Located along the banks of Mississippi River, Baton Rouge is the capitol city of Louisiana. It’s not only home to LSU, but also countless historical sites and has a strong musical heritage. Cajun and zydeco music are uniquely Louisianan and are the perfect soundtrack for a trip to the Capitol City.
Life in southeast Louisiana is unlike anywhere else. The Cajun and Creole roots are entrenched in everyday life. They can be found in the food, language, and attitude. “Laissez les bons temps rouler” translated to English means, “Let the good times roll.” In Louisiana this isn’t just an expression, it’s a way of life, especially during football season. There is no better time to be had than in Baton Rouge on a Saturday when LSU is playing in Tiger Stadium.
Louisiana State University (LSU)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
When to go?
In the early fall, Baton Rouge is still hot and humid. Let’s rephrase that. Baton Rouge is very hot and humid. Somehow that doesn’t deter the LSU faithful from supporting their Tigers. For those not quite as dedicated, October and November prove to be a more pleasant time to visit. Those months also happen to be smack-dab in the middle of Southeastern Conference games.
When attending any LSU football game, you realize that you are witness to something special. However, if you’re lucky enough to get to Baton Rouge when Ole Miss, Alabama, or Florida are in town, you’ll immediately understand that you are part of something spectacular.
The LSU/Ole Miss game, dubbed the Magnolia Bowl after the flowering tree that populates each of the states, is played in November. This match-up even makes a cameo in Kathryn Stockett’s New York Times bestseller,The Help. And wouldn’t you know that those two schools don’t get along? In fact, they clash like polka dots and plaid; they just don’t go together. Of course this makes for great fun when you’ve got no dog in the fight. Forget the football game; watching these two opposing cultures interact is entertainment in itself.
Five out of the last six years, LSU, Florida, or Alabama have won the national championship. As if deep-seeded, long-term hate wasn’t enough, throw national championship implications into the mix and that’s a recipe for great football and a truly memorable experience.
Tailgating at LSU is legendary. It’s not just the gold standard for food; it’s the platinum standard. Simply put: there is no place better. Where else but Baton Rouge can you sample so many types of gumbo and jambalaya in a parking lot? It’s like a Cajun food cook-off every football Saturday. Who knows what you’ll find? Oysters. Shrimp. Duck. Sausage. Crab. Ribs. Frog legs. And no tailgate is complete without boudin balls from Tony’s. They’ve been called the best in the world. I dare you to find something that doesn’t taste good at a LSU tailgate.
Make sure you buddy up to the tailgaters with the shrimp and crab boils. It might be a little more work to get to the good stuff, but the meat is so worth it. Don’t go looking for a crawfish boil, because you’ll be looking forever. Crawfish aren’t in season. But, if the folks at LSU have anything to say about it, that won’t be the case for much longer. A group at the university is trying to develop a breed of crawfish that matures in the early fall rather than the spring. If they are successful, the celebration at Tiger Stadium just might produce another seismic event.Frog legs are ready for the fryer. David Reber’s Hammer Photography via Flickr
If you’ve ever wondered what alligator tastes like, there will be plenty to sample when the Florida Gators visit Death Valley. And when the Arkansas Razorbacks roll into town, you can bet there will be lots of whole pigs (better known in these parts as cochon de lait) cooked.Working the fryer is a very important job. David Reber’s Hammer Photography via Flickr
With 100,000 people gathered onto the LSU campus on game day, there’s going to be a party around every corner. As with most colleges, the closest parking lots are reserved for the high-dollar donors; walk through and see what’s going on. Head over to the Parade Grounds near Memorial Tower where the Greek organizations tend to gather. Indian Mounds is also a prime tailgating spot that attracts younger LSU alumni. Old Alex Box, on the corner of Nicholson Drive and Skip Bertman Drive, is reserved for RVs, and thus houses some of the more elaborate tailgates. No matter where you decide to spend your tailgating day in Baton Rouge, they will all have three things in common: fantastic food, plenty alcohol, and an unmatched passion for their Tigers.
What you need to know:
There is a sign below the press box in Tiger Stadium that reads, “Welcome to Death Valley.” It’s such a nice, Southern greeting. What it really should say is, “Enter at your own peril. Prepare to be dismembered and devoured.” That’s usually what happens to opponents, especially when playing night games. An opponent’s biggest nightmare is not only facing the highly-ranked Tigers, but also the 92,000+ fans who have been tailgating, often times, more than 24 hours straight.
Describing Tiger fans as rowdy is an understatement. In 1988 after a last-second, come-from-behind touchdown pass to defeat Auburn, school officials reported an earthquake registered on a seismograph located some 1,000 feet from the stadium. It is said to have occurred at the same time as the winning touchdown. Now that’s saying something.
Tailgating isn’t the only pre-game festivity. Two hours and ten minutes prior to kickoff, the team and coaches walk down Victory Hill to Tiger Stadium. This is your chance to cheer on the men prior to the game. One hour and thirty-five minutes before game time, Mike, LSU’s Bengal/Siberian mix tiger, makes his way down Victory Hill followed by the Golden Band from Tigerland and the Golden Girls Danceline.
Perhaps you’ll hear the term “Mad Hatter” used by LSU fans. This is in reference to Head Coach Les Miles. Coach Miles was anointed with this nickname not only due to his ill-fitting, signature white cap, but also for his quirky behavior and inexplicable play calling. In addition to being called the Mad Hatter, he’s also been called the luckiest guy in the world. Ask a fan; they’ll give you an ear full.
You’ll want to see Mike the Tiger up close (but not too close). Mike’s permanent habitat is in the shadows of Tiger Stadium and is a roomy 15,000 square feet. It’s filled with an oak tree, plenty of plants, a waterfall, and a stream for his enjoyment. On game days Mike is removed from his habitat and taken down Victory Hill in his cage. Prior to entering the stadium his cage is set next to the entrance to the opponent’s dressing room. Visiting players must walk by Mike in order to enter their locker room. As if LSU needed another form of intimidation, opponents are referred to as “Tiger bait.”
If you’re not one of the lucky ones to have a ticket to the game, head to the Varsity Theatre where the game is shown on a giant screen. Also near the stadium is Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar. It has plenty of TVs, and you can bet they will all have the LSU game on.
You’d be crazy not to throw your diet out the window and indulge in the food in Baton Rouge. Try Juban’s for upscale Creole food or Parrain’s for seafood in the mid-city district. Ralph and Kacoo’s specialize in Cajun seafood. Mike Anderson’s offers seafood with a regional influence. The Chimes (original one) is a historic spot. Many years ago it was a drugstore and malt shop. Now it serves excellent boudain balls and gravy-cheese fries. Go to The Chimes East and check out the Round the World Challenge, where 60 beers from 20 different countries will get your name on the wall. Tsunami is a sushi place that offers a great view of the capitol and the bridge. Raoul’s has the best burger in town, and Louie’s Cafe, located at the North Gates of LSU, is open 24 hours. Baton Rouge is home to Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. The founder, Todd Graves, developed the business as part of a class project at LSU. His professor and the banks said a chicken finger restaurant would never work. He got the last laugh.
Visit the Old State Capitol building located in downtown. It’s now a museum with permanent exhibits that showcase the history of Louisiana. The New State Capitol building offers beautiful views of the city and the Mississippi River from its 27th floor observation deck. Stop at the Old Governor’s Mansion, now a historic house museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Shaw Center for the Arts is a $55 million, 17,000 square foot gallery and features permanent and touring collections.
Louisiana is known for its riverboat gambling, and a trip to Baton Rouge wouldn’t be complete without trying your luck. Whether you’re a slot or table games player, Belle of Baton Rouge Casino has something for you. A short distance from Baton Rouge are many plantation homes you can visit. The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville is one of the most haunted places in the country. Houmas House is known as the “Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road.” Nottoway Plantation has been restored and is the largest and most grand example of antebellum mansions. (See the post on my visit to Nottoway here.)
Taking in game day at LSU will serve as an event in your life. Being part of the 92,000+ will be something you won’t soon forget. Prepare to get drunk on the excitement that envelops Baton Rouge and all of Louisiana. If you’re not a Tiger fan you might consider conversion. Because at Death Valley, only Tiger fans get out alive.