When you think of Virginia Tech, your immediate thought isn’t “a drinking school”; it’s more likely “the school with engineering,” “a mascot that looks eerily like a turkey,” or “terminal wind.” Despite the number of in-town bars barely reaching double digits, Blacksburg can offer a good time and a good drink (if you can remember it). It was my goal to find the bar or restaurant that offered the pinnacle drink for broke college students when they don’t know what to order: the Long Island Iced Tea. An intoxicating mixture of gin, triple sec, vodka, white rum and clear tequila is somehow masked by the splash of cola and, if it’s good, a lemon wedge.
As someone who recently turned 21, I hoped to find my holy grail filled with succulent, spiked tea (with surprisingly no sweet tea in sight) here in Blacksburg. I look at three components in a drink when seeing if anyone could beat the competition: the taste, the “buzz” and the price. To test my devotion, I sipped every (or at least five) Long Islands from Blacksburg’s most famous bars.
Everyone knows that Sharkey’s has Blacksburg’s hottest Long Island. You can’t beat their happy-hour prices and their consistently strong drinks. Since it was finals week, I wasn’t able to hit happy hour, and all the drink cost was $7, which is decent for a mixed drink in a small town.
Since I’d already tried a Sharkey’s Long Island before, my first stop was Rivermill. Going to a bar at 4 p.m. truly integrates you with the locals getting hammered on a Tuesday and your bartender crying over someone’s gin and tonic. Despite the entertaining bar jargon, the lack of lemon, the overwhelming taste of white rum and a very small buzz made my drink go down very slow. If they were out of every other beer and liquor, I would order it again.
At the ripe hour of 6 p.m., I braved the wind and headed up to a very empty TOTS, where the only other form of life was the bartender, and he left as soon as I got my drink (TOTS is much better when you are the only person there). As the clicks of my pen echoed off the wooden walls, my first sip of their Long Island was offensive to Long Islands everywhere. Again, there was no lemon (tisk tisk). It tasted as if I was drinking a heavily poured shot of all the spilled drinks squeezed out of a dish towel. However, even though I was not able to finish the drink, this dish towel juice made my bus ride home much more fun, and made the weather feel like a dark summer night. I would not recommend it, as it was the worst Long Island and drink I have ever had, unless you need to get really drunk really fast (I would suggest everclear instead).
After my traumatizing experience at TOTS, I hoped Champs would give me a better time, and it definitely surprised me. The ratio was good — not too much ice — and the alcohol was hardly noticeable, even with the the slight buzz afterwards. By drink four, if someone even mentioned my Long Island experiment, I would begin to feel a tsunami of nausea. The drink I had once loved had grown stale on my tongue, but I knew I had to try just one more (just because five is a better number than four).
Per tradition, my friends and I go to Gucci El Rod’s every Friday, and instead of the Jumbo Texan, I opted for their unknown Long Island. When my waiter brought me my drink with “extra alcohol” and a side of sexy eyes, I thought it would take TOTS’s place as the worst, and I would instantly regret my $8 purchase. I was wrong; it is the superior Long Island in Blacksburg, trumping Sharkey’s and every other on my list. The ratio was perfect, and tasted different, in a savory way, from all the others. Plus, it had the lemon wedge that puts the icing on the cake.
Now that I have started my search, I won’t stop until I have tried all of the Long Island iced teas in town, and maybe you can try them, too. Now, go out and find The One.
Higher tier: El Rodeo, Sharkey’s, Champs
Lowest tier: TOTS, Rivermill