Oklahoma sports has taken me amazing places. I’ve seen the Sooners play from coast to coast, from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to Pro Player/LandShark/Sun Life Stadium in Miami. I once watched a basketball game on the floor of a football colosseum. I’ve witnessed Baker plant his flag in The Shoe, three bouts of Bradford vs. McCoy Red River Shootouts and the last OU-Nebraska game in Lincoln (for now).
I have seen great things in these 23 years. Ames ain’t one of them.
The Big 12 has plenty of get small towns. Some of my favorite destinations are places that you would overlook otherwise. I’m not a town snob. On the surface, Ames should be one of them. But like with most things on this trip, it just fell short. Something wasn’t there. It was almost cool.
Due to a late exit time from Norman (12:30 PM for an 8 1/2 hour drive), we rolled into Ames past the golden hour of bar time. I should have known something was up the second we rolled into the heart of Campustown, the Iowa State bar hub. As a group that loves to rile up the opposition, naturally we started blaring “Boomer Sooner” from the Honda Pilot speakers with the windows down.
No reaction, at all. I think someone gave us a friendly wave, but other than it was clear that this was a different type of town. In another other town we would have been booed or jeered (in Lubbock we would have been shot), but these people just didn’t care. It was weird.
One of the most unique parts of the trip was that we didn’t even stay in Ames, although we were almost in town. Technically, I’m not even sure we were in a town; our Air BNB was an RV Camper 15 minutes outside of town in a field by a small regional airport. As such, it made travel decently frustrating. The camper was sneakily nice though.
However, we were immediately crunched for time. The prime bar time was running low, so we got bar ready, met up with Bar Review veteran Ryan Granger who drove in from Chicago, and made our way into the heart of the Iowa State bars.
Iowa State had what appeared to be a really cool bar district from the outside, but turned out to be bizarre from the inside. The first stop was a double concept bar with the top being Paddy’s Pub, a semi attempt at recreating the iconic bar from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and the bottom bar, a bizarre cave of a place called Sips which could only be described as the lovechild of Logie’s and the basement of an outdated fraternity house. Sips inexplicably had a bottle service area, despite clearly not being a bottle service type of venue at all.
The next spot was a place I honestly completely forgot the name of, but was a several story bar with a pretty nice patio space on top. While I know that Norman has a weird obsession with heights, in Ames every bar seems to go vertical indoors. This leads to some interesting layouts.
Our final stop of the night was (for some reason) the country bar on campus, called Outlaws. This was the place I realized that Iowa State fans aren’t just nice, they are creepily nice. People would randomly start up conversations with me and not let go. Half of the conversations were just thanking me for coming to Iowa State (???) or discussing the despicable farm politics of Iowa Hawkeye fans (apparently they aren’t friendly towards the small town farmer).
Before we headed out for the night, we needed to make one final stop before setting off for our RV camper: the liquor store. Yes, even though it was 1:45 AM, the liquor stores in the state of Iowa stay open until 2. This is, by far, the best part of Iowa. It was also at this moment things started going downhill. I decided to purchase a handle of Hawkeye Vodka, a legendary cheap vodka brand that can only be bought in Iowa. We went to our Lyft and headed home for a short sleep before the Gameday began.
Ames has a legendary bar known as The Tip Top Lounge. While it is not the most notable looking bar, it is known for opening at 6 AM for cheap chili and beer on gamedays. I arguably drove to Ames to experience this just as much as the game.
We got up at 5:30 AM, still groggy from the night before, ready to roll out to Tip Top. However, as we were nearly ready to head out I realized something was dreadfully wrong; my wallet was missing.
We tore that damn camper apart and found nothing. My heart felt like it sunk deep, deep down. Not only would I be without my ID, but also my OU ID which allowed me into the game. Disaster had struck. We went into town hoping the liquor store might have had my ID from the vodka purchase the night before: it didn’t. We then went to Tip Top hoping the bar wouldn’t have a bouncer as it’s a dive and surely people weren’t up already: it had both.
I failed my entire group on the conquest for chili and beer. To say I was devastated would be an understatement.
On top of the wallet debacle, I had been nursing a pretty gnarly cough (If you read my previous travel blog about Lawrence, you can see why this is a bad omen). I decided to take it easy on the tailgate, not just due to cough and inability to buy alcohol, but because my stomach was so tight in knots about potentially missing the game that I physically could not drink much.
The reports about Ames having a good tailgate culture are true, but really that’s due to the ample space around the stadium. Jack Trice Stadium and the neighboring Hilton Coliseum (a concrete wart masquerading as a basketball arena) are south of the majority of Iowa State’s main campus and are surrounded by nothing but parking. While this is an ideal place to tailgate, the students didn’t seem to be having a wild time or anything. They all just stood around holding beers. While I’m in no position to complain as our tailgate culture is non existent (#FreeLindseyStreet), I was expecting more.
Finally, the moment of truth came: it was time to see if I could finesse my way into getting my ticket. Thankfully, the OU ticket office homies were able to accept a glance at my profile on one.ou.edu, so I got my ticket and we were set.
The atmosphere inside Jack Trice Stadium is not much. It’s just a standard midwest football stadium. It’s Kansas State without a quirky student section, Nebraska without size and tradition, Iowa without sick children to wave at. There’s just nothing of note here. They didn’t even play Cyclone by Baby Bash, which is a disgrace. Apparently their go-to song is “Sweet Caroline” which is the most mind numbingly generic song to be a go-to.
The stadium was also hot as hell. Despite the fact this is the farthest north I’ve ever seen a football game, the place was a damn sauna. The game was a slog, the heat was brutal and I still didn’t have my damn wallet. Thankfully, the Sooners got the W, I stayed for the chant in my 8th Big 12 stadium and left with my list of schools complete. Almost, anyways.
We made it back to the car, still nestled in the heart of the tailgate and chugged water while Cyclone fans filed out. It might have been the cough, the extreme dehydration, the three hours of sleep or the lack of a real lunch outside of some random ham a tailgater gave us, but I felt like absolute death. In the midst of all this, my wallet was found by our Lyft driver who had just woken up. A much needed silver lining. Eventually, we bailed and went to Olde Main Brewing a pretty damn good restaurant, although that might have just been the hunger talking.
Once we returned to the camper, we crashed, hoping for a rally that was looking more and more unlikely. Over the span on my two hour nap, my condition worsened; I wasn’t going anywhere. I had to wave the white flag on my one real night in Ames before it started. Such began one of the longest nights of my life.
Somehow, I survived. I still don’t know how. The next morning, we packed up and headed back to Oklahoma. In many ways, this was Marcus Dupree of trips; so much potential, only to fall flat on its face. It was honestly hardly a trip; on the way home we realized we never got any pictures of ourselves. The one outlier was a group photo of Granger, Bussow and Slater taken at the country bar and randomly put on its Facebook page (I wasn’t in the photo, as I was probably stuck in some lame duck conversation about corn).
As we rolled out in the Pilot among the corn fields, Slater summed the trip up pretty much perfectly: “This was really a once in a lifetime trip, mainly because I’m never coming back here”.