It’s easy to sympathise with the freshers’ plight. Your first hours in Exeter might proceed with a certain lingering itch – having bid goodbye to your family, with all the requisite hugs and assurances of moral character, your neck-hairs bristle as one of your slack-jawed, doe-eyed new friends suggests a night out. You leap, but not too obviously. These are your university years; the fun better start now.

But this is Exeter, and you knew what that meant when you chose it. It ain’t exactly London. So the nightlife might not buzz as much as grunt, but it’s fair to want something more than a warm Aldi wine-box in a stranger’s house. Perhaps, to kick off on something faintly higher than a bum note, you could take my highly-subjective, burnt-out advice on the pleasures of mild Exonian bacchanalia.

Straight away, you’ll be pointed towards the big three. The vanilla is Unit 1. It’s faintly smooth for Exeter: booths, multiple bars, and drinks that are someone’s idea of cheap. What’s more, “Cheesy Tuesdays” (or “Cheesys”, for the cool kids) is iconic for every fresher. But the affair has a sheen – it’s not just the sticky walls, but the exhaustion of a samey night. There’s little breathing room, and a Unit 1 night has two modes: wondering if you might soon sit down, then sitting down and not falling asleep. All the while, mute smiles beam and the cycle repeats till close. But, as a student, can anything top an aimless, utterly functional evening?

it’s not just the sticky walls, but the exhaustion of a samey night.

You’ll hear much about Timepiece (or TP), as does everyone. Representing Exeter’s demographic of boisterous AU-aficionados, it’s a solid, middle-of-the-road choice for post-sports fun. Only, it’s also terribly trendy, so you’ll learn to pretend to love it. Its innards are a faintly Kafkaesque miscellany: “bottom-bottom”, the ground-floor bar, is skinflint party material; “bottom-top” is the club proper, its disconcerting clock slapping you with all-too-present time; while the cabin-like “top-top”, high above, feels exclusive – even if that means an over-friendly cramp. In all honesty, it’s a little too confusing: big, boozy, and over-crowded. Freshers will love it. Just don’t go on weekends.

Fever has a slickness that the others can’t quite match. There are two slick dancefloors, a slick roof-terrace, and multiple slick bars. It’s sort of like Unit 1, but…better. If it seems like my wisdom’s running short, that’s because there’s only so much to snark on. It’s less-established than the other two, certainly, but well-attended; perhaps the closest thing that Exeter has to a no-strings-attached, decent club. Almost a shame, really.

I prefer something smaller. Cavern is dim and cramped – but has heart. The whole experience is somehow homely to me, despite the profoundly limited room. Split between a bar and dancefloor, it’s easy to tap out for a while and crash on a sofa or table, before bouncing back to party. There’s even an elevated platform at the back, with which you can make an eejit of yourself to the room. I speak from experience. Nights alternate between varied setlists: ‘Salsaloco’ sits alongside ‘Dirty Club Classics’. The whole affair holds a vague sense of calm amidst the chaos. Here, it’s fine to – god forbid – chill out.

Move marks something of a counterpoint. Imagine, if you will, that the transient forces of chaos were to form a twisted mirror-Cavern. I don’t love it. Quickly, you’ll notice its resemblance to a Soviet architect’s wet-dream; you’ll sidle further in, a narcotic twang on the air; you’ll hit the dance floor, and see only shadows. Even in the strobe-light, the place seems dank, secretive, and sinister – one can’t help but move, if only to squirm. “Cavern, but evil” is hardly an informing judgement, but it’s the best I can come up with. I don’t know. I’m sure someone digs it. They probably also self-describe as “edgy”.

Even in the strobe-light, the place seems dank, secretive, and sinister – one can’t help but move, if only to squirm.

Still, a night in Exeter means more than dancing and drinking. It’s your experience of the whole bloody affair – the halogen glow of Mega Kebab, screaming Busted back home, the waft of rickety food-trucks. You might be disappointed in a club. Maybe no-one had the energy to dance like a prat.

What’s most important about Exeter nightlife is your overall pleasure, perhaps in spite of clubbing. My fondest memories flow through the evening – crawling from one place to the next, having conversations you can’t quite follow, or fainting on a sofa. The best venues don’t just cater for intravenous injection of “the sesh”.

And if that rings hollow, then hey – it’s Exeter, we take what we can get.

bookmark me