The newly added Torchy's Tacos inside the Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium on Sunday, August 9, 2015. Pluckers, Torchy's Tacos and Austin's Pizza will all be open for business inside of the stadium during the upcoming football season. Shelby Tauber / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Column

Barnes: Alcohol sales, local eateries a hit with gameday crowd

Posted September 22nd, 2015

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Story highlights
  • Tailgate Guys now offer packages described as "almost turnkey" on the green slopes to the northeast of the stadium
  • Many of the food purveyors take cash only. The beer stands can run your credit card
  • Fan Fest is highlighted by the Stadium Stampede and pep rally involving the Longhorn Band and flocks of cheerleaders.

Of the four major additions to the game-day experience inside and outside Royal-Memorial Stadium, the one most likely to make a lasting impact is the sale of adult beverages. It changes the complexion and tone of the event. And from what I could observe on Saturday, not for the worse.

During the hours that led up to the Longhorns football game against the Cal Bears, beer stands, manned by at least two attendants each, could be found around every corner. Additionally, hawkers made their rounds selling Miller Lite and Coors Light. The stands also offer cider, as well as craft beers such as St. Arnold Fancy Lawnmower and one under the Austin City Limits Music Festival label that I didn’t know existed.

During my several hours of exploration, I never ran across wine for sale, or perhaps I wasn’t looking carefully enough. The more ubiquitous beer comes in cans, which are less dangerous than glass bottles, and not as messy as draft in plastic cups. Purists will, nevertheless, complain.

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I witnessed only one pair of dudes carrying four tall cans each, but they could have been serving their dates as well. I try not to judge.

The Tailgate Guys now offer packages that one guest described as
The Tailgate Guys now offer packages that one guest described as “almost turnkey” on the green slopes to the northeast of the Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Signs abound warning customers not to pass along alcohol to those under the legal age. Also — and this is curious given official notice that “beer and wine will be sold in all public and private areas” — at least one area near some rebranded 1883 Provision Co. vendors is marked off as a “no alcohol sales zone.” No explanation.

While the choices are inviting, I wondered why area favorites such as Shiner, Austin Beerworks and Real Ale were not included at the places I checked. Craft cocktails and spirits menus are said to be available in the suites and club areas. Now, to tell the truth, alcohol has long flowed freely in the suites, but this appears to be an extra service.

A second addition — game-day outlets for popular local eateries — was an instant hit. Although there were no lines around 3 p.m. when the Fan Fest began, as kickoff approached, folks crowded the stands for Torchy’s Tacos, Pluckers and other concessions at the North End Zone. Among the other selections new this fall include — or will include — Mighty Fine Burgers, Fries and Shakes, Hat Creek Burgers, Austin Pizza and Daily Juice.

From all appearances, the food is not made off-site, then shipped in. Each of the spots that I saw operated a full kitchen. In fact, so intensive is the labor for making tacos, a small army of dark-shirted kitchen workers scurried around behind the Torchy’s counters.

Typically, prices are slightly higher and menus are much shorter for the game-day experience. Torchy’s, for instance, offered just four edibles: two of its favored tacos, Trailer Park and Green Chile Pork, for $7. Green Chile Queso Chips went for $8; Chips and Roja for $6. All reasonable prices, especially when compared to the gouging you encounter at pro sports arenas.

Three seemed to be the magic menu number for Pluckers (Buffalo Bites, Chicken Wings, Waffle Fries, $4-$9, also a choice of three sauces.); seven for Boomerangs Handheld Aussie Pies (Southwest Chicken, Pepperoni, Curry Veggie, Boom! Fries and two combo packges, $7-15). Both spots also sold an array of beverages.

Many of the food purveyors take cash only. The beer stands can run your credit card.

What did I like? I was too hot that afternoon and early evening to order savory dishes, so I sampled a scoop of Amy’s Mint Chocolate Ice Cream ($6), “more expensive than at the shop, but you get a bigger scoop,” a helpful vendor added. Divine. There’s another Amy’s outlet on the 10th Floor.

Nearby, a young man wolfed down his Torchy’s selection, so I assume the tacos reflect all the self-evident labor that went into them.

A third game-day addition will be less evident to those arriving at DKR from the south or west. While it seems that every nook and cranny on or near campus has been colonized for tailgating, the Tailgate Guys now offer packages that one guest described as “almost turnkey” on the green slopes to the northeast of the stadium.

Fan Fest is highlighted by the Stadium Stampede and pep rally involving the Longhorn Band and flocks of cheerleaders. (Michael Barnes/American-Statesman)
Fan Fest is highlighted by the Stadium Stampede and pep rally involving the Longhorn Band and flocks of cheerleaders. (Michael Barnes/American-Statesman)

Founded at Auburn University, the company that puts together tents, chairs, tables and TVs while helping to arrange the catering, parking and transportation is now operating on five campuses.

“Last week was our biggest first game,” said spokesman Jackson Crawley on site. “People are loving it. We started with 23 tents and went up to 25 this week. We hope to have up to 150 here between Dean Keeton Street and Robert Dedman Drive.”

The four packages — Varsity, Varsity Plus, Lone Star and Lone Star Plus — come with different options, such as coolers of ice, linens, plates, utensils, fans, etc.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown purchased the Lone Star Plus.

“It’s been just great,” he says about his prime location at the base of the LBJ Presidential Library hill. “It has the potential of becoming like ‘the Grove’ at Ole Miss. Wish the weather could be as fall-like, though, as last weekend.”

Passerby: “You didn’t order the weather option, Jeff?”

Crawley points out his ever-ready tech crew, which is actually just two men from Lucidio Low Voltage — an Austin audio, video and automation provider — who said everything was going “very smoothly.”

Crawley also urges the curious to reserve a package by Tuesday before a game. His crew sets up supplies stored at a North Austin warehouse on Thursday and polishes the tented scenes on Friday and Saturday. Security is on hand at night.

The fourth game-day addition takes a light touch to entertainment during Fan Fest from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. — two musical sets by the School of Rock (which were charming) and a Cirque du Soleil demo (which I missed), along with the more familiar Stadium Stampede and pep rally involving the Longhorn Band and flocks of cheerleaders. Kids can play at football pitches or in a bouncy ring. All this reveling takes place in or near the high atrium at the North End Zone gates and requires a game ticket.

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