One of my favorite parts of football season is making trips to ISU road games. While crisscrossing Big 12 country, I've had a hell of a good time, and have gotten a lot of good information from the various fanbases that made my trips to places like Austin, College Station, and Manhattan a lot easier. Well, here at WRNL we feel that one good turn deserves another (or hand relief - your choice) so we've gone about putting together a guide to Ames for visiting fans. Enjoy!
All places mentioned below can be found on this handy Google Map.
Ok, let's get the business part out of the way. There are 2 hotels in extreme proximity to Jack Trice. These are The Gateway Center at 2100 Green Hills Drive and the Best Western Plus at 2500 University Boulevard. These are located about 1/2 mile south of Jack Trice, just off Highway 30 at the University Blvd exit. Another strong option is the Hilton Garden Inn located at 1325 Dickinson Avenue. An advantage to this location is that it is located directly on CyRide's (University/city bus system) Moonlight Shuttle (aka "The Drunk Bus") route and will allow for free transportation to and from Campustown on Friday/Saturday nights. There are more hotels located at the Highway 30/Dayton Ave exit, and along S. Duff Ave.
It's 2:00 AM on Saturday. You're hammered from either celebrating a win or drowning your sorrows. You need to get back to the hotel. One great option is the CyRide system, a bus system run jointly by ISU and the City of Ames. See: http://www.cyride.com/index.aspx?page=8 for more information. CyRide runs a free bus known officially as the Moonlight Express (and locally as The Drunk Bus) along several fixed routes to and from Campustown from about 10:00PM-3:00AM on Fridays and Saturdays. This is free, but may not go to your hotel. If you need a cab try Ames Taxi at (515) 232-1343 or Nighthawk Cab at (515) 203-0423.
A man's gotta eat, right? Well, Ames has plenty of options.
High up my personal list is Olde Main Brewery, located on Main Street in downtown Ames (not to be confused with Campustown, the bar district). They make some great beer, and have a very good menu. Lots of burgers, sandwiches, and some solid comfort food/pasta dishes.
Hickory Park is the classic Ames staple. It's located on S. Duff Ave and is impossible to miss. You will find midwestern "bbq" (smoked meat with sauce on the side) inside. While not the greatest food you will ever eat, I dare you to find a better value. For about $7, one can get an assortment of 3 smoked meats and 2 sides. Unless you want to wait in line for an hour, get before 6:30PM or after 8:00 PM on Friday, and just steer clear altogether on gameday.
Es Tas on Stanton Ave in Campustown is home to some of the most delicious tacos to touch this tongue, as well as having a great beer selection.
Pizza Pit, located on Welch Ave in Campustown is a local staple on the pizza front. They've been here forever (my old man delivered for them in the 70's) and one bite into the pie will tell you why. Even better than their pizza are their Inferno Wings. They're deep fried and breaded, but slathered in hot sauce underneath all that caloric goodness. Be warned: the "Inferno" part of their name has more to do with happens on the exit, not the entry.
While not one of my favorites, Great Plains Sauce and Dough Co. on Main Street is a place that 90% of Cyclone fans think about while touching themselves at night. It's home to incredibly thick slices of pizza with a wheat based crust that is commonly dipped in honey. Not my thing, but the legions of Fanboys can't be wrong here.
My personal favorite place to grab a bite is the West Street Deli located (shockingly) just west of ISU's campus on (again, shockingly) West Street. They're only open until 8, so hurry in, but be prepared for a sandwich that leaves your underwear glued to your leg.
When it comes to late night drunk food, Ames has some great options. Jeff's Pizza in Campustown, at the corner of Lincoln Way and Stanton is hard to beat. Another great joint is the Fighting Burrito located right on Welch Ave. Think Chipotle, but with better ingredients and more variety of tortillas/fillings. The Superdog Stand and the Gyro Stand, both located at opposing corners of the Welch Ave/Chamberlain Ave offer fantastic drunk options in the form of a loaded hot dog, or a gyro. While fantastic drunk, avoid these when sober.
This is what you came here for, right? Well, here it is. There are essentially 2 main bar districts in Ames, Campustown which is located just to the south of ISU's campus, and Downtown, which is located about 2 miles directly east of Campus. As you might imagine, Campustown is more popular with the student crowd, and Downtown is more of the Ames townie crowd. I've spent far more time drinking in Campustown over the years, and that's where I'm going to focus. If you would like a more chill night, try Whiskey River or the aforementioned Olde Main Brewery, both on Main Street.
Es Tas (mentioned in the restaurant section) is my favorite all-around Campustown bar. Located on Stanton Ave, it has everything I want in a bar, but live music. The tacos are incredible here, and no visit is complete without some. They have a wide selection of beer both on tap, and especially in bottles. There's almost always a good beer special. It's not uncommon to see something like $6 pitchers of Fat Tire, even on a Friday night. Furthermore, they have an incredible shot menu. My personal favorite is the Blueberry Pancake. The bartenders here are great, always make your drinks stiff, and serve you quick. Pool and foosball are popular here too.
Mickey's on Welch Ave is a popular faux-Irish bar. Laid back, cheap drinks, solid tunes, and plenty of good looking chicks. They have one of the few great patios in Campustown, and a fantastic Rape Dungeon that's spawned many drunken dance floor hook ups. I've spent many nights knocking back drinks here.
Outlaw's on Chamberlain is a favorite of the Ag students. This is the country bar. Lots of line dancing and Garth Brooks. However, the scenery here is great. Seriously. As stereotypical as it may sound, in Iowa it's pretty common for the country tunes to release a cute farm girl's inner skank.
Thumb's, which is located next door to the West Street Deli is one of my favorite old haunts. In one night at Thumb's, you can see townies, hobos, frat boys, stoners (I've seen people chiefing right in the bar), and on occasion some serious tail. The drinks are strong, the crowd is entertaining, and the jukebox is the best in town. If you happen to be in Ames on a Thursday night (Oklahoma State fans, I'm looking at you), head here for $.75 gin and tonics. Foosball is huge here.
Paddy's and Sip's share a location on Welch Ave. Paddy's is the upstairs bar, and it's a more laid back, Irish themed drinker's bar. There's always a good crowd here, and shuffleboard and pool are popular. Service at the bar isn't always the best, but it's reasonably priced, and the scenery is good. Sip's is located directly downstairs from Paddy's and features a dancefloor, overwhelming scent of vomit, and some stripper poles. Depending on your mood, this may be the place for you.
Headliner's is located at the corner of Lincoln Way and Welch Ave in the same location as the seminal Ames bar People's which was an absolute temple to all a college bar should be. Headliner's is attempting to rebuild that vibe and features some good local bar bands on the weekends. They also have some solid bbq. If rocking out to a bar band, imbibing some beverages, and kicking back is your thing, head here.
No visitor's game day is complete without at stop at the Tip-Top Lounge, located at the corner of Lincoln Way and S. Duff Ave, just outside of downtown Ames. They open at 5AM on gameday, serving chili and beer. Do yourself a favor and stop here before heading to the tailgate.
It's Saturday morning, and you're ready to rock. Thankfully for you, you're in for some of the (surprisingly) best tailgating in the Big 12, if not the country. Decades of terrible football have driven ISU fans to drink heavily, and has thus created a passionate and serious tailgate culture in Ames. For your food and booze needs, Hy-Vee is your best bet. A great meat counter and large alcohol selection can be found at either West Hy-Vee (3800 Lincoln Way) or Lincoln Center (East) Hy-Vee (640 Lincoln Way). The Lincoln Center Hy-Vee is just 1/2 mile east of Jack Trice Stadium on the north side of 4th Street. Strap on your drinking shoes, grab some grub, and get ready to party!
This map is your tailgate bible. As a visitor, you will likely be in the public (IE "Student") lots, which are shown in light brown/tan. If a wild tailgate, and indeed the true ISU gameday experience is what you're after, then head for lots G2 and G3. This is where ISU students and all non-donating fans head for party central. The lots open 6 hours before kick off, and there's generally people in line for several hours before that. Most of the time, if you show up 7 hours before kick, you will find a spot in those lots, guaranteed. For big games, it can get a little crazier. I've waited in line overnight to get spots for the Iowa game before. If you don't get into G2 and G3, then shoot for G4, G5, G8, or Vet Med. The WRNL crew tailgates in lot G7 (a donor lot), so feel free to come by for a drink and lots of flip cup, pong, beer ball, bags, and ladder golf! Anyone who makes the trip to Ames is more than welcome to come on by. Parking in any of the public lots is $20.
As far as the rules of the lots go, things are pretty laid back. Glass bottles are technically not allowed, but just don't flash them around (keep them in your vehicle for mixing), and you will be fine. Drinking is completely allowed here, none of that "pour it into a red plastic cup" shit. Don't be afraid to mingle with the Cyclone fans. Many will offer you food, booze, and invite you to play any of the myriad of drinking games set up around you. Eat, drink, and be merry!
Hopefully this guide serves as a helpful introduction to Ames, and we hope that all visiting road fans (except Hawkeye and Husker pricks) have a great time in Ames. CHEERS!