Saturdays in the South: Gainesville, Florida

First published in Current Magazine in 2007. Since this article was first printed UF has added both another SEC title and National Championship to the trophy case and QB Tim Tebow was been awarded the Heisman Trophy as college football’s best player.

Birthplace of Gatorade, Gainesville is also the home of the defending national champion Florida Gators. Of which sport you ask? Well, all of them. It seems that way anyhow. The Gators have won back-to-back NCAA basketball titles and took the same honor in football this past year. Though the round ball titles are snazzy it is on the gridiron that the Gator Nation butters its collective bread.

As an added bonus, the city of Gainesville was recently named the top city in America by Foddor’s in the 2007 “Cities - Ranked and Rated, Second Edition.” Yes, things are pretty rosy in Gator Town these days, and Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley has built a potent and prominent program right in the heart of it. Alma mater of 1966 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier, Lito Shepard, Emmitt Smith (NFL’s all-time leading rusher), Danny Wuerffel (1996 Heisman Trophy winner), and Chris Leak, the Gators have given fans a lot of happy memories, like say a pair of national titles and seven SEC crowns.

Tailgators surround Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (a.k.a. The Swamp) feasting on grilled gator sausage, burgers, and chicken and getting their “drunk” on. They have to feed their bravado as one of the great sports of UF tailgating is taunting fans from visiting schools with the familiar Gator Chomp arm gesture and screaming profanities. All that verbal abuse takes a lot of energy.

Among the 88,548 in attendance at the Swamp is Mr. “Two-Bits” George Edmondson. Two-Bits is a Gator fan from Tampa who stumbles from section to section leading the fans in the old cheer that goes, “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar! All for the Gators stand up and holler!” Between the third and fourth quarters the Fightin' Gator Marching Band plays "We Are the Boys from Old Florida," as fans sing along while standing arm-in-arm, staggering left and right.

At first, grubbing in Gainesville might seem a little discouraging when a glance at the “Best of” poll from the Gainesville Today Magazine lists Domino’s Pizza as the winner for “best wings” and Sonny’s as the winner for “best BBQ.” So they don’t have good cue or wings, they do have some unbelievable local styles like pan-Latin and New Florida cuisine and virtually all of it is right by the Swamp.

Grog (University Ave.) is famous for two things – quarter pitchers of beer and being the favorite hangout of UF’s representatives in the “Girls of the SEC” issue of Playboy. Also on the ladies’ hit list is Club XS which is popular for its 80’s night. Leonardo's 706 (W. University Ave.) is the place for Sunday brunch. Located just a short walk from the stadium, brunch is nothing short of phenomenal with over 25 handcrafted culinary creations to chose from. Plus it is a great place to ditch the older members of your party while you hunt for those Playboy Bunnies.

Emiliano's CafĂ© (SE 1st Ave) puts Florida’s rich Latin community on display with zesty empanadas, ceviches, fried plantains, and luscious paellas. They also serve the most popular food craze in the country right now - the Cuban sandwich. Emiliano's also offers traditional black beans, grilled filets, and terrific soups, but the can’t-miss recipe is the sizzling chipotle brownie cake.

Hogan's "Great Sandwiches" (13th St.) opened in 1983 with the goal of providing the biggest sandwiches and the coldest beer. Hogan’s serves traditional subs like turkey, Pastrami, and ham but they also have higher end cold cuts like Proscuittini and Cappicola plus six cheeses to choose from. They make a pretty mean Cuban, too. Their menu consists of sandwiches, heroes, subs, and most importantly beer from 21 countries. Saturdays are Gator Day; wear a Gator T-Shirt & get .50¢ off all pitchers of beer.

Italian Gator Pizza (W University Ave.) is consistently Gainesville’s best slice. Don’t let the name fool you, there is no gator pizza on the menu. Their pizzas are tributes to the old New York tradition of little flash and quality ingredients. They use Grande mozzarella, the industry’s top brand, and their pies are fired in stone ovens, available by the slice or in 14” and 18” pies.

Kirk Herbstreit recently named Mark's Prime Steakhouse (201 SE 2nd Ave. Suite 102) one of the ten best college eateries in the nation. Mark's has a dedication to serving only the finest beef, freshest seafood, premium wines, and organic vegetables, blah, blah, blah – this place is best for impressing hot young redheads by buying them a dessert martini.

For those looking to get liquored up, Gainesville has a great bar scene with juke joints like 8 Seconds (W University Ave), a country themed bar that features $20 all-you-can-drink on Saturday nights. For posh surroundings there is 2Bits Lounge (SW 34th Street) which features a big screen TV and a pool table. Alley Gatorz (NE Waldo Rd) is a bowling alley, full service bar, and Gator shrine all in one with a daily Happy Hour from 3-7 that includes $1.00 drafts, $1.75 bottles $2.00 wells $5.00 pitchers $8.00 buckets (5 bottles).

Dugout Billiards (SW 2nd Ave) is a classic hangout with 13 pool tables, 3 TV's, video games, 2 65" TV's, plus other arcade faves like foosball, darts, and air hockey. . . oh, yeah, and beer. Jewell's Billiard Lounge (S Main Street) has been voted the "Hottest Staff in Gainesville" and understandably so - bar tenders and servers wear halter tops and Daisy Dukes so short they should be considered belts and none of the staff is bashfull about doing a little pole dance. With hundreds of gorgeous women and $3 Long Island Ice Teas on Saturdays, Jewell's is also your best bet to see two (or more) chicks making out.
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