There’s a college town noted for launching a number of highly acclaimed alternative bands, where the downtown is stocked with local fresh eateries, and just off campus you can find the sort of hot dog and burrito dives that students salivate over. You’ll even find mixology where you least expect it, art brought in straight from Europe and the ability to get in a quick round of surfing.
The college town in question? Provo.
No, seriously. We’re really talking about the town that’s home to the school that annually claims the top spot on the Princeton Review’s list of “Stone-Cold Sober Colleges.” True, nobody’s going to confuse a place full of this many minivans with Brooklyn or Portland, but there’s an unexpectedly fresh side of Provo that leaps outside the stereotypical box this Utah County spot often gets shoved in.
The heart of the Provo music scene that in recent years has launched the likes of Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons is Velour Live Music Gallery (135 N. University Ave., 801-818-2263, VelourLive.com). The all-ages club is a top destination for touring bands and locals that Promoter Corey Fox has turned the Main Street storefront into a relaxed, comfortable concert setting for bands and audiences alike, holding 150 to 250 patrons depending on the setup.
Downtown Dining and Off-Campus Dogs
“Downtown” Provo really only comprises a few blocks, but that small space has a worldwide variety of cuisines as well as some homegrown options with their own unique menus. The setting and service at Communal (102 N. University Ave., 801-373-8000, CommunalRestaurant.com) live up to the name, since the dining room has a long table to seat multiple parties and dishes are served either family-style or on small plates designed for sharing. The menu changes seasonally, with products sourced from local farms. Communal is open for lunch, dinner and Saturday brunch, and has a wine and beer list. Dinner provides the opportunity to select an entree from the Large Proteins section of the menu, such as Utah pork with arugula cherry salad ($25), or from the Small Shares section, where the 48-Hour pork belly ($10) is popular.
Regardless of your facial-hair situation or whether your clothes comply with the BYU Honor Code, you can visit J Dawgs and Mountain West Burrito, literally just steps off campus at the intersection of 700 East and 900 North. J Dawgs (858 N. 700 East, 801-373-3294, JDawgs.com) takes top quality links ($3) and scores them with “Xs” before they go on the grill so there’s a juicy pop when you bite into them. Make sure to try the Special Sauce, which has a sticky, tangy taste you’ll want on every hot dog you ever eat again.
Mountain West Burrito (815 N. 700 East, 801-607-1766, MountainWestBurrito.com) proudly proclaims, “We don’t own a can opener,” and the freshness of the ingredients and quality of the meats is apparent when you bite into a freshly made burrito or chimichanga. The regular goes for $7, while the $13 giant easily feeds two.
Mix It Up
Even though there’s not much alcohol around Provo, there are people mixing up liquid flavors and finding interesting alternatives to put in martini glasses. Sodalicious (30 W. 300 North, 801-800-7317, SodaliciousUtah.com) is a small drive-up sitting behind a barber shop, but always has a line of thirsty patrons who want to try mash-ups like Mango Mountain Dew, Cherry Chocolate Dr Pepper, El Doctoro (Dr Pepper mixed with horchata), or come up with their own creations ($1 for 16 ounces. to $1.75 for 44 ounces.). Sodalicious also features melted chocolate lava drinks ($3).
The setting for the Choc’late Mousse Pie Bar (155 N. University Ave., TheChoc-LateMousse.com) is that of an upscale bar, but what’s in the martini glasses is mousse and pie fillings with crust mixes. Kick back with friends and “sip” some pie ($3-$6).
From Surf to Sacred
If you’re on the Wasatch Front and feel like surfing, you can either drive to the Pacific Ocean, or go to Provo Beach (4801 N. University Ave., 801-224-5001, ProvoBeach.com). OK, it’s not actual surfing, but the indoor Flowrider lets people feel the experience of gliding along on moving water ($20 per hour).
The exhibition Sacred Gifts runs at the BYU Museum of Art (North Campus Drive, 801-422-8287, MOA.BYU.edu) through May 10. Tickets are free, but must be reserved online. What makes the show unique is that many of the 19th-century paintings and religious installations could previously only be seen on the walls of churches in Germany, Sweden and Denmark.
Provo will always be known for the Honor Code, milkshakes and skads of kids, but this college town also has an unexpected side.
Kathleen Curry and Geoff Griffin host the Travel Brigade Radio Show podcast.