A drawback to a population-dense, urban campus residing in the nation’s 15th largest city is that it doesn’t exactly create an environment conducive to great tailgating.
So if you show up to Ohio State for their home opener against Hawaii on September 12th and expect to find a premier spot close to the stadium with ample room to set up a grill and toss the football around - you might be disappointed.
No sport is as tailor made for tailgating as college football. Be it the romanticism of The Grove at Ole Miss or the RV armies in Happy Valley, in many places tailgating outpaces the actual game as the main draw on Saturdays.
That’s not to say tailgating at Ohio State is non-existent or even bad -- it’s just different. It’s evolved over the years from the general lawlessness pre-2003 to a more structured environment today. And you need to know what you’re looking for.
Area east of High Street
By this I mean the south of Lane, north of Chittenden, west of Summit. This area belongs to the students and you’re over 24 years of age or from an opposing school then you should probably proceed with caution here -- you don’t really have a ton of business being over there anyway.
The streets lined with rows of deteriorating houses and yards full of empty cans is where the vast majority of OSU students find themselves after a year in the dorms. It’s rowdy, it’s often times vulgar, and it’s dirty. But if you were lucky enough to attend Ohio State this is probably where your best hazy memories of great parties took place.
On football Saturdays in particular those parties start a little earlier and maybe go a little later than normal, but do yourself a favor and leave them to the students. Even if you have desire to visit your old frat house or demonstrate your flip cup/beer pong dominance - leave it alone and keep moving. Youth is wasted on the young.
Exceptions can be made for Out-R-Inn and a few other bars where it’s still acceptable to be over 30 and visit on game day.
And to go off on a bit of a tangent, I believe this is where most of the Ohio State’s reputation for sometimes having the "not-so-best fans in the land" comes from.
You see back in 2005 Texas came to town for a huge night game. It was the first truly big game in Columbus since 2002’s version of The Game, and in the subsequent reforms following the "riots" after that game not everyone got the memo.
What you had was a lot of people showing up with lots of booze and not necessarily any place to go and a miscommunication that resulted in a lot Texas fans parking as far as the fairgrounds on 17th and having to cut through perhaps the rowdiest parts of campus. As a student at the time I can say while it wasn’t as bad as some have reported, it wasn’t our finest moment.
South Campus Gateway
Not exactly a true tailgating area, but more of a general meeting place. While some Ohio State fans/alums may yearn for the grime and character of the old south campus bars, the newer/cleaner version offers some of the largest and most convenient places to enjoy a drink or watch some other games on TV - which is probably what it's best for.
Want a place to see Oregon State take on that school up north before the Buckeyes take the field or hang around after to watch Oregon at MSU? Eddie George's Grill 27 TV set up is tough to beat or maybe try to brand new World of Beer around the corner.
Unfortunately, mostly for Pat Forde who somehow called it the best place to get a drink in Columbus, McFadden's is no longer with us.
The Schottenstein Center
It you have an RV this is where you’re going to park it, but be warned those RV passes can be pricey and hard to come by.
The mammoth concrete lots that surround the Schott and extend all the way back to Ackerman can feel pretty isolated on a game day, but it’s also the home to some of the most longstanding and friendliest tailgates around.
Pro tip here: they keep the concourse of Value City Arena open prior to games which usually features shorter bathroom lines than some port-a-john in the parking lot.
The every man of game day parking options. The tailgate scene here is limited, but it’s also sometimes your best parking option in terms of value and traffic. Jump on a bus to get closer to the action.
The heart of Columbus on a football Saturday. If High Street is Ohio State’ main drag, it at least temporarily loans the that title to Lane at least six times a year.
The scene is much more bar centric, but there’s a few parking spots/lots for those lucky enough to set up shop.
This is the Ohio State tailgating scene for adults. Varsity Club, Riverwatch, whatever format Hineygate is in. Yeah you’re looking at paying for beer, but there’s no better place to get ready for a game or wind down after.
Many of these bars/parties offer a great meet up spot with a close enough location to allow you to make it to your seat in plenty of time for kickoff.
The aforementioned Varsity Club is still the kingmaker here and very much part of the culture of Ohio State Football. Around the corner at The Thirsty Scholar you'll find a more intimate, and by that I mean very small, but friendly atmosphere. Closer to High street, The Little Bar provides a gracious parking lot style beer garden to soak up game day revelry.
Lots around the stadium
These are the money lots, as in you better be cutting a hefty donation to snag a spot here. Tailgates here are few and far between and yes they will occasionally have more a corporate country club atmosphere than you’d associate with a college football game, but the good ones tend to be really good.
Find a connection or make one up and enjoy the perks. These infrequently change hands, so latching on now can pay dividends for years. My personal favorite is a corporate tailgate here I've been attending since 2008 that offers an omelet station for noon games. What that company actually does? I have no idea, but I love those omelets.
Catering by City Barbecue is another fantastically popular choice around these parts.
In the end, you're options are really limitless. Show up on Saturdays, meet up with old friends, make some news ones, but mostly enjoy the game - it's the most important part. And if anyone tries to convince you otherwise - they probably cheer for a lousy team.