Football season is in full swing and that means one thing – tailgates! There is nothing quite like the anticipation of cheering on your favorite team with hundreds of other excited fans. Lucky for you, Illinois is home to big name schools that pull out all the stops for their game day celebrations. From pre-game fanfare to post-game grub, read on to learn about the hot spots on and off campuses across the state.
Along Chicago’s North Shore you’ll find the Northwestern Wildcats, dubbed Chicago’s Big Ten Team. The Wildcats are coming off of a 10-2 regular season record last year and looking to continue that momentum, making the game day experience only more exciting for the fans.
Fuel up for the big game at one of Evanston’s many amazing restaurants. Stop for breakfast before an early game at Bagel Art or visit favorites like Edzo’s Burger Shop or Lou Malnati’s for a post-game meal full of local staples like Chicago style hot dogs, mouthwatering burgers and deep dish pizza.
Northwestern’s own Wildcat Alley is the place to get pumped up before the game. Open to the public for three hours before every home game, you can bring the whole family to find food trucks, live music, and a kid zone complete with face-painting, games and inflatables. At game time, follow the Wildcat marching band as they make their way into Ryan Field for another (hopeful) Wildcat victory!
Northern Illinois University Huskies
Up in DeKalb, Northern Illinois University Huskies fans know how to have a good time! The winningest program in Illinois and in the MAC over the last decade, the NIU Huskies played in a record sixth straight Mid-American Conference Championship game in 2015 and have their sights set on a return this season.
The NIU home game experience starts with The Yard. Located on the West Lawn of Huskie Stadium, you can enjoy free live music, grab food from one of several popular local vendors, or stop by the beer garden to have a drink with fellow fans. A giant video screen is set up to make sure you stay on top of games around the country while younger Huskie fans can check out the bounce house, climb a rock wall, or have their faces painted in the Kids’ Zone.
You will also get the chance to meet NIU student-athletes from the “team of the week,” find old friends in the Varsity Club tent, and learn what’s new at NIU. Don’t be surprised if the NIU cheerleaders, Victor E. Huskie and the Huskie Marching Band come by.
If you want to keep the party going after the game, there’s no better spot than Fatty’s Pub, the official post-game headquarters of the NIU Huskies. Here you can gather with friends to chow down on all the burgers, fries and wings you can eat. When the weather is nice, you will find tons of fans on Fatty’s newly expanded beer garden.
Illinois State Redbirds
Get ready to ‘Back the birds’ of Illinois State University as they ring that victory bell this season! The football field isn’t the only place to have fun at ISU. Tailgating lots open at 7:00 a.m. on game day and are quickly packed with excited Redbird fans. Bring your family, favorite food and your ISU spirit to hang out in the sea of red outside Hancock Stadium for pregame excitement.
Don’t feel like grilling your own food before the game? No problem! ISU has no shortage of dining options right on campus. McAlister’s Deli in the Bone Student Center is a campus favorite. Medici and Firehouse Pizza & Pub are two other favorites just a short walk away in Uptown Normal, as are popular local bars Pub II and Maggie Miley’s.
University of Illinois Fighting Illini
Head to Champaign to catch another one of Illinois’ Big Ten Conference teams—the Fighting Illini! Tailgating before a University of Illinois football game has never been more fun since the addition of Grange Grove in 2015. This free, high-energy tailgating area opens at 7:00 a.m. on game days and is an area that fans of all ages will be able to enjoy. Grange Grove brings out big musical acts, kid’s activities, and the Marching Illini just before the team takes the field.
Hungry after all the on-field action concludes? Stop by Black Dog Smoke & Ale House to try some of their award winning BBQ. If you’re looking for an iconic U of I bar, look no further than Legends Bar & Grill. Located in the heart of campus town, Legends is the cornerstone of Illini pride. Established in 1998, this bar pays homage to the legends of yesteryear with a range of U of I sports memorabilia on the walls, including an unparalleled life-size replica of Chief Illiniwek.
Southern Illinois University Salukis
Bring your grill and gather your family and friends to post up along Saluki Row to cheer on Southern Illinois University! Before the game you can join other fans for food, live music and a chance to meet Gray Dawg himself. Saluki Pride runs deep in Carbondale, with fans of all ages headed out for this weekly tradition.
No trip to Carbondale is complete without a burger from Fat Patties, named one of Illinois’ best burgers by Thrillist. Most of Fat Patties’ dishes are cooked with local veggies, beef from Lick Creek Beef and Bison from Bison Bluff Farms, ensuring that you have the freshest meal possible.
For more ideas on where to attend live sporting events throughout Illinois visit EnjoyIllinois.com.
-Illinois Office of Tourism