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Rolla, Missouri, USA

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Rolla, Missouri, USA, is a town of roughly 20,000 people, dominated by the University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR), which distinguishes this town from the many surrounding Ozarkian1 communities.

The University

Formerly the Missouri School of Mines, Missouri-Rolla has been around for over 125 years. Most of the 4,000 students major in engineering, mathematics, or science.

There is a great deal of social separation between people associated with the school, and the other inhabitants of Rolla, whom the students casually refer to as 'townies'. There is further separation between different groups within the university itself. Only the most advanced students and townies successfully mix the social spheres, but there is one place where it all seems to come together: The Grotto.

The Grotto

The only true college bar in town, The Grotto is located on the east side of the campus on Pine Street, within walking distance of the main student residential area, and close to one of the more disliked landmarks on the southwest part of campus, the 'Millennium Arch'. Anyone in Rolla should be able to point you in its general direction.

The bar is entirely below ground, and has acquired the accumulated smell of years of cigarette smoke. It is dark and funky, and the place where good friends go to get affordably drunk. As you would expect in a predominantly student bar, conversations range from what types of search algorithms best match strings of genetic code to the day's coolest vomit. Beers include Heineken, Guinness and Leininkugels as well as the staple Anheuser-Busch products that are supplied in that part of the US.

The Grotto made Playboy magazine's 1999 list of top college bars (possibly because of the room of the same name in the Playboy mansion), and provides the best, and perhaps a bit of the worst, that college life in Rolla has to offer. However, it is under threat from redevelopment and may be torn down because the school wants to build a carpark instead.


The utilitarian Super-Wal-Mart, which is in itself quite uninteresting, does however stay open 24 hours a day, and the shoppers who come in at 3am are interesting to say the least.


You'll find that Alex's Pizza is a good place to eat.

The Float Trip

One of the most pleasant and interesting traditions in this area is the outing known as a 'float trip'. There are many pleasant rivers near Rolla, some of which are part of a National Preserve, The Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

The trip involves getting a bunch of friends together and renting a load of canoes or rafts, and filling them with as much beer as you can carry. The rental company will take care of the dropping off and picking up of people, and can arrange camping facilities if you wish, so all you have to take care of is provisions for some serious drinking and get into the mood for relaxation. Float trips are popular with all sorts of people, most of whom seem to respect the riverways by not littering. The little operations that take care of canoe rental are usually run by local families and friends, making the day a great opportunity to meet people and a personal experience. A float trip is an excellent way to get in touch with the natural surroundings and the fun-loving vibe of the Ozarks.


Rolla is in an area blessed with natural beauty, and is excellent for fishing, canoeing, hiking and hunting. The good engineering/maths/science university is populated by an interesting mix of students from around the US and the world. However, its existence is bittersweet in that its uniqueness is slowly being homogenized by various factors, and by the relative boredom surrounding the town, at least for most of the students, who often come from areas which are far more interesting than Rolla itself.

1The Ozarks are a range of densely-forested mountains that occupy about 50,000 square miles (130,000 square km) of south-central USA.

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