Under Nick Saban, Alabama has again become the nation's premier football program. The Crimson Tide have won three out of the last four BCS championships and compiled a 69-7 record since 2008. Clearly, the on-field product is about as good as it gets. But what about off the field and outside the stadium? Do Alabama fans bring it at the same high level as the football team?
As one might imagine, tailgating in Tuscaloosa is a big deal. And fans of barbecue would do well to wander around and sample the local fare.
"Walking the main streets on either side of Bryant-Denny Stadium, you'll see people tailgating pretty much everywhere," said Slice of Life, one of two managing editors at SB Nation Tide site Roll 'Bama Roll. "There is a concentration though on The Quad, which would be the 'hot spot' you're looking for. Lots of barbecue, as you might would expect. There are a couple of sponsored tents on The Quad, where you can get some good barbecue. Outside of that, it's pretty standard fare. Lots of beer and your typical tailgate food."
Barbecue plays a big role in Tuscaloosa tailgating, and it's no surprise that it's a major part of the restaurant culture, too. This is Alabama, after all, about as deep as Deep South gets and a state where few things -- maybe just football -- are celebrated as much as slow-smoked pork. Dreamland may get the most outside hype as T-Town's best spot to find good 'Q, but some locals agree that it's a little overrated. But fear not: there are better options to sate the barbecue fix. Oh yeah, and there are plenty of options for anyone in need of a frosty beverage.
"The Houndstooth would probably be the most famous hangout place near the stadium," said Slice. "A must visit restaurant is Archibald's BBQ, which is off campus but as good as advertised. Finally, we always mention friend of Roll Bama Roll, Egan's Bar. For earlier kickoffs, be sure to check out their Bloody Mary."
Archibald's has been around for more than 50 years, and its legend has grown over time. Saban isn't on record as being a patron, but another famous Alabama coach was a fan: "Everybody from everywhere comes in here. ‘Bear' Bryant use to come in here," Georgia Archibald Jr. told the Tuscaloosa News last year. "You know, word of mouth and it just got bigger and bigger."
For more local picks, let's bring in some more experts:
POLL: Alabamians, which Tuscaloosa bar or restaurant is the most recommendation-worthy?— SB Nation CFB (@SBNationCFB) November 7, 2013
@SBNationCFB City Cafe— Ryan Todd (@rytodd) November 7, 2013
@SBNationCFB Archibald's (BBQ) and Alcove (drinks).— Kurt Morton (@kurtsmorton) November 7, 2013
@SBNationCFB Galletes, 5 and Rama Jama's— Amee Dominguez (@AmeeLDominguez) November 7, 2013
@SBNationCFB Innisfree in Tuscaloosa. Great bar— Huckleberry Friend (@portdauphin) November 7, 2013
@SBNationCFB Telepizza— Alf (@alfonsait) November 7, 2013
@SBNationCFB Rama Jama's— Tanner (@Tanner1495) November 7, 2013
@SBNationCFB Restaurant--Chuck's, Archibald's, Baumhower's; Bars--Galette's, Innisfree, Rounders. Best food/drinks--Nicks In the Sticks— SnappingTheWishbone (@SnapTheWishbone) November 7, 2013
No doubt, Alabama is a big-time football school with a fanbase that loves to celebrate the sport. But in a part of the country that features plenty of great tailgating scenes, is there anything that sets Tuscaloosa apart. In fact, it might be the winning, past and present.
"The assured sense of impending victory? In all seriousness, there probably isn't a ton of the Tuscaloosa tailgating experience that is unique to Alabama," Slice said. "One thing that is a bit unique is the Walk of Champions, which is both the name of the area on the north side of the stadium where the statues of previous national champion coaches stand, and also the name of the event where the team arrives and walks through that area into the stadium."
With LSU in town this weekend, Alabama has its biggest home game of the year. The matchup could have an impact on the SEC and national title races, and if nothing else, there will be a fair amount of bad blood between the Tide and Tigers. It's become once of the best rivalries in the country since Saban, the former LSU coach, has been the head man at Alabama, and no matter what happens on the field Saturday night, fans will turn out in droves.
"Energy will certainly be up," said Slice. "This is easily the biggest home game that Alabama will have this season, and the fans will be feeling that. The only thing that may happen that's not an every-game occurrence would happen around the visitor bus unloading area, where students/fans may gather to chant a pregame 'Rammer Jammer' at the visiting team."
The game is set for a 7 p.m. local kickoff, which will give supporters in crimson and white -- and purple and gold -- plenty of time to overindulge before three-plus hours of screaming. Like the action between the sidelines, the atmosphere surrounding Bryant-Denny Stadium shouldn't disappoint.
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