The Square of 'downtown' Oxford. Surrounded by boutique shops, restaurants and a seasonal Maker's Market on the lawn surrounding the Courthouse (above).
Among many cute historic sites, Oxford, MS is most famously known as home to Ole Miss and its next level tailgates at 'The Grove'. Also dubbed "The Mother and Mistress of Outdoor Ritual Mayhem" by the New York Times, The Grove is located right in the middle of the University of Mississippi's campus. A clean, green study space for students on every other day, but home to the *glammest* outdoor cocktail parties on game days. It was voted the #1 Place to Tailgate in the World (by the NCAA) this year, but that's old news according to my personal surveys taken across my travels (which also carry a lot of weight, if you haven't heard).
First off, as far as this #1 ranking goes, I don't think there's such a thing as a bad tailgate. Tailgates = good. And second, I have to get it out there- although I'd agree with the NCAA's ranking of The Grove as the #1 spot for tailgating, I'll always be a Georgia football fan #godawgs.
To ensure proper confusion: This is a photo of my first tailgate. It was on the Sigma Chi lawn at UGA in 2013. I was so ecstatic about this experience. I Facetimed my whole address book. Georgia has a quality tailgate, but it's spread out across Athens. The Grove is so concentrated- you'll see in upcoming photos what makes it so unique. #godawgs
This video below was posted to our Instagram earlier. It is of us pulling up to The Grove in the Oxford's complimentary double-deckered bus that transports fans from the town square to the campus! (Tips are graciously accepted)
I've made a couple stops around the tailgate circuit, too: UT Hook 'Em, Clemson, Auburn, GA Tech, of course UGA, and the biggest of them all- FLA/GA. And among these experiences I've watched even the proudest Alabama fan swallow some pride and give credit to the production put on by the Rebs in The Grove on those Autumn Saturdays. Many teams (especially my friends up in Memphis who I got to see at Ole Miss last weekend) don't mind when their team visit's the Rebels because it means they get to hang out in The Grove before hand.
Me doing just that.
Btw cell reception can be spotty and it's a labyrinth of similar looking tents and about 100,000 people in red/blue. Even though we travelled all the way from Toronto, we still failed on meeting up with a couple of people here. It's cray. PS. Jordan and Micky- you each owe us a visit to Toronto now.
Someone found me finding the chicken wings behind the Cotton plant. #TheSouth
Back to point #1: All tailgates are good. A happy, go lucky free spirited time. And I have had some of the BEST hors d'ouvres EVER in these tents. I'm talking comparable to some Jules Verne courses up on these lawns. Across the board, these people know how to entertain. Devilled eggs, Pimento Cheese, infinity casseroles, accented by a hint of Zax Sauce.... I digress. But while we are here, I do have to also point out the full-service bars at each tent. Hundreds of tents, dozens of spirits, beers, wines, champagnes at each. Do the math. Football season, but also open season.
A snap I took at our friend Wilson Hays' family tent by the shrimp and sandwiches.
When a man walks by and tells you "You're whiskey in a tea cup, you know that" and hands you an Ole Miss themed cookie, you accept.
Point is, everywhere I go, people's respect for The Grove is evident. After having been this past weekend I do declare that it lives up to every expectation and more. During football season, come 7:30pm on the Friday before the game, it's a mad dash to reserve a spot to pop up your tent. Some esteemed alumni have earned "Gentleman's Rights" where they are respected enough that the other attendees know to leave their spots vacant each weekend, but most other people hire a company who takes care of this crucial task for them all season. These companies aren't cheap but alumni will get into groups ranging from just a ballin' couple to people like my friends who joined up with 4 other couples to make a group of 10 who cover 4 tenting spaces, all connected together to create one massive space. And it's not uncommon for tents to have a flat screen set up with a generator and their own satellite dish to catch the pregame specials. These friends, as well as my two other friends all worked with the same company who rushes The Grove at the designated time at 7:30 the night before and sets up their tent and tables. Their tent ends up in a different spot each week because of this, but man they are so homey and welcoming, you'd think they'd been living in them for years.
Depending on the time of the (afternoon or evening) tailgating generally begins 4 hours prior to kickoff. But of course there are always those crazy kids (not me I swear!) who start early AF, and there will always be those pace-setters who go for a nice meal and a beer in Oxford's square before leisurely heading over.
Ajax: A true Southern greasy spoon. Worth the wait in line.
Boure: Another Southern spot, but more modern. Established in 2002. Food is good, and reasonable priced. Nice rooftop balcony for drinks and appetizers.
Big Bad Breakfast: This place is about 2 miles away from the square (and not in the direction of campus) but it is revered as the best quality concoctions with the best local ingredients. GO if you can!
Old Venice Pizza Co.: Good simple pizza and drinks. The students highly recommended it!
Proud Larry's: A small but sweet spot. They often have live music but always have great Italian-American food and well-priced drinks!*
*According to potentially inebriated student on street.
Square Pizza: Wish we'd tried here. It looked really cool to me! Would be a great place to swing by late night after Library (see the après bars we hit below).
Views from Boure's balcony
We went to Boure's for the balcony and stayed for the $2 Miller Light deal. "The Champagne of Beer" you say? Sold! We made the mistake of ordering full meals. Completely disregarding the fact we'd be in libation heaven at The Grove soon after.
A cool thing to note is that Uber was just approved in Oxford! We didn't care though because there was that sweet-ass double decker looping around and we wanted on! We caught the bus across from Boure's (it's hard to miss) and got out on campus. We were meeting our friend Wilson at the Sigma Chi Fraternity house. If you can go, you should see this place. Fingerprint entry, a beautiful back deck and patio with big glass doors that open up to hold live bands... And SO CLEAN!! I was blown away. Shoutout to their most awesome House Mother Aunt Mary for taking such great care of everyone and everything under that roof. Now someone get her her front hall rug!
Blurry because we were non-stop fun-having with Wilson!
Wilson is pretty much the best. He took us through The Grove and as he stopped at each one to say hello to his family and friends or both, Koy and I got to sample all of the delicious treats! Seriously every person at each tent greeted us with the warmest hello followed by the coldest beverage. It was the dream Thank you to Wilson, Jon Fisher, Pete and Martha Williston and Conner!!!! IHSV.
And then- the unthinkable happened. Would you believe it, 7 hours later we not only made it TO the stadium, but they let us in!! Gold Stars for everyone. The atmosphere is so energizing. The bright lights and passionate people cheering around you almost re-awaken you.
Pensive b'eh. VIP cusioned seats? YEP. 50 yard line? YEP Best gf of life? Probs.
What is this like, hour 13? Wait I think it is. (At The Library, see below)
The Rebs won and the celebrating continued on into the night (see below). Game days are always the shortest, but also (technically) the longest days. You just don't even notice because you're so caught up in the people, the food, music, drinks, team spirit, and the sport. At one point I looked around the stadium and saw groups of different people sitting, laughing chanting together. Now yes maybe they were families, or people who have had their seats together passed down for generations. But I couldn't help but feel that this sport, this pride, these traditions bring so many people together, every Saturday, every season, every generation. It's pretty cool stuff.
So yes, I could have offered you these quick tips at the beginning but then you would ahve missed out on all my fantastic storytelling! Congratulations Grasshopper, you earned these:
But the fans only dress up in one of these colours each game. You'll need to ask ahead whether it is a RED game or a BLUE game, or just look like a straight foo'.
Most of the girls are in a sundress, and I'd say majority in heels. Men should be wearing a collared shirt.
Anytime throughout the day feel free to yell out a solid "ARE YOU READY" and everyone around you should gather together and sing the Hotty Toddy chant in unison.
I wrote the lyrics out. Our trip to Ole Miss was a gift to Koy, and before he could get his tickets (paper 2) he had to get through paper 1 (above). It's important, it is!!
No alcohol sales and no re-entry. But you will notice people of all ages around you in the stands with a fountain pop in their hand and a pile of airplane-sized liqour bottles at their feet. Probably the best tip I've ever heard is to hide them in the sides of your cowboy boots. Some stadiums do a pat down, others don't. I've never been padded down but I've heard that security is mostly just interested in potential underage students entering the designated 'student section' with alcohol.
*A BONUS side note: Ole Miss campus drinking rules are bizarre. Basically, in The Grove you can't be drinking anything out of the container that you purchase it in. The rules are also designed to promote hard alcohol drinking over beer drinking. With glass spirit bottles it's easy to transport and transfer into your solo cup. But bringing in let's say 24 beer cans or bottles, they must each be completely hidden and transferred into your cup
After most games people will head back to The Grove and they have a 3 hour window to hang out and get outta there. Everyone takes such care in preserving The Grove. The ROTC, staff, volunteers and the tailgaters themselves all do their part to make sure the space is better off them when they left it. We met up with our friend Wilson Hays who was tearing it up in the student section. He took us back to The Square where we had delicious tacos and frozen margaritas at South Depot. HIGHLY recommend. Read below for late night eats and deets.
Library: Called 'Library" so students' parents think they are consistently pulling all nighters at a place with books in it. We stopped by here in the daytime and it was near empty. When we returned after the game we had to pay $20 to get in but MAN was it worth it. The place is huge and each room has a different genre of music playing: Live country band, DJ, rap. It was so great. Wilson got us a bright green drink that was named [something] Marijuana. It was interesting.
Rooster's: This place is up above Ajax. They had a live band playing but we didn't go up. With $20 cover everywhere we had to make a decision and stick to it. The lucky establishment that got us was Library. But Wilson and his friends spoke highly of Rooster's, some of them even play in a band there some nights!
Saint Leo: This was heaven for Koy. It was a little quiet for my taste, but it is a sleek, classy cocktail bar that had incredible drinks I must say!
South Depot: So, this is where Wilson took us after the game. Line up out the door for food so part of our group waited there to hold our spots. What I never would have noticed is a separate bar for drinks attached to the food cashier. That had no line! The bartender of course knew Wilson's name and got our drinks right away. We were a couple frozen margaritas in by the time the rest of the group returned with our tacos. It was awesome. They stopped serving alcohol around 11 though!
We stayed at a friend's place about 20 minutes South. We got an Uber within minutes and it was $22 to get back. Worked perfectly. Renting out places in town for game day can get pretty pricey. I'm talking like a couple hundred $USD (must always specify) for a room in someone's house. If you would like to go, shoot us an email and we'll see what we can do to make your trip planning that much easier. That's all for now. Stay weird and stay everywhere, Canaliens! TPL!
WHO DO YOU CHEER FOR? HAVE ANY TAILGATE TALES? WE LOVE HEARING FROM YOU!
The Love Affair Collection stems from a personal Tale of Two Cities. Mainly because it involves a character named Sydney, a couple cities and tbh it rly was "the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness".
I made this collection for other Canaliens who may have left part of themselves in another city, too. I feel ya! Be proud of your nomad-icity.