From getting to and from the Horseshoe, to eating and drinking on Football Saturdays, to watching games at great sports bars, here are some expert tips on how to tailgate like a champion.
With the Defending National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes kicking off another high-profile football season Monday night, some thoughts arise:
1) Columbusites who don't give a crap about that sentence above (they kinda remind me of food-hating Parisians) might still enjoy participating in the city-wide party taking place every fall weekend.
2) Both casual and deranged-and-possibly-dangerous fans (I'm the latter - the only home game I haven't attended in two decades was due to a hatefully planned family wedding) need to take a cue from the Undisputed National Champion Buckeyes and tailgate like champions - and as Coach Urban Meyer proves every day of his life, being a champion demands preparation.
3) From getting to and from the Horseshoe, to eating and drinking on Football Saturdays, to watching games at great sports bars, here are some expert tips on how to tailgate like a champion.Before you go
Sure, you could be that person wearing an empty-12-pack hat, facedown into a cornhole board, intermittently slurring O-H! - while your friends are all at the game - but that doesn't seem like good value for a pricey ticket.
While it can be liberating to party like a maniac, on game day your inebriation mission benefits from a little structure. A winning strategy for me is to nurse drinks until about two hours before kickoff - at which point I hit it hard. Then, for the Full Horseshoe Experience, I plan on being settled in my seat 20 minutes prior to the game starting. This admittedly too-calculated-sounding schedule brings these huge payoffs:
1) I don't get crushed in the molasses-slow, "Did someone just score?" bottleneck of fans trying to squeeze through those narrow Horseshoe gates.
2) I can claim my tiny space on what will become a tight-fitting, territory-disputing stadium bench.
3) That's when the band comes out. Though many people understandably think the band is corny, when the TBDBITL first enters from the stadium's depths dressed in assassin black, booming out doom from the bass drums, assembling into precise militaristic formations, their message is clear: We mean our opponents harm. But then the rah-rah horns blare, and the mounting menace dissolves back into the "insubstantial pageant" it always was. This is great showbiz, and I love it.Getting there and back
By far, your best option is walking - hoofing it there is especially fun while funnelling through the teeth of fan-demonium, the insane Lane Avenue circus. But if walking's not feasible, I recommend these Plan Bs.
COTA Park-and-Ride is easy: corral your vehicle at the Crosswoods lot (7460 Huntington Park; parking is free) or the Ohio Expo Center (on the fairgrounds, where parking is $5), then enjoy round trip Horseshoe shuttle service ($5.50). Stadium-bound buses start three hours before kickoff; pickups begin at halftime and continue, post-game, for two hours.
Buckeye Hall of Fame in Grandview Yard (see "Watching on TVs" later) offers a shuttle service that mirrors COTA's. It's free when purchasing a $20 gift card you can buy and use on game day.
There's also a West Campus free shuttle service if you park there.
If "park-and-walk" is more your speed, price the lots on High north of Lane (from Oakland on up); this excellent decision affords lots of food-and-drink pit stops and semi-manageable traffic.Filling up and fueling up
If you're gonna drink a lot - let's be real here, you are - you need to eat a lot. Don't make that rookie mistake of "one good meal - then an all-liquid-diet!" Seriously, the more booze-diluting food the better. And water - don't forget hangover-deflecting water!
Drinking inside the stadium
This year, Ohio Stadium is initiating Buckeye football alcohol service - but only if you're among the lucky four percent of attendees with a luxury box or club level seat. The rest of us schlubs have to TCB elsewhere, because it is illegal to bring in your own alcohol. So don't sneak in any of those little airline-size bottles of booze bought from the Campus State Liquor Store at Blake and High, and then don't empty them into a huge plastic glass of Coke you purchase once inside the stadium. Just don't do it.
Eating inside the stadium
Gobbling a hot dog or hamburger of dubious provenance from the first concession stand you encounter is one strategy. Another plan is to seek out the following stadium aisles for local food truck fare and other interesting grub like:
Tacos from Dos Hermanos: A10
Ohio Pasture Proud (grass-fed) Hamburgers: A21, C5, D19
Short North Bagel Deli Sandwiches: A9
Yellow Boy Polish Boy - Cleveland-style kielbasa sandwiches loaded with fries and more: A12, C11
Buckeye BBQ - in-house smoked meats and more: A15
Gluten Free Concessions: A19
Eating and drinking within walking distance of the stadium
There are drinking options galore here - I'll get to some recs in a sec. On the feedbag front, grazing on generic gyros and brats from the convenient Lane Avenue food cart onslaught will get the job done - but you can do much better with these:
The Italian Subs from Tommy's Pizza are meaty, cheesy, fixins-loaded tummy pleasers sold ready-to-eat from a stall at Lane and Neil. For more seasons than I can remember, they've been torpedoing the fly-by-night, close-to-the Shoe competition. Note: only available until around kickoff.
Ray Ray's Hog Pit sits one block north of Hudson in the parking lot of Ace of Cups bar/music club - where you can get a drink while you eat on the bar's patio. Ray Ray's is a fantastic food truck that makes the best barbecue in Columbus, so it's worth a short walk.
Casual and fashionable Ethyl and Tank, smack-dab in the heart of campus, offers a lot: huge and lusty brunch dishes, a Bloody Mary bar, barista service, oceans of beer and booze (all half-off during Saturday happy hours, 2 p.m.-7 p.m.), free video games, a patio. Recommended: bison burger, chili rellenos, wings, nachos
DareDevil Dogs, south of the Shoe, sells the best hot dogs in the campus area - hell, maybe all of Columbus. Their cheffy, double-wide flavor bombs can be dressed in flamboyant fashions. Bonus: the stylish but matchbox-sized eatery is connected to the sports-friendly Village Idiot bar. My DevilDog faves: the Stunt Double and the Fire Eater.
The Blue Danube (aka The 'Dube) is a divey diner just north of the Shoe with feel-good food and a ton o' top-shelf hooch. It's been an OSU classic for 75 years, and it's where you'll frequently find me on game day - gunning down beverages, slamming through club sandwiches, turkey reubens, meaty Cobb salads and wings.
Dick's Den, a few doors down from the 'Dube, is where I complete my gameday divey doubleheader. I love this curmudgeon-friendly, vintage-as-a-movie-set tavern - and not just because it has the cheapest drinks in the area (though that helps). If you wanna talk real football amongst a group of real drinkers, creaky-but-cheerful Dick's can't be beat.
Alana's - one of the best and one of my favorite restaurants in Columbus - is the hip, patio-equipped place to go if you really wanna treat yourself. The just-north-of-campus stalwart has recently gone to a more casual (and less expensive) small-plates-focused format, and now opens at 1 p.m. Heads up: Alana's five-course wine dinner (by reservation only) is THE splurge-worthy meal for all your special-occasion gameday needs.
The Little Bar provides full immersion into Buckeye madness with a game-day party it calls "Tiny Gate." Expect teeming crowds clad in shiny Buckeye jerseys, a gigantic projector TV, a DJ and footballs-to-the-walls revelry.
The Thirsty Scholar, super close to the 'Shoe, manages its crush of game day patrons surprisingly well. Though not rife with personality, it's a solid option for a last shot before the game or your first beer afterward.
Rockin' at Riverwatch is a mammoth, fenced-in tailgate party in a parking lot near the stadium. Expect long lines for beer and food-vendors, but also huge TVs and decent live bands.Watching on TVs
Whether it's an away game or a home game that you can't make it to the Horseshoe for - but still want that stadium-like camaraderie plus good food and good drink - indoor tailgating at these fan palaces is just the ticket.
Studio 35, a marvelous neighborhood movie-house/bar that gracefully bridges the gap between old and new Clintonville, offers 40 taps of beer, pizzeria fare, and the big game on the big screen (as well as on TVs in the cushy bar). Expect a stadium-type experience so spirited that fans will even stand during the national anthem.
Gallo's Tap Room is a dark, modern and almost nightclubby sports pub with a rowdy, rock-and-roll attitude and lots of handsome woodwork. Along with plenty of beer, there's an actual chef pumping out serious pizzas and first-class wings, but also PEI mussels, arancini, homemade meatball grinders and enticing daily specials.
Westie's calls itself a "gastropub." I call it one of the sleekest and chic-est sports bars in Columbus. The mammoth and sprawling, patio-equipped restaurant has the expected craft taps, but also refreshing cocktails and sturdy grub that far transcends its genre. Check out its cheffy burgers, chili and nachos, but also impressive lighter options like ahi tuna flatbreads and attractive quinoa salads.
If you come down with a severe case of Scarlet & Gray Fever, the huge Buckeye Hall Of Fame Grill - which is officially licensed by OSU - will inoculate you with its museum-quality Buckeye sports memorabilia, "Block O" firepit and slew of cheering fans. Burgers, nachos, pizzas and a wall of beer taps? Yeah, BHOFG's got those, too.
The Pint House is how the Short North does a sports bar: handsome, enormous, with brick walls, giant TVs, a fountain made outta beer taps, a freaking retractable roof and fancified German beer hall-type accents. The food ain't no slouch, either - try the short rib nachos, soft pretzel sampler and beer-battered fish and chips.What to bring to a tailgate party
Strolling up with a half-full bag of half-stale chips is half-assed. And whipping out a pack of Kwik-E-Mart brand "burger-style" patties ("Now with less E. Coli!") doesn't exactly say "I know how to party like a champion" either. I'm not suggesting you go all Martha Stewart, but how about a little effort? These easy-to-grab munchies are guaranteed to make you a Tailgating All Star.
Adriatico's, just south of the stadium, makes terrific pizzas. The little shop even offers a monster-sized party-starter called a Buckeye Pizza.
The pizzas freshly baked at Lucky's Market (on High Street, a couple blocks north of Hudson) are the best-kept cheesy pie secrets in town. They don't cost a lot, but give most "artisanal" pizzas a run for their money.
Darista Dips are actually made near the OSU campus, and the comforting tongue-tinglers are so delicious that you might have to keep reminding yourself how healthy they are. (I love them all, but lately have been partial to the "Que Bueno Piquillo" - roasted red pepper hummus.) A great match for Darista Dips is Shagbark Chips, also made in O-H!-I-O!
If you're gonna get all up in a grilling party, the delicious housemade Italian sausages from Carfagna's (love the hot ones, but also the biggie links called "Grandpa" and "Festival") are a great bang for your buck and easy to pick up on game day.
If you really wanna impress the crowd and don't mind going a little off-the-beaten-path, Thurn's Specialty Meats is a local-treasure butcher shop pumping out old-world-style, world-class sausages (try the sweet Italian, hot Italian and incomparable Vienna-style weisswurst) along with other artful charcuterie.
For burgers, you can't beat the fresh and locally raised taste of (partially grass-fed) beef you'll get from Bluescreek Farm Meats in the North Market.
If you wanna gnaw on smoky treats someone has already conveniently, and masterfully, grilled while your pals sweat over an open flame - I've said it before, and I'll say it again - Ray Ray's makes the best barbecue in town (get a buncha ribs, brisket and killer jerk chicken - plus sides like beans, greens and mac-and-cheese)