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Where I Come From: Tailgating Traditions at Kentucky

This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.

Tailgating is a subject, quite frankly, that I know little about, largely because it is a phenomenon that passed me by.

When I was in college, there was no tailgating as we now know it.  In the mid to late 1970's, when I was at Western Kentucky University, the fraternity houses served as a pre-game "tailgate," and it mostly involved imbibing copious quantities of social lubricant as well as typical barbecue foods.  The party would begin two or three hours before game time and continue after the game, regardless of the outcome.

But times have changed, arguably for the better.  Even though I have not participated in tailgating at UK (I live 70 miles away in Louisville, so I tend to get there near game time and leave as soon as it's over), I can talk about some of the places and things that can be done on any given Saturday in "LexVegas," as Lexington is sometimes called by the locals.

From a visiting fan or occasional fan perspective, the very best thing to consider is to go to a night or late afternoon game while the horse racing meet is going on at nearby Keenland race track.  You can spend a day at the races, an afternoon checking out the tailgates, and an evening of football.  It is a busy day, to be sure, but that is the very best way to get the full impact of the Bluegrass state, not to mention (if you are young, single, or just a plain old lecher) get an eyeful of the vast number of beautiful young women the University of Kentucky in particular and Lexington in general are rightly famous for.  If you are a lady, you'll have to satisfy yourself with the good 'ol country boys that show up in shorts and UK baseball caps.

The fall meet for Keenland begins in the second week in October (Oct. 8th is opening day this year) and runs through the 30th.  This year there are three games in Lexington during the fall meet at Keenland (times not yet announced, so check back when the schedule is complete):

  • Kentucky vs. Auburn, Oct. 9th
  • Kentucky vs. South Carolina, Oct 16th
  • Kentucky vs. Georgia, Oct 23rd

So if you really want to give yourself a treat, consider the horse racing/football daily double and pick a glorious October weekend to enjoy two of the best fall traditions available anywhere -- horse racing and football in Kentucky.  Even if you are not a horse racing fan, the pageantry, beauty, and timeless class of Keenland will take you back to a gentler time when Kentucky in the fall meant picnics at the track on lazy "Indian summer" afternoons.  Combine that with the excitement of college football, and you have an incredible combination that is hard to top, even in the football-crazed deep south.

Closer to game time, about 2 hours before kickoff is the Cat Walk, which happens outside of Commonwealth Stadium.  Fans line up on either side to cheer the team as they enter.

Food-wise, you can always find a friendly group of tailgaters to invite you in and feed you barbecue, burgers, or burgoo along with an adult beverage and a pass or three at "cornhole," (a type of bean-bag toss) or you can check out these somewhat famous Lexington eateries:

  • The Tolly-Ho Restaurant, a typical college greasy spoon that serves everything from great breakfasts to burgers and standard college fare.  Open 24 hours.
  • Charlie Brown's Restaurant, a local pub and eatery with a dark, pub-like feel and good food.
  • Joe Bolognas, a famous Lexington restaurant and pizzeria.  Lots of UK fans to be found there.
  • Want a nice steak dinner?  Malone's is considered by many as the best in Lexington.

So if you're coming to Lexington to see your favorite team lace 'em up on a Saturday in the fall, be it the Wildcats or their opponent, consider making it a weekend instead of just a day.