I wanted to talk a bit about our visit to one of the more famous watering holes in the Big Ten Conference, The Varsity Club in Columbus, OH. It's one of my more favorite places I've found during our trips to different schools when Iowa plays football. It was our first stop the weekend we went out to see the Hawks play Ohio State in November.
I had been to the Varsity Club - officially called "The Original Varsity Club" - during our previous visits to Columbus. The hotel we stayed in was literally down the alley from The Varsity Club, so it was easy access to that bar, along with a number of other ones along Lane Ave. near the Ohio State University campus (see map).
The Varsity Club celebrated their 50th year of existence in 2009, and boasts one of the largest tailgate parties before and after Ohio State home games. Located just over a quarter mile from Ohio Stadium, the streets and alleys around The Varsity Club are packed with people of all ages on game day. It's truly a spectacle to see. Here's a picture of a pre-game crowd in the alley way on the East side of The Varsity Club complements of my friend, Jay Christensen and his great college football web site, The Wiz of Odds.
My friends, Scott Schroeder and Dave Heusmann are big on finding "the" bar when we go on the road for our football trips, so going to The Varsity Club was a no-brainer. The original building has a bar area and a dining area with a number of tables and booths. The bathroom is a little dinky and they put port-a-potties outside along the alley for the huge crowds they get on game day. They have a patio out back that has a roof and some heaters when it gets sort of chilly out. The patio also has a stage and they'll feature live music out there from time to time.
There's memorabilia and pictures all over the walls of The Varsity Club. Scott is a huge history nut when it comes to sports and I know he had a great time just wandering around and looking at all the old pictures of great Ohio State athletes from over the years. Dave and I were up by the bar looking at a picture of a huge crowd and a lady walked up to us and said, "That taken was right back here in the alley at a game about 10 years ago." It turns out the lady was a day manager at The Varsity Club.
She told us some of the history of The Varsity Club, beginning in 1959 when the bar opened, the expansion and the subsequent tail-gate parties they put on since the 70's. She said, "We get tons of alumni back each weekend there's a game and the crowd here skews a little more older than younger. We get our share of college kids, but it's the alumni that pack it in on game days."
One thing that's always struck me about The Varsity Club is the friendliness of the people there - both the workers and Ohio State fans. We talked with a number of Ohio State fans the night before the game and it was interesting to get their perspective of how their team may do against Iowa. Frankly, I think a lot of Ohio State fans feared the worst for Saturday's game. But they also seem to have a kindred emotional dislike with Iowa fans regarding Michigan football. I think that's what draws the two fans together.
Dave, Scott and I were standing out at the outside patio bar having some beers and watching some sports on some of the flat panel televisions they had above the bar while the women enjoyed the relative warmth of the inside. It was actually a very nice mid-November evening in Columbus with temps in the 50's. It was getting later in the evening and we were trying to figure out where to go for dinner. I had picked up a menu inside The Varsity Club to see what they all had. It features some typical sports bar food - appetizers, salads, burgers and sandwiches, primarily. I did see some people getting pizza and it looked pretty good. But pizza was voted out by the group. We were thinking of going to get ribs, but the same day manager that Dave and I had talked to earlier inside was the one who gave us the tip on going to El Vaquero. We're glad she did.
Both before and after the game on Saturday, we tried to get close to The Varsity Club. We sort of walked over by there on our way to the stadium, but with the huge crowds down Lane Ave. and all around the bar, we decided it would be too much of a hassle to get in. After the game, we'd driven over there, but we were having a tough time finding a parking spot that wouldn't get our rented SUV towed away. Plus, we saw that the place was still overly packed long after the game was over. We decided to cut our losses and go get dinner.
I've always enjoyed The Varsity Club on my visits to Columbus. It's sort of "ground zero" for football fans, but it has a great sports bar atmosphere, too. But it's truly a monument to thousands of Ohio State alumni and fans. And one that appears will endure for years and years.