Columbus, Ohio, is home to the Ohio State Buckeyes, one of the nation's premier college football programs. With that on-field success comes the horde of Buckeyes fans, though they turn out in droves to support their team whether at home or on the road. The result of such an enthusiastic fan base is a tailgating atmosphere that goes strong at any location.
"The sheer scope is almost like a village in and of itself," said Luke Zimmermann, editor-in-chief at SB Nation Ohio State blog Land-Grant Holy Land. "There are plenty of great towns across the country to drink before a college football game, but Ohio State starts hard and finishes hard. Perhaps the most impressive part? It scales. Like fight clubs from city-to-city, you're bound to see hundreds of Buckeyes at every game OSU's involved in, even as far as Los Angeles or Seattle."
Columbus is located right in the middle of Ohio, and it's the state's largest city and serves as its capitol. With roughly 809,000 residents in the city limits, there is certainly no shortage of fans to participate in game day revelry. Visiting fans wearing opposing colors may be in for a bit of verbal abuse, but anyone who can shrug that off -- or anyone clad in scarlet and gray -- is in for a good time thanks to the large, vibrant scene.
"Columbus is a Mecca for tailgaters," Zimmermann said. "Unfortunately if you don't have friends running one, access can be tougher due to a rather established tailgating pecking order (unless you want to be on the other side of the highway). Given the size and scope, if you're a visiting fan, you're bound to hear some cat calls (and worse), but if you land some real estate or have a friend's to attend, you're in for a good time.
"If you're flying blind, no worries -- there are plenty of nearby campus bars, and Hineygate, which used to be located conveniently closer, is still a thing that happens in the general stadium vicinity if you don't mind walking. The Varsity Club is the old standard, but is insane to navigate on game days. Little Bar, less than a block from Lane Avenue, is as good of a bet as any. Hendoc's, more north, is a personal, sentimental favorite as well."
For those not in the know, Hineygate is a massive game-day party that used to be held at a nearby Holiday Inn, but relocated to The Varsity Club in 2011. Per the Columbus Dispatch:
From 1984 to 2008, Hineygate was a collaboration between WTVN and the former Holiday Inn, at 328 W. Lane Ave. Sims was part of the effort from the beginning, organizing a staff of up to 100 for the event, which drew crowds of 10,000 to 15,000 over the course of a game day.
On game days, [Columbus radio station] WTVN would broadcast from the hotel.
Hineygate admission was free, but a portion of the proceeds from food and alcohol sales -- $650,000 over the lifetime of the event, [Marty Sims, who created and ran the event for 26 years,] said -- was donated to central Ohio charities, including Charity Newsies and the Hannah Neil Center for Children.
The Varsity Club event will also be free, and the charity donations will be revived, he said.
Ohio State bought the Holiday Inn in 2009, which resulted in Hineygate's eviction. The new event at The Varsity Club is called the "Crank It Up Party." WTVN owns the rights to "Hineygate" and does not broadcast from the new location. Instead, another local station, WLVQ, is on the scene.
When it comes to food and drink at a Columbus tailgate, Ohio State fans take pride in laying out a full spread.
"Buckeyes don't mess around when it comes to food," said Zimmermann. "Be it barbecue, wings, seven-layer dips, and of course home-made peanut butter and chocolate buckeyes, you're bound to leave your tailgate both full and satisfied. Boozing tends to be priority number one, but it is possible to serve two masters in the C-bus tailgating scene. And of course, what goes perfectly with both? Cornhole."
Since Columbus is a large city -- much larger than the average college town -- there are plenty of options for food and drink. In fact, there are plenty of options in most of its many neighborhoods.
"Bars on bars on bars. You've got your High Street campus-y bars, you've got the Arena District downtown near where the Columbus Blue Jackets play, and then a number of solid off-campus bars scattered throughout the metro area," Zimmermann said. "We wrote about some of our favorites here. The Cliff's notes version? You can't go wrong with Out-R-Inn near north campus, The Bier Stube and Lucky's Stout House near south campus. And the South Campus Gateway has a ton of bars and restaurant options, many of which are even open late."
Some of the other favorites Zimmermann referenced? Land-Grant Holy Land senior writer Brett Ludwiczac has the scoop. Perhaps the most intriguing option for an outsider is a good amount of German fare.
A couple of the more well-known places to eat in Columbus are located in the German Village area of south Columbus. Thurman Cafe offers their famous "Thurmanator" if you crave a fine cheeseburger , but be sure to pencil in a nap afterwards if you do order. The one drawback about Thurman Cafe it doesn't have a lot of seating, so if time is of the essence you might want to look elsewhere because there can be a bit of a wait to be served. Also located in German Village, Schmidt's Sausage Haus, features "The Autobahn", which is a buffet full OF GERMAN SAUSAGES.
Buckeyes fans have a reputation for being rowdy and somewhat intimidating, but really, it's only because they care so much. Anyone who wants to experience the game day party at a high level would do well to take in Columbus' scene.