were with (and how many shots were taken) we’d often end up in the dirty, skeezy, but classic basement hole of Ricks for dance parties and shots. Downtown Harpers (think it’s called Rush now?) is another alternative for this.
-PT O’Malleys – this is a bar, with bar food. Only come here if you feel like drinking. There is dancing, but the stage is quite small. It is very much an Irish-type bar. Lots of drinks on tap. There are TVs, but no bigscreens and most of the TVs are above the bar, which limits the amount of room there is to watch the game. Not for kids.
-Landshark – I’ll admit. The seven years I’ve been in EL, I’ve been to the Landshark twice. Both were fun, but I wouldn’t recommend it for gameday. It’s more a place to go get smashed, it seems. Definitely not for kids.
-Rick’s – Bumping, thumping good time. But people tend to get VERY drunk at this place. If you’re young and like the crazy bars, this is the place for you. If you’re older, don’t want your ears ringing, and have a conversation then this is not the place for you. NOT family friendly.
DUBLIN SQUARE (Corner of Abbot and Albert)
Dublin is actually two bars in one. The front will have either a live band or a DJ, and while dancing is possible up front, space is limited. The back room though will have a DJ on weekend nights typically, and a great place to...I can't think of a manly way to say "mingle" or "get your groove on", so let's move on. If you like whiskey (best whiskey and scotch selection in EL), clean bathrooms, and variety, this is the place to go.
-Dublin Square – A relatively new place (couple of years old). Very pub-ish. Multiple rooms in the place, so make sure you explore. Also has an outdoor patio. Darts are in the back. Not so great for food, but very nice place for drinks with friends. Not for kids.
CLUBS WITH BANGIN' BASS
CLUB RUSH (Albert, attached to Harper's)
Hair gel! Lights! Bass! Loud music! Short skirts! This is the only club in East Lansing, so if you want a loud night club with lots of music, drinks a bit more expensive than what you'll usually find in EL, and cologne, this is where yo want to go.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS (Corner of Albert and Charles)
The best place to catch many football games on a Saturday, as well as other games and the occasional UFC pay per view. If B-Dubs is full, other places of interest farther away are Reno's East (corner of Abbot and Saginaw) and Lou and Harry's Sports Bar (Chandler Crossings area, just head north on Abbot for a few miles and you'll eventually find it). Lou and Harry's might have live music on some nights, so if that's not your think make sure you call ahead.