As I get ready for Fan Day and Football 101 tomorrow, I find myself thinking about my love affair with Morgantown and the Mountaineers. Every time I get to Morgantown I feel like Dorothy coming home in the Wizard of Oz.
I guess you could say my roots in West Virginia run deep and true, and with it, an everlasting compassion for the people who walk those roads. I grew up in a very rural place in West Virginia, and when I moved to Morgantown to go to college, it opened up a whole new world for me.
So while I moved away after college, my husband and I faithfully drive the 176 miles from our home in Stow, Ohio, to Morgantown every home game weekend. And aside from the friendships and fellowship we treasure, here are my 10 top reasons why.
Since my favorite food dive Maxwell’s closed, I’ve discovered an equally eclectic and delicious restaurant in Black Bear Burritos. With 2 locations – one downtown and another on the Evansdale campus – Black Bear supports West Virginia farmers and has a unique Appalachian vibe that celebrates the culture, music and arts of the Mountain State.
And it not only offers a wide range of ethnic cuisines, it has an excellent selection of craft beer, including many from West Virginia.
One of the most charming idiosyncrasies of Black Bear is the way they mark your orders for tableside delivery. After you order at the counter, you receive a vintage toddler toy instead of the conventional number marker.
9. Apothecary Ale House & Cafe
The Apothecary Ale House & Cafe is a small gem on Chestnut Street with an outstanding selection of craft beer and great service. If you like variety in your beer as much as we do, they even offer half pints in addition to the traditional pints. The subdued lighting, dark, warm colors, comfy seating area and old-school games, such as Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, give the place a quaint and hip charm. There’s even a foozball coffee table.
8. Coopers Rock
When you have some extra time, Coopers Rock State Park is a must-see destination. Dave and I love taking our friends from Akron there to experience the awesome natural beauty of the Mountain State. The nearly 13,000-acre forest is 13 miles east of Morgantown and offers camping and picnicking facilities, rock climbing, fishing, and nearly 50 miles of hiking and biking trails.
7. WVU downtown campus
Tucked in the Monongahela River valley, West Virginia University’s beautiful and hilly downtown campus has 8 academic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. And the architectural styles of these buildings are as diverse as its student population. The most renowned are the 3 red brick buildings that form Woodburn Circle – Martin, Woodburn and Chitwood halls.
Across the street from Woodburn Circle stands the Mountainlair, which is ranked No. 2 in the top 25 most amazing college student unions. The 3-story building houses lounges for studying and socializing, a cafeteria-style restaurant, fast-food restaurants, a bowling alley, movie theater, pool hall, bar, ballrooms and more. The Mountainlair green behind it also hosts a number of events, including FallFest, a free annual concert for students. Last fall, students transformed the Lair Green into a festive and spirited Tent City the week leading up to ESPN College GameDay, which attracted national attention.
6. Mountain State Brewing Co.
Another excellent dining option that offers a taste of Appalachia is the Mountain State Brewing Co. along the Monongahela River in the Wharf District. It offers a charming and rustic ambience with a wood-fired stove in the center of the large restaurant. I was told that every brick of the stove hails from West Virginia.
The bar area has tall tables with beautiful wood, saddle stools. In addition to its own microbrews, Mountain State offers a selection of other beers as well as a fully stocked bar. And its tasty selection of gourmet flatbread is heavenly.
5. Core Arboretum
Conveniently located next to the WVU Coliseum, the 91-acre Core Arboretum has 3 miles of hilly foot trails. There’s about a 200-foot drop in elevation from its entrance on Monongahela Boulevard to the Monongahela River below. Managed by the WVU Department of Biology, the arboretum serves as an outdoor laboratory and I’m sure the best lecture hall on campus. Its forests are filled with several hundred species of native WV trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants as well as more than 150 bird species. So when you don’t have time for Coopers Rock, this slice of West Virginia’s great outdoors offers a wonderfully peaceful and quiet oasis just a stone’s throw away from the Evansdale campus.
While Dave and I don’t always make it to the SportsPage, whenever my college friends come in from Phoenix, we always spend at least one of the nights at this underground bar. It hasn’t changed much since we frequented it in college. As you would expect, sports paraphernalia cover the walls and it has a dozen or more TVs. Just like college, it’s a great place to shoot pool and drink. And if you’re feeling hungry, the SportsPage has a surprisingly expansive and good menu.
3. Mario’s Fishbowl
Mario’s Fishbowl is one of the most iconic bars you’ll ever frequent. While you can find cool, local hangouts in every college town, Mario’s Fishbowl is in a class of its own, and you won’t find the combination of soul-filled ambience and wondrously noble and shimmering groups of people anywhere else. You don’t have to just take my word for it. Thrillest magazine agrees.
Walking into the Fishbowl, even on the darkest of nights, has the effect of suddenly raising the blinds in a dark attic room. The sun – or in this case, the spirited and mirthful folks who love their frosty fishbowls – rushes in, changing everything. Not only are you treated like the hero of Friday Night football when you walk in the door, the walls are covered in history with hand-written notes tacked anywhere there’s an open spot. Some brag about drinking “49 Lrg fishbowls in 1 hr 50 min (4-29-79)” and others about eating “3 twisted pretzels in 25 sec. on Aug. 5, 1985.” Still others just draw pictures or mark their visit with their name and date. Some date back 50 years.
The food is delicious too. I especially love their wings and fries. In fact, BuzzFeed included the Fishbowl’s cowboy ranch wings on its list of “22 Chicken Wings You Have to Try Before You Die.”
2. Mountaineer Football
There’s no other place I’d rather spend my Saturdays in the fall than at a WVU football game. And WVU’s Milan Puskar Stadium is a great place to catch a game. The double-deck stadium holds about 65,000 fans who will envelop you in a loud cloud of pure passion and joy. From the time “The Pride of West Virginia” marches onto Mountaineer Field for its pregame performance and the team charges the field through a shroud of smoke, the energy of the passionate and hopeful fans carries you along like a great tide.
Throughout the game, you join in a regular chorus of “Let’s go, Mountaineers” and anxiously await the first-down cheer and a WVU score, which is celebrated by the coonskin-covered mascot shooting off his gun and fans high-fiving and hugging those around them like they’re long, lost family. And the No. 1 thing to do at Mountaineer Field is sing “Country Roads” at the end of the game, because that means we won.
While the Mountaineers may not be a perennial powerhouse football team, our tailgating certainly is. In fact, it’s recognized as some of the best in college football by USA Today, Bleacher Report, Southern Living, Tailgater Monthly and Top Bet. The lots surrounding the stadium are a sea of RVs and souped-up fan mobiles with flying WV flags and canopy tents serving as welcoming beacons for all who come.
Whether you’re sporting the gold-and-the-blue or an opposing team’s colors, you’ll be greeted by a chain of excited and boisterous well-wishers who are eager to share their smorgasbord of food and beverage and their passion for Mountaineer football. What more can you ask for?