This year, Wife in New York and I decided to make one trip a year to see the Wild play in a city in which we haven't previously seen them. You know how it is when you have kids - any excuse for a little R&R... We decided on Columbus, Ohio for our inaugural trip largely because it is within driving range of home.
We set off in a hard sleet and hit Buffalo around lunch time in a pouring rain. Buffalo... maybe not the nicest city in this great land of ours. It is, afterall, a city's whose lasting tourism draw is nothing more than a massive demonstration of gravity. We had the coordinates for the famous Anchor Bar plugged into the GPS and were frankly a little skeptical between exiting the freeway and pulling up into the parking lot of the bar itself.
Now, the Anchor Bar claims to be the "Home of the Original Chicken Wings" - and I am certainly in no position to dispute that. The bar itself is one of those rustic places with a good-sized bar filling up the main room, and a back dining room. However, as a possible concession to their renown among the chicken wing-eating population, they also have carved out a sundry/merchandise window at which you may purchase t-shirts authenticating your pilgrimage, their own chicken wing sauce and other arcana.
We opted to dine in the back room (as opposed to the bar) and were served by an extremely nice waitress. We went for a plate of 20 wings, with their original "hot" sauce. You will recall that their claim is to the original chicken wing and not, say, the greatest chicken wing known to man. I was not fully appreciative of that distinction upon taking my first bite of wing. This is not to say that I was disappointed - because the wings were as good as the other good wings I've ever had. But I was sort of expecting to be blown over by the awesomeness of the wing - and I was not. Again, no fault of Anchor Bar's - it was my own ignorance that was to blame.
I am also glad that we went for "hot" as opposed to "medium" on the applied Scoville Scale of Anchor Bar's hot sauce. After the usual "mild, medium and hot" there is a special category of pain called "Suicidal" for their wings. WiNY likes her hot a little less hot than I do, but we landed on "hot". I'd put the Anchor Bar "hot" at more of a medium - which begs the questions of just how hot their "suicidal" is and whether or not they should redo their scale to make it something like "mild, hot and suicidal" in keeping with the generally-accepted three-grade form of wing hotness categorization and classification. But I digress...
We exited the bar to find that the pouring rain had turned over to a hard snow of big, fluffy clumps (given the not-frigid ambient temperature). WiNY took over at the wheel and we headed southwest. The snow would abate around Erie, PA though it picked up again just outside Cleveland. We hit C-Bus later than we'd hoped, found the hotel and went to check in.
After procuring our room keys we asked the nice young man behind the front desk where we could go for dinner within walking distance. He told us about a "brewery" that served "American-style food" that was only a few blocks away. We thanked him and headed to our room. After setting our stuff down and checking out the room, the topic of dinner was again broached between WiNY any myself and it turned out we'd both had the same luke-warm reaction to the prospect of going to a "brewery" serving "American-style" food. We'd already eaten at one bar that day, figured we probably wouldn't be dining on haute cuisine Saturday night at the game and so the thought of a burger and fries was not exactly appetizing at the moment.
We began perusing the hotel-provided literature describing and canonizing the best of Columbus and one place that caught WiNY's eye was called the Elevator Brewery and Draught Haus. The write up of it included phrases like "award winning cuisine" and generally painted a picture of epicurean beauty greater than one would generally attribute to any place calling itself a brewery. When she told me what it was called, it turns out that it was the place the dude had told us about. It being within walking distance (which was especially appealing given the preceding seven hours in the car) sold it for us and off we went.
A short and sweet less-than ten minute walk from the Doubletree - the cold-but-not-frigid winter air was perfect for clearing out the cobwebs - put us in front of the Elevator B&DH. You step inside and are greeted with a nice combination of old-fashioned boys club offset by enough contemporary lighting as to be appealing but not so much as to be garish. The place is sort of narrow, but you don't feel cramped walking to your table (if you don't get one of the booths in the two rounded front windows that were very cool looking).
Quick and attentive service from a nice young man who was ready with a reco from their own-brewed list (a porter that was more effervescent and flavorful than any porter I've ever had - and the better for it!) and was able to respond to our request for what he likes off their menu without just reciting the specials. And the food was incredible. This place puts other brewery food to shame. It's not just some hairy dude dropping frozen chicken fingers into the Fry-o-Lator in the back...it is, dare I say, actual food!
Classic wedge salad, medallions of beef with a sort of vinaigrette gravy and sweet potato wedges, crab manicotti (amazing), some kind of double fudge brownie dessert thingy...terrific. Add in a flight of their beers, a couple pints of that porter and a fuzzy navel... and a good time was had by all. There are a couple beautiful looking 8-foot, leather pocket pool tables in an elevated section in the back under a big stained glass window and a few dart boards - but do not confuse this place with a pub. We thought they carried off the combination of brewery and honest-to-goodness restaurant with panache and class. I would recommend it without reservation to anyone.
So our meal is winding down and I excuse myself to go visit the gentlemen's rest facility. On my way through the dining area I notice two guys at a table, one of whom looks a lot like the Star-Tribune's Mike Russo. I proceed to the restroom, take care of business and return to the dining room where I notice the Mike Russo look-alike is sitting by himself. So I screw up the old courage and walk over to him and say "Mike Russo?" He's got that "oh God, who's this nutjob?" look on and sort of warily says "Yes?" I identify myself to him, chat for a minute until his dining companion comes back - turns out it's John Shipley from the Pioneer Press - and then excuse myself. WiNY and I settle up our bill and then on the way out I introduce her to them and we leave.
Hopefully I didn't come across as a stalker - though we did get to the restaurant well before they did.
The next day we slept in (you parents know the value of those two little words "slept in") and then went down to the German Village section of C-Bus to a place called, appropriately enough, the German Village Coffee Shop for what was reported to be a very good, not expensive breakfast. It was everything we hoped it would be, plus good service (notice the trend?). Nothing fancy, but good, hot food served quickly and inexpensively.
Then we drove around C-Bus for a while getting the lay of the land and landed at the OSU campus. Keep in mind that we went to a school with an enrollment of 1,600 so whenever we're on a real, big university campus there is an element of culture shock for us. WiNY was literally amazed by The Horseshoe. We had to stop and get out and walk around it and everything. When I told her how many people fit in there for every Buckeye football game she was astounded. This is not to say that she is a sports rube. But I can see where the thought of 100,000 people at a college sporting event takes a bit to get your head around. She immediately declared that taking in a OSU/UM football game was a new entrant on her life to-do list.
Then it was time for WiNY's portion of the weekend: the spa! Our deal is that she gets to go to a local spa for an afternoon and I get to see the game from some nice seats. I had done a little research and chosen a spa up north of the city.
Dropped her off there and walked into a little bar in the same shopping complex called Gallo's Tap Room. This place totally blows away every preconceived notion of a dining establishment located in a mall that I've ever had. The decor is solid sports bar, but not the dingy, grimy, stick-to-the-floor affair you sometimes get. There are (nice) TVs everywhere but the volume level wasn't ear-splitting. There are two projection screens in front of some high bar tables, a few booths, a bar that's longer than you think it is on first glance, an open kitchen, and a back room with pool, darts, quaits, etc.
I sat down at the bar and ordered a Guiness from a guy who turned out to be one of the owners. He also turned out to share my first name - which obviously makes him a good guy right off the bat. He left me to my Guiness until I asked him where I should go around the arena before the game that night. We struck up a nice conversation about places down there which lead to a conversation about hockey (he plays), running a bar, writing a blog, etc. He told me they back up to a big OSU unofficial off-campus housing area so they do pretty well with local business. I can definitely see why. This is the kind of bar you make "home" not just because of the convenience but because they treat you right. Thanks for the conversation and the recos, Nick!
After that we pretty much just headed back downtown, reconnoitered at the hotel for a bit and then walked up to the arena area about two hours before game time. We went to Will Call first, picked up the stubs, then bounced around between a couple very busy bars and finally ducked into the Frog Bear & Wild Boar for a pre-game pint. This is sort of a super sports bar/club that was in the process of getting PACKED before the game. It was also loud - thanks to a superflous DJ/PA guy mixing tunes and telling me about drink specials, etc. Nice looking place and totally serves the purpose of a pre-game pop and a burger amidst other BJ friendlys.
Russo had mentioned to me that there would be a good showing of Wild fans, and as soon as we stepped outside to walk the fifty yards from the bar to the arena that started becoming evident.
First impressions of Nationwide Arena were that it is obvious that it was built at the same time the X was. Sweeping entrances, high school sweaters adorning the walls, lots of vendors, very nice-looking. We were in section 120, directly behind the net the BJs defend twice, about half-way up the section, on the aisle. I had actually wanted to be a little higher as our line of vision did not allow us to see play along the end boards in front of us, but no matter. Our sight line down the ice was marred a bit by the break between the top of the glass on the start of the netting which was a bigger problem, but I got over it.
I will say that I don't like the white netting. I have no idea why you'd choose a color that reflects light for something that's supposed to be invisible? Black netting has never been a problem for me, but I noticed the white netting all game long - and the light hitting off it was a constant distraction.
The building seems deeper and more cavernous than the X. Our perspective was from the "deepest" parts of it, but the upper decks seemed more on top of each other, and more on top of the lower bowl as well. I thought they made poor use of the Jumbotron. It was pretty much all video and score - no shots or penalty information. You had to look to one of two mid-level scoreboards on opposite corners for that stuff, and it seemed like it would be hard to read unless you were right on the center red line. Between the distance to the board and the awful white netting I had a lot of trouble reading SOG and penalty info. They sort of stack what appears to be luxury boxes in the corners of the building which looks kind of neat in an opera house kind of a way. It certainly appeared as though the press box was about a mile from the ice surface.
We got an added bonus when Russo appeared during the warmups to chat some more. He obviously went out of his way, and he clearly loves hockey and knows his shit cold. One of the best parts of being a hockey fan is the passion for the game that you can find among other hockey fans with such ease. Russo embodies that passion perfectly, and it was a treat to talk with him.
I thought the BJs did a terrific job with in-game production/entertainment. By that I mean they did stuff that the fans got into it and probably increased their in-game experience, but they also left the hockey alone. The fans were definitely into the game, seemed to "ooh" and "aah" at the right times, and were respectful of the fan in the visiting team's sweater - though that was probably reciprocal of the respectfulness of the Wild fans in the building too.
The concession choices were pretty traditional (with a couple wrinkles) and we were there for $1 hot dog night (we did not partake). When the BJs largely squandered a PP with about 8 minutes left the crowd both started to get on them (booing) and soon thereafter started fleeing (the outcome of the game no longer being in question).
We walked back to the hotel, stopped in the bar for a burger and a couple drinks, chatted with a very nice bartender who told us that Rick Nash can be seen at that Frog Bear & Wild Boar after games buying fans rounds of drinks, and generally being a stand-up (read: non-arrogant) guy.
We hit the sack, got up Sunday morning and beat feet back home.
As for the game itself, I thought the Wild played very well. PMB is unbelievable with the puck. Gaborik's war with Adam Foote (there's a guy I'd like to see on the Wild blue line) continues to escalate, but it seemed to only motivate Gaby - which is a good thing on many levels. Backstrom's rebound control was sharp again and the team got a win that they probably should have gotten considering the BJs are a little beat up at the high end right now.
Optimistically, I think it's starting to come together. While that might indicate a continuation of DR's prior reticence in making the big trade at the deadline, it does not mean we're suddenly solid up the middle. I think we could still use a center and a veteran leader, but with so little time left before the deadline I can see where it would be easy for DR to justify not overspending for someone.
In the final analysis, it was a great trip. Downtown Columbus has some very nice looking new areas (mixed in with some sketchy areas that have yet to be gentrified) and a wealth of cool new eateries, etc. The only thing it's missing is residents. It appeared as though no one lives downtown yet, and while that may come, the BJs have been there for a while now. But our experience was positive all the way around. Nice people, good food, a good building, and a Wild win.
Overall: Wild win 3-1-0 (GF 9, GA 8)
In Minny: tied 1-1-0 (GF 3, GA 6)
In Columbus: Wild win 2-0-0 (GF 6, GA 2)
CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Again, not bad.
POLLYANNA SAYS: Two straight wins in C-Bus!
BOTTOM LINE: Solid road game, no major (very few minor) complaints.
STUD: Maybe it was just seeing him in person after so long, but PMB was great. Not just with the puck, but he played bigger than his size.
DUD: No one really sticks out, so...what the heck, no dud for that one.