Country roads take me to a real down-home tailgate

WVU vs. Oklahoma State tailgateThis might come as a surprise, so hold for laughs, but I’m 44 years old and have never tailgated — until a couple weekends ago in sweet Morgantown, WV.

Dave and Andy Joliet graciously invited me along for the weekend as Leslee’s date. Other friends Julie and David came, too, and we all partied for the better part of two days.

WVU vs. Oklahoma State tailgateFriday night began at the original Mario’s Fishbowl on Richwood Avenue. I drove straight from work in Athens, Ohio, but the group had the bar warmed up. When I walked through the door, I got a round of applause and cheering that made me feel like Keith Richards walking onstage.

Forget the joints where everybody knows your name – at Mario’s Fishbowl you get a standing ovation just for showing up!

My party had long since scored a table and bar stools – not easy to come by here – and I was lapping up a 24-oz. fishbowl of hard cider in no time.

Mario's FishbowlThe atmosphere was loud, festive, joyous and positive, and every time someone walked in you were reminded of exactly that. (The crowd is so sorry to see patrons leave, they get empathetic boos when they walk out.)

Life is good, and then you start buzzing. Ah, contentment.

Besides the hero’s welcome at Mario’s, there’s the decor, which is as seasoned and authentic as a good pair of worn cowboy boots. Old love notes to the bar paper the walls and ceiling. Dave showed me his and Andy’s from 5 years ago.

Our message in Mario's FishbowlAnd the tavern boasts an original, perfect game: 7 feet off the floor and behind the bar, there’s a green glass vase up on a shelf with a lot of other old tchotchkes and trophies. Toss a quarter into the vase and you get a free fishbowl of draft.

Needless to say, coins were flying all night. In what can only be attributed to a sprinkling of Morgantown magic and maybe livin’ right, all 6 of us scored during our visit and drank like…fish.

Because Saturday’s game started at noon, the real tailgating necessarily started several hours earlier. By 8 a.m., Dave was frying sausage and egg hash on the camp stove while Andy served up mimosas, which is how I now assume all real Mountaineers fans start their mornings on game day.

WVU vs. Oklahoma State tailgateNo one even mentioned coffee. Leslee brought an untold number of Jell-O shots and passed them out like Tootsie Rolls at a children’s parade. David made Bloody Mary’s with Tabasco.

Meanwhile, Dave J. had heated the chili and pulled pork, and steam rolled off of them when I made my sandwich and filled my bowl. If you have an appetite for good food, booze and company, as in good food, good booze and good company, you’ll feel welcomed as family at this tailgate.

The morning passed regrettably quick, and as soon as Dave beat a college kid in a Lite chugging contest to show that he’s still got it, we stowed the tents and coolers and headed to the game, each of us with a beer in our hands for the walk.

WVU vs. Oklahoma State tailgateThe game doesn’t need a play-by-play, but the Mountaineers prevailed at home and buoyed the crowd even higher. Musket smoke filled the air while the crowd swayed and sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads” together like we were all Alumni.

WVU vs. Oklahoma State gameAll of which cranked up the gang at Mario’s Fishbowl even more, where we set to repeating the excellent night before. Only now I could say that I’d been to a real, down-home tailgate.

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