By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When it comes to college football, there is one place to be: Eugene.
ESPN's College GameDay program has broadcast from the city nine times, and earlier this year, GameDay’s Lee Corso declared that Eugene was “my favorite place, for me personally, to see a ballgame.” Average attendance in 2015 was 57,324 fans. The University of Oregon's Autzen Stadium is not only Oregon’s largest sports arena, it’s the loudest stadium in the country. It’s been called “intimidating” and “where great teams go to die.”
It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
Tailgater Magazine agrees. In its 2016 list of Top 25 “tailgating meccas in college football,” the No. 1 spot went not to Alabama or Michigan State or Notre Dame. It went to Autzen Stadium.
It’s no surprise. Autzen is where, at the end of the third quarter, the crowd dances while the toga party scene from “National Lampoon's Animal House” (filmed in Eugene, by the way) plays — complete with the song “Shout” blasting. Autzen is where a foghorn sounds every time the Ducks score. (OK, granted, that foghorn’s been getting leaned on less this season than usual, but it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, right?)
Autzen is also set in one of Oregon’s meccas not only for tailgating and college football, but for craft beer. Eugene is where game day turns the city green and yellow, from the flags flying on vehicles driving in from all over the state to the face paint and clothing covering fans marching to Autzen en masse.
So wherever you are in the Eugene area, here are tips for enjoying the game and a good beer, whether it’s pregame, around town, tailgating outside Autzen, or finding the party inside at the Moshofsky Center (the "Mo") next to Autzen.
Transportation tip: Parking at Autzen is no picnic. The stadium is walkable from many parts of the campus area and downtown Eugene. Check your favorite mapping app for directions. Lane Transit District also offers a park-and-ride shuttle to and from the stadium.
Depending on kickoff time, you may need anything from a hearty breakfast to a little pregame snack. Maybe you aren’t going to the stadium and need to know where to be. Or, maybe you’re watching at home, but need to stock the beer fridge. Bring your growler! Eugene’s got you covered. All hours listed are for Saturdays.
The Bier Stein
1591 Willamette St., 541-485-BIER, thebierstein.com, 11 a.m. to midnight
With more than 30 taps and 1,000 bottled beers and ciders from all over the world (plus many staff are certified Cicerones), The Bier Stein is your spot to stock the beer fridge.
1689 Willamette St., 541-343-1542, brailseugene.com, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Since The Bier Stein opens at 11 a.m., cruise a block down and have breakfast first. Brails is a perennial fan favorite, taking Eugene Weekly’s “Best hangover breakfast” top spot for years running. That’s good to know — you might need to go there tomorrow, too.
20 Centennial Loop, 541-484-4355, thecoolerbar.com, 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Oddly enough, few bars are near Autzen. The closest is The Cooler, a large sports bar that prides itself on big-screen TVs; a simple, yet tasty, pub fare menu; and booze aplenty.
263 Mill St., 541-636-3889, coldfirebrewing.com., noon to 11 p.m.
One of Eugene’s newest breweries, ColdFire, is catching fire with their European beers, Northwest flair, imagination and solid brewing chops. Located just across the Willamette River near Skinner Butte, hit ColdFire for a pint or growler fill. You’re also near the city’s riverside bike paths and can walk the 1.3 miles from ColdFire to Autzen in about 30 minutes.
Elk Horn Brewery
686 E. Broadway St., 541-505-8356, elkhornbrewery.com, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Bordering the UO campus, Elk Horn was founded by the folks behind Eugene’s popular Delacata food cart. Elk Horn bridges the gap between beer, cider and wine. Also check out their Southern–Northwest fusion food menu.
Falling Sky Pizzeria
UO Erb Memorial Union, 1395 University St., Room #46, 541-485-1275, fallingskybrewing.com, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
After opening this past summer, Falling Sky’s third location has quickly become a popular spot for UO students and faculty, as well as the greater community. Enjoy game day on campus with a pint and an innovative pizza.
McMenamins North Bank
22 Club Road, 541-343-5622, mcmenamins.com/northbank, 11 a.m. to midnight (opens 10 a.m. home game days)
You’ll be able to hear Autzen while sitting by the Willamette River. Just a hair over a mile from the stadium, McMenamins North Bank has a spacious restaurant and cozy bar. Weather permitting, don’t miss the riverside deck, and TVs inside will make sure you won’t miss the game.
444 E. Third Ave., 541-653-8509, ryeon3rd.com, 5–10 p.m. (bar opens 4 p.m.)
If you want something a bit more refined for your game day pleasure, or an evening spot, Rye offers French-style cuisine, craft cocktails and a selection of Oregon beers in a rustic-chic setting.
Steelhead Brewing Company
199 E. Fifth Ave. #1, 541-686-2739, steelheadbrewery.com, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Located in Eugene’s Fifth Street Market area, Steelhead has been serving tasty pub fare and pouring beers (racking up 24 medals) for 25 years. Head here before the game or hole up in a comfy chair and watch the action unfold.
Sidelines Grill & Sports Bar
77 W. Broadway, 541-654-4690, sidelineseugene.com, 11 a.m. to midnight
Keep it simple: food, drink, sports. In the heart of downtown Eugene, Sidelines focuses on the fundamentals with pub fare and beer and 10 HD TVs ensure you don’t miss a moment.
SweetWaters on the River
1000 Valley River Way, 541-341-3462, valleyriverinn.com, 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Coming from out of town or just want a scenic riverside spot to enjoy a pregame meal and a nice beverage? Head to Valley River Inn and its SweetWaters restaurant (there’s also a lounge and bakery). One fan’s tip for early game days: head to SweetWaters for brunch (and a Bloody Mary), then walk it off on the riverside path to Autzen. Another plus? If you need to stock up on UO gear, The Duck Store is across the parking lot in Valley River Center shopping mall. You can also park there and take a shuttle to the stadium.
Tailgating Outside Autzen
Four hours before kickoff, Autzen Stadium’s parking lot opens — and is promptly taken over by thousands of tailgaters, many with RVs and tents that are ready to hold the party. Some people come just for the tailgating and aren’t even going to Autzen for the game. It’s easy to see why.
“Being outside of Autzen is a different experience on game day,” says John Procopio, a longtime Eugene resident and Duck fan. “The lead up to the game is like getting ready for a vacation or the night before Christmas. All this excitement and anticipation builds. It’s one of the best parties and people watching to celebrate not only Duck football, but being in Oregon.”
Procopio is one of many fans who come to the tailgating area with their own six-packs, growlers, bombers and plenty of cups — after all, game day is about the community and what says community more than sharing good beer with friends? “I want my ‘A’ beer — something special, something nice, like you’d want for your birthday,” says Procopio.
To get the best experience, bring something to share and just start talking with people. Offer a frosty beverage, strike up a conversation and you’ll be part of the tailgating team in no time.
Want your tailgating a bit more laid-back? In nearby Essig Field, a free, family-friendly outdoor area holds a food court, complete with a tent dining area, a beer garden highlighting local beers and televised game coverage. Some fans stay here the whole time.
In the Moshofsky Center
Once inside Autzen, you can’t have beer at your seats. No matter. That’s what the Moshofsky Center is for. The 117,000-square-foot Moshofsky, or “Mo” for short, opened in 1998 as a covered practice area for the Ducks. Today, UO uses the Mo as a massive area for food, drink and other entertainment. From sit-down meals to live music, beer taps for grownups and bouncy castles for kids, the Mo accommodates thousands of fans on game day. Your ticket to the game is also your ticket for the Mo, and fans can go back and forth throughout the game. You won’t miss the action either — there are TV monitors and even a scoreboard synced to Autzen’s scoring system.
The Mo opens three hours before kickoff and 90 minutes before the stadium itself is open to fans. Head there early to scope out a spot at one of hundreds of tables. You’ll find the beer garden in the back, with a range of craft and standard beers.
Whether around town, tailgating or in Autzen, for Procopio “it’s all about the sharing, the social experience and in our state we have such amazing access to get good beer. Game day is the perfect day to celebrate Oregon and Oregon beer.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.