Students are back at the University of Minnesota, which can mean only one thing: Bars are once more operating at full tilt.

While the university is home to a plethora of bars, the nightlife scene close to campus has been slow to change, even at times a bit dumpy. But there have been some shake-ups in recent years.

Sadly, a longtime institution, Grandma's Saloon, closed this year. But the Varsity Theater continues to be a must-see destination for live shows. And while college students are known for their beer lust, the University of Minnesota has never had a serious beer bar (with good beer). With the rejuvenated Stub & Herb's and the Acadia Cafe, it now has two.

These venues -- where a savory experience is more important than getting smashed -- show us that a college bar doesn't always have to be a college bar.

That said, here are 10, traditional and nontraditional, that matter.

Stub & Herb's

The scene: When new owners took over last year, they let head bartender and beer geek Jon Landers run wild. He's transformed the once ramshackle Stadium Village place into a great beer bar. To stick out, Landers keeps the draft selection all-American -- showing that this country's craft beer can stand on its own.

Who's drinking: Beer lovers, graduate students.

Best special: $3.50 pints during one long daily happy hour, 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. (plus 10 p.m. to midnight).

Vitals: 227 SE. Oak St., Mpls. 612-379-0555. stubandherbsbar.com.

Varsity Theater

The scene: This gorgeous Dinkytown space, by the owner of the Loring Pasta Bar, has emerged as a favorite venue for a wide range of live shows. This month: Minus the Bear, Joan Osborne, Nikka Costa, Devin the Dude and more.

Who's drinking: Anybody, depending on the show.

Best special: $2.50 Pabst Blue Ribbon and Grain Belt every night.

Vitals: 1308 SE. 4th St., Mpls. 612-604-0222. varsitytheater.org.

The Library

The scene: When people say "college bar," this is what they're talking about. Three levels of hard-core partying. Almost 40 flat-screen TVs. One sardonic name.

Who's drinking: Party animals of the fratty type.

Best special: $1 drinks every night, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. Selection varies.

Vitals: 1301 SE. 4th St., Mpls. 612-604-1900. librarybars.com.

Acadia Cafe

The scene: New to the West Bank corner of Cedar and Riverside, this transplant (from the corner of Nicollet and Franklin) gives students what they've been missing: a serious venue for singer/songwriters and an even more serious place for beer fans (28 taps and an impressive bottle list).

Who's drinking: Boho musicians, beer connoisseurs.

Best special: Different beer specials Sunday through Thursday.

Vitals: 329 Cedar Av. S., Mpls. 612-874-8702. acadiacafe.com.

Nomad World Pub

The scene: The Nomad is quickly becoming known as the bar that will try anything. The hip spot has outdoor bocce ball, dog parties, science trivia and, coming this winter, curling. It also has great live music.

Who's drinking: Cool people willing to try anything.

Best special: Two-for-one on everything during happy hour, 4-7 p.m. weekdays.

Vitals: 501 Cedar Av. S., Mpls. 612-338-6424. nomadpub.com.

Sally's Saloon

The scene: This longtime party spot still packs 'em in for ladies night on Wednesdays and "Kill the Keg" on Thursdays.

Who's drinking: Students who might describe themselves as "keg killers."

Best special: For the fall semester it's $2 Jag bombs and two-for-ones (10 p.m.-midnight) daily.

Vitals: 712 Washington Av. SE., Mpls. 612-331-3231. sallyssaloon.net.

Kitty Cat Klub

The scene: With its abundance of plush vintage couches, this is the comfiest bar around. It sounds good, too, with live music every night.

Who's drinking: Hipsters who know a good couch when they see one.

Best special: $2 beers and wine, $3 cocktails during daily happy hour 4-7 p.m.

Vitals: 315 14th Av. SE., Mpls. 612-331-9800. kittycatklub.net.

Preston's Urban Pub

The scene: While the patio will always be popular, the insides of this Seven Corners staple needed some work. New owner Mark Habben did just that with a remodel this year and a slight name change (no more Sgt. Preston's).

Who's drinking: Students who can drink 60 ounces in one sitting (see below).

Best special: The bar's famous 60-ounce fish bowls are half-off on Fridays. And how about 50-cent Bud Light taps on Mondays?

Vitals: 221 Cedar Av. S., Mpls. 612-338-6146. prestonsurbanpub.com.

Town Hall

The scene: Students looking for a standout brewpub have one right under their noses. Later in October, the bar celebrates its 11th anniversary with a week of beer releases (Oct. 20-25).

Who's drinking: Beer geeks.

Best special: $1 off house beers during daily happy hour 3-6:30 p.m.

Vitals: 1430 Washington Av. S., Mpls. 612-339-8696. townhallbrewery.com.

The Dinkytowner

The scene: This shabby little bar is still a home for the local underground music scene. While it's heavy on hip-hop (Kanser has another Halloween special this year), there are plenty of rock and punk shows, too.

Who's drinking: Independent music fans.

Best special: Women drink free during Monday ladies' night. Wednesdays: $5 pitchers and $2 shots.

Vitals: 412 1/2 14th Av. SE., Mpls. 612-362-0437. dinkytowner.com.

thorgen@startribune.com 612-673-7909