All year long we’ll be releasing our BroBible Travel Guides to your favorite travel locations. The guides are intended on being a cheat sheet on food, drink, and fun that can be had in that town or city. Now that we’re into football season, we’ll focus on the best college football towns.
1. Every year I travel to a different college football game with friends of mine from college. Going to Tuscaloosa for a University of Alabama football game was the one of the two best experiences we’ve had. (The other was Madison, WI if you’re curious.) Most SEC schools have hot girls, but Alabama is in the Top 3 of SEC schools and even rival schools will admit that. (Don’t worry Ole Miss, you’re in that top 3 too.) The football team has been great in recent years (three titles in four years), so the energy surrounding football Saturdays is pretty huge. It’s a good sized college town to manage, the kinda place you don’t need a car to move around for the whole weekend, but it doesn’t hurt to have one in order to get to some places.
2. Since you’re obviously going to want to go during a football game, it’s time to look at the schedule. Alabama is in the SEC West, so they play home games every other year against Ole Miss, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State. Auburn is Alabama’s biggest rival, but the game likely won’t work out for you since it’s over Thanksgiving. (Plus the college kids may’ve gone home for the weekend, so it won’t be as fun). Right now the SEC is sticking with the “6-1-1” schedule system, so Alabama will continue to play Tennessee every year in its “rivalry” game. Tennessee isn’t as good as they used to be, so that’s probably worth passing on too. You’re best off heading to Tuscaloosa for the LSU game. (Both programs have been consistently good for years now.) A&M seems to be stabilizing as a constant quality team and Ole Miss will bring some good looking women with them. But in all honesty, you’ll have fun at whichever game you go to because Tuscaloosa is that awesome.
3. Hotels are a pain in the ass as you’d expect at a college town. If you can figure out your plan well ahead of time, you might be able to get something at the Hampton Inn or the Holiday Inn Express. Big spenders will stay at the Capstone. Anything else is a hike from campus and the fun. Hotels near the highway or in Newport are at least 3 miles away and it helps to be able to walk to get places. I’d suggest trying to rent a house or a condo. It worked out well for us when we were there. You’re in good shape if you’re less than 1.5 miles from the Bryant-Denney Stadium and even better shape if you’re closer to downtown (University to 9th st. between 19th and 24th Ave for arguments sake) so that you can work the bar scene there with ease. The taxi situation isn’t ideal, so you might have to wait 30 minutes to get one if you can’t walk somewhere. You can stay in Birmingham, but traffic sucks and it’s totally not the same experience. (If you do end up there, look for a bus from a local bar in Birmingham like Otey’s)
4. The tailgating situation in Tuscaloosa has transformed over the years. There are tailgating efforts in some of the parking areas, but the main area to tailgate is on the Quad. It’s in the middle of campus, just northeast of the stadium. The area taken over by tailgating is pretty massive, so there’s plenty of space to set up your own shop or find someone else’s shop. It’s obviously great to know someone there, but you can make the best of things even if you don’t. Everyone’s very friendly and you can roll around with a 30-rack of beer while making friends. Next thing you know you’ll be chatting up some cute coeds, stuffing your face with fine southern grub, and maybe even singing karaoke. Just know that like in most tailgating situations, the line to piss at the Porta Potties will be long and arduous. The whole situation isn’t too far from the Walk of Champions, where you can watch the team walk in past all the statues approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes before the game.
5. The fraternity and sorority houses always have something going on as well, including when it comes to tailgating. If you belong (or belonged) to fraternity at some other university, you can link up with the local chapter. (Just don’t forget the handshake obviously.) Most frats will have bands and parties on Friday night and then a pregame party on Saturday as well. It’s worth taking a stroll down sorority row as well because all the houses are pretty welcoming. There’s also the bar scene, but that tends to skew to the older crowds that were too lazy to fully embrace the tailgating scene.
6. Tuscaloosa is the home of some of the best barbecue I’ve ever had. (Well, technically it was Northport across the river and not actually Tuscaloosa, but that’s not the point.) Archibald’s in Northport is a must-go when you’re in the area. It might seem a little scary at first as it’s just a shack with some picnic tables outside of it along a quiet road. Don’t be scared. Just get there early, be prepared to wait, and get whatever food you can. We got there late and ended up with only pulled pork being available, but it was fantastic. The vinegar based sauce is a thing of beauty and there isn’t such a thing as having too much. The last word of advice is don’t only get one sandwich. It won’t be enough. Get two of them, a plate and a sandwich, or get a combo. (My friend says it haunts him to this day that he only got one sandwich.) There are no sides, so go big on the meat and bread.
7. Your other main barbecue option is the more popular Dreamland. The original location is in Tuscaloosa, but it’s gone mainstream now with 8 locations throughout Alabama. Even though it’s gone corporate, there’s still a simple ordering process. You walk into this room shanty with wooden tables and they bring you a loaf of white bread with a bowl of barbecue sauce. You can choose between ribs, a BBQ rib sandwich, and sausage. (Or take them all down with friends.) There are only three sides (baked beans, potato salad, and banana pudding), so get them all too.
8. There are other foods worth having that don’t fall into the barbecue category. (Surprising, but true.) Go to Rama Jama’s if you wake up for breakfast. Eggs, sausage, biscuits, grits, and pancakes should be the first items you look to order. Nick’s Original Filet House (aka Nick’s in the Sticks) requires a drive, but you’ll be happy with your blue drink and burger. Buffalo Phil’s is known for its buffalo wings (go figure) and provides a nice location for people watching as well. Innisfree has quality bar food including good Irish Gold Wings and pub fries. The Caribbean fish tacos at Local Catch are a must try if you’re looking to step up your dinner. Chuck’s, 5, and Surin are other nicer dinner options. When you get out of the bars, walk down to Quick Grill and saddle up with some messy fries.
9. One word of warning on the bars before we dive in. If you’re a guy, leave your hair product at home. This is the South and if you have anything in your hair you’ll stand out like a sore thumb. They love their guys with floppy bangs. There are two areas of bars: downtown and campus. As you’d expect, the ones on campus skew towards the younger crowd. The bars are open til 3 a.m., so you’ll have plenty of time to go to work. Galette’s seems like they let in drinkers of all ages and your weekend isn’t the same without some late night gaming there. You might be shocked by the exterior (it’s unmarked next to the Campus Party Store), but the interior is what you’d expect in a college town. Ether a band or a DJ will be pumping out music and the line goes down the block on the weekends. Once inside you’ll discover a bunch of drunks (but hey, you’re drunk too!) and girls willing to make some bad decisions. (Insiders will tell you the young sorority chicks always end up there by 2 a.m.) Enjoy a yellowhammer and the $4 baby bombs. It’s a nice stop on gamedays too. (Ask for Lenaghan, the bartender.)
10. There are a few other good options on the campus strip. Rounders just reopened and is getting a lotta steam as the hot spot in town right now. Bear Trap is also a fun time and has a fun roof deck for day drinking. Those looking for more of a sports bar can move down to the Houndstooth Sports Bar (named best sports bar in the country by Sports Illustrated, although it was back in 2005), where you’ll run into an older crowd and an occasional ESPN sports personality. Innisfree is the most fun bar in the downtown area. It’s a big space with both indoor and outdoor areas. It’s rather laid back and skews to the upperclassmen and alumni, but there are always high-quality chicks there as well. Be prepared to wait in line to get in here as well. The Booth is another option close by with a similar scene. Catch 22 is a few blocks away, but has the same type of crowd. It’s known for its infused vodka drinks.