Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa — or Iowa City, more specifically. And it's easy to see why people could mistake the two. Between the sprawling green lawns of the Pentacrest, crowned by the glistening Old Capitol building, and the ped mall, with lively watering holes and a grilled cheese stand that stays open past last call, the town that's home to the University of Iowa is truly divine. And it never feels more so than when hordes of black-and-gold-clad fans are armed with cases of Miller Lite and the propensity to sing "We're gonna fight, fight, fight for Iowa ... " at any given moment. It's football Saturday, and this is the way to do it right.
Where to eat before the game: The Hamburg Inn #2 (214 N. Linn St., 319-337-5512)
Open since 1948, the "Burg" or the "No. 2" (no one really knows what happened to the first one) is an Iowa City institution. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both slid into booths here while campaigning in the state, but the small, family-owned diner more often caters to hung-over college kids downing one of its 12 specialty omelets with perfectly crisped spuds. Undergrads in desperate need of relief go straight for the chicken fried steak and eggs, smothered in thick, creamy sausage gravy.
Best place to watch the game: The student section at Kinnick Stadium
Plenty of Iowa "fans" skip the part where you actually go into the game, and instead head to one of the many establishments on the ped mall that happily cater to the crowds with their bevy of TVs, cheap fried food and pitchers of beer. But true fans actually do go to Kinnick Stadium, named after Iowa's only Heisman trophy winner, Nile Kinnick, to cheer on the Hawkeyes and scream the fight song after each touchdown. Though any section will do, the student section is where it's at: loud, rowdy and plenty of heckling of the visiting team. Fun factoid: When filled to capacity, Kinnick Stadium equals the fifth-largest city in Iowa.
Best place to tailgate: Iowa City Rugby's Magic Bus
The Fieldhouse parking lot used to be the locale of choice for Iowa fans with coolers in tow — until a whiny Michigan fan, who got a little bit of beer spilt on him (and by "spilt" I mean "thrown on," and by "little bit" I mean "whole can"), ruined the fun. Hawkeyes marched on to the vast open field at the end of Olive Court, which sources tell me has now also closed. But, thankfully, the stalwart that is the Magic Bus remains. And it's easy to see why: a beat-up, old school bus with a stage on top, where bands can rock out and beer-chugging contests can be won. Pair that with a trailer stocked with beer kegs, TVs so you can watch the game, and a tolerable Porta-potty line, and this Bus truly is magical. There's a small cover, but proceeds from the tailgate benefit local charities.
Where to eat after the game: Sam's Pizza (441 S. Gilbert St., 319-337-8200)
This place really should be called Sam's Calzone, because you'd be crazy to not order the doughy yet flaky bundle of heaven, stuffed with ingredients like green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olive (in the Vegetarian) or ground beef, red onion and lots o' cheese (the Cheeseburger). Sure, you'll find deep-dish and thin-crust pies here, too, but stick with the calzone, plus a side of ranch for dipping. And even though it could reasonably feed two, don't share.
Best of nightlife: Quinton's (215 E. Washington St., 319-354-7074)
Come to Quinton's early for a bread bowl filled with rich cheesy soup and half of a T.A.C sandwich, layered with turkey, avocado and cream cheese, but stay long enough to take in some tunes. This two-level bar and deli boasts the best jukebox in town, stocked with everything from Velvet Underground to Eric Clapton to Widespread Panic. The chill, older for Iowa City crowd (meaning patrons are actually 21) packs into the large booths that line the narrow, high-ceiling, tile-floored space, sucking down Big Girls of Boulevard Wheat and occasionally working up the energy for a round of foosball.
Where to go if you don't care about sports: Vito's (118 E. College St., 319-338-1393)
Don't let the Italian name or chicken fettuccine fool you: It's not leftover pasta you'll be taking home, but you won't likely leave Vito's empty handed. This is a straight-up pick-up joint, with mini skirt-clad 19-year-olds dancing to Rihanna wherever there's an inch of space and dirt-cheap domestics. To be fair, though, Vito's doesn't entirely eschew the whole sports scene. After all, this is where former Chicago Bears QB Kyle Orton partied with his good friend Jim Beam a few years back.
Follow us throughout the college football season as we highlight the entertainment options at nearby Midwestern schools. And be sure to check out our guide to Chicago tailgating.