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Your Guide to Gameday in Lincoln, Nebraska

The time comes in every person’s life when they find themselves doing something they never thought they’d do. For you, intrepid traveler, it’s booking yourself a trip to Nebraska. Now that you’ve gone and done that, you’re not quite sure what to expect: will corn be served for every meal? Do cattle freely roam the streets of Lincoln? Do Husker fans tailgate? What in the hell is a Runza, and what will happen if you eat one?

Fear not, adventurous one. Should you find yourself following your team to Lincoln, Nebraska this season (and I definitely think you should!), here’s the lowdown on how to make your trip to Lincoln run smoothly, even if your maiden voyage ends in your team losing on a Hail Mary pass or something.

Rare footage of MNWildcat on his first trip to Lincoln in 2013.

Logistics

Getting There

Lincoln does, in fact, have an airport, and it’s not bad. In fact, on your return trip, you’ll probably get from drop-off to gate in like 12 minutes, which is pretty great. However, flights are limited. You may well find yourself flying into Omaha, which is a great option—for those not up on Nebraska geography, it’s only a 50-ish mile jaunt down the interstate. You do have to drive through a mile or so of Iowa to get to the airport due to a fluke of the Missouri River, but just hold your breath while you drive through, and you’ll be fine. Omaha is also a good option if you are having difficulties finding accommodation in Lincoln. (If you’ve got kids and an extra day, you should check out the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, as it’s truly world-class.) The drive from Omaha to Lincoln is an easy one, but leave yourself plenty of time to get there on game day, as traffic will be heavy between the two cities.

Gameday Parking

Nebraska’s campus and football stadium are located in the heart of downtown Lincoln, which means that unlike places like PSU or MSU, parking is relatively limited. There are, however, a number of parking garages within walking distance of the stadium. The easiest thing to do is to buy a pass ahead of time, which will run you around $25. Otherwise, you can pay the day of (though some garages may be full), or take your chances in some of the nearby neighborhoods where college kids make a few bucks renting lawns for parking. In an unfamiliar city, I tend to think the former is the easiest.

Another option is to take the Big Red Express, which is a service run by the city bus system on game days to minimize congestion downtown. There are six places around Lincoln where you can park for free and then ride the bus to campus for $5 each way.

If you’re in town on Friday or Sunday, parking will be much easier! Meters are free on Sundays, and garage parking is generally free for the first hour, and then a reasonable $1.25/hour after that.

Bags

New this year is a more restrictive bag policy inside Memorial Stadium. Check out this chart to avoid unnecessary trips back to your car.

Tailgating

As you may guess, the stadium’s downtown location and garage-centric and commuter gameday parking means that tailgating is not as big of a deal at Nebraska as it is at other Big Ten schools. This doesn’t mean you won’t still have a good time—it’s just a different type of pre-game experience, and it’s good to have your expectations straight up front. There are a few lots near the stadium where tailgating exists, and you should definitely feel welcome to make your way through there! But much of the pre-game scene is made up of the bars and restaurants of downtown Lincoln. It’s still a big party with a great convivial atmosphere—and here’s where you should go.

Not the site of the infamous 1886 labor protest, FYI.
BigRedTwice

Eating and Drinking in Lincoln

So now you’re downtown, parked, and waiting for the game to start (or mourning your team’s loss in Memorial Stadium, hopefully). Where to now? That, my friends, depends on what you’re looking for. There are two main dining and entertainment districts in downtown Lincoln: O Street and its environs, and the Historic Haymarket. Both are within easy walking distance of campus and the stadium, and I’ll note where each is located in my recommendations.

Pictured: burger. Not pictured: freedom.

Best Burger

My vote goes to Honest Abe’s Burgers and Freedom, an Abraham Lincoln-themed burger joint that offers creative and delicious interpretations of the humble hamburger. I’m personally a fan of the “1809,” but there are no wrong choices. Get your fries with a side of the curry-infused Abe’s sauce, and thank me later. If that’s not enough, they have a pretty killer selection of alcoholic milkshakes. (Note: there are two locations in Lincoln—you want the one on 14th Street, NOT the one on 70th. Unless you want to walk all day, I suppose.) (Greater O Street)

Best Ice Cream

Ivanna Cone. This is better than PSU OR MSU’s dairy store. Yes, I said it, and I mean it. Located in a funky little ice cream parlor in the heart of the Haymarket, this is some killer ice cream. The Dutch Chocolate is the best chocolate ice cream I have ever had, and the witty (and, it must be said, occasionally weird) daily flavors are sure to serve you up something you haven’t tried before. Be sure to get a homemade waffle cone, because they’re amazing. (Haymarket)

Beware the ad men.

Best Cocktails

This one gets two recommendations, because cocktails are important. The first is Barrymore’s, a cool little haunt tucked behind the stage of a theatre and still featuring the old lightboard and stage pulleys. You access the bar via an alley between O and P streets, so don’t think your phone is leading you astray. It’s got a great low-key vibe, and is decidedly non-sports bar-y (though they do have a few TVs for football games—this is Lincoln, after all.) Another neat spot is Starlite Lounge, where you can get your Don Draper on in mid-century splendor, and any cocktail your heart desires. This one’s located underneath the more traditional bar and grill Buzzard Billy’s in the Haymarket. (Barrymore’s = Greater O Street, Starlite = Haymarket)

Best Coffee

Lincoln has a surprisingly great coffee scene. My favorite is The Mill, and its half-block long outdoor patio is an ideal place for a non-alcoholic beverage and some people watching in the Haymarket. Coffee House is also a solid choice, and it’s located next to a former parking lot that has been converted into a little commons area. Cultiva Coffee is also amazing and has tasty crepes. Though they don’t have a location easily walkable to campus, perhaps it’s just the thing you need to ameliorate the effects of a late/rough Saturday night? (The Mill = Haymarket, Coffee House = Greater O Street)

Best Steak

Misty’s is the classic answer for this. I’ve also heard good things about Single Barrel, which in addition to being a steakhouse is also a whiskey bar. I have little to add on this topic, unfortunately, since I don’t take myself out for steak dinners often. Both of these restaurants are like three or four blocks from the stadium.

Best Outdoor Watching Experience

Maybe you’ve got an afternoon or evening game and some time to kill, and you’d like to keep an eye on another game happening in the conference. Maybe you’d like to enjoy the frequently fantastic fall weather in Nebraska while you drink a beer. In that case, head to the Railyard, a venue in the heart of the Haymarket with a variety of bars and restaurants all surrounding an open area and gigantic screen on which another B1G game will inevitably be playing. This is a good place to stop and plot your next stop, or to seek out fellow fans of your team—it seems a lot of opposing teams’ fans end up here as well. (Haymarket)

Best Pizza

Purists/old timers will tell you to get a slice of Valentino’s pizza at the game. While this has its charms (there’s something about the cardboard-infused pizza that just says “football” to me, I admit), if you’re really in search of pizza, I’d steer you to Yia Yia’s. The pizza is pretty good, but the highlight is an excellent selection of beers from across the country and around the world—they were doing the craft beer thing back when everyone else in Lincoln was selling only Bud Light.

They are pretty useful for those last couple of November games.

Best Stadium Eat

I’ll level with you—it’s possible that most of the offerings within Memorial Stadium are beloved more from tradition and nostalgia rather than for their actual quality. I know, I know, that doesn’t sound like Nebraska at all. Your main choices are: a Fairbury hot dog, which is neon red—that doesn’t sound like a color, but it is the most accurate description of this hot dog; a Valentino’s pizza slice; or... the Runza.

You should get a Runza. It may not transform your life, but really, they’re tasty. It’s the state variation of that age-old people pleasing combination of meat wrapped in dough—in this case, it features ground beef, cabbage, and onion. There are many puns about how a Runza will... well, run-za right through you, but unless you eat like four of them, you are unlikely to have any ill effects. If you do eat four of them, you probably had it coming.

Honorable Mention

Here are some other solid options that either didn’t fit into a category or didn’t earn top marks, but are still excellent choices.

  • Bread & Cup—locally sourced deliciousness
  • Lazlo’s—has a little bit of everything, and beer (Empyrean Brewery) brewed right in the Haymarket
  • Zipline—the best Lincoln brewery (IMO), and available in many restaurants and bars—try some and drink local!
  • Sultan’s Kite--this is the opposite of fancy, but it’s some darn tasty Mediterranean food—and, they’re open until 2:30 AM on Friday and Saturday nights for the party animals among you
  • Leadbelly—I added this solely for the Raspberry Beret. I’m sure they have other delicious things too, but I wouldn’t know, because I always get that.

So what are you waiting for? (Besides your team playing in Lincoln, I guess.) Book your trip to Lincoln, and experience a wonderful college football weekend in an incredible stadium and in a city that has a lot more going for it than you might think. We’d love to have you!