Tailgating before NFL games is a time-honored tradition nearly as old as the game itself. While the cost of attending the actual contests has skyrocketed along with the exorbitant prices of the stadiums in which they are played, the cost of gathering outside them beforehand has only escalated with the price of parking, cases of beer, and grilled meats. Braving the elements in the name of camaraderie and raising (possibly more than) a few pints is a sacred experience for football fans across the country.
Of course, not all NFL tailgating is created equal. I have had the good fortune to personally experience a few of the league’s tailgating meccas. I have explored Arrowhead’s acres of parking lots filled with barbecue smells that practically leave you floating after the scent like a cartoon character. I have experienced a crisp fall day at Lambeau that transformed a (now-defunct) Kmart into the hottest spot in town. I have shared sausages at Soldier Field with fans that looked like they leapt directly out of Saturday Night Live’s old “Super Fans” sketches. I have shared rum with Bucs fans in full pirate regalia before sauntering into Raymond James. And there is exactly one reason why I have upstate New York on my travel bucket list—partying with the famed Bills Mafia in Orchard Park on game day.
Those venues are always near the top of any “Best NFL Tailgating Destinations” list, along with those in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans. Unfortunately for Vikings fans, downtown Minneapolis is usually nowhere to be found on such ballots.
The main cause isn’t a lack of passion or demand. After all, if you’re going to endure what the Vikings put their fans through most years, it’s probably best to be a little, uh, “lubricated” beforehand. The primary reason for the lack of fanfare regarding the pregame fanfare: There just aren’t that many places to do it. The map below highlights the three—yes, only three—official tailgating spots for Vikings games.
Since they’re so close to U.S. Bank Stadium, the cost of parking is extremely high, and there are some relatively strict rules about how long you can be there and what you can do. The tailgating scene there is certainly lively, but not nearly as expansive as most NFL venues.
The lack of “official” tailgating spots isn’t all that surprising. Parking near the stadium is scattered and pretty hard to come by, with most lots and ramps being owned by private businesses. The Vikings would much rather have fans spend the hours leading up to the game in their expansive Medtronic Plaza, where they always have music, concessions and official team gear to purchase, and family friendly activities to enjoy.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be “official” to find a great time before Vikings games. There are still a handful of other places within walking distance of the stadium where you can partake in your fair share of revelry.
My personal favorite is Lot 53 between Washington Avenue and 3rd Street, next to the Crooked Pint Ale House. The parking cost is more reasonable, and you’ll always find a full square block of raucous fans from bright and early in the morning through the final whistle. The Vikings’ Skol Line and a handful of cheerleaders even visit the lot before most games. Fans of the away team usually have no problem finding fun of their own—yes, even Packers fans—as long as they don’t mind the occasional good-natured ribbing.
Regardless of where you choose to tailgate, you’ll find the usual fare of anything that can be put on a grill, snacks, and a variety of adult beverages. Minnesota doesn’t tout a well-known “signature” item at Vikings tailgates, but there are several groups that roll out some seriously impressive spreads. I have enjoyed grilled pork chops on a stick, Mama’s Pizza, buffet-style brunch, and even crab legs at some of the more prominent spots around the stadium.
If you’re planning on tailgating before a Vikings game this year and don’t have a well-defined plan of attack, I have three basic tenets you should follow:
- Get there early. With space at a premium, the closer it gets to kickoff, the less likely you’re going to find a spot to partake in the festivities.
- BYOB. I’m not saying you have to tote a case in each hand around the parking lots all day. But in my experience, groups are much more inclined to let you join if they know you aren’t there to mooch drinks off of them.
- Follow the sound. If you aren’t sure of where to set up shop, chances are that you’ll have more success the closer you get to the loud music and impromptu Skol chants.
If you have any other great tailgating spots or advice now that fans will be back at U.S. Bank Stadium, leave them in the comments below.