When the University of Alabama and Clemson University compete in New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the crowd inside the Superdome will roar with excitement. But that enthusiasm will also pervade the city — especially at the bars and restaurants where the fans of each team tend to gather.
Fat Harry’s in Uptown attracts Clemson Tigers, while The Rusty Nail in the Warehouse District beckons Crimson Tide devotees. With students and alumni arriving from across the country, both bars are expecting a busy weekend full of reunion-like bonhomie, along with food specials, pep rallies and brass band music.
“It's always fun when Alabama and Clemson meet,” said Deborah Kraft, the president of the New Orleans-Alabama Alumni Chapter. “I don't consider Clemson a huge rivalry. They're equally as good of a team as Alabama.”
She’s one of the many local Alabama fans that will spend game day at The Rusty Nail, which is co-owned by David Brown, an Alabama alum.
“He became a member of our Chapter and offered The Rusty Nail as a game-watching location, so we go there every week for games,” Kraft said.
When The Rusty Nail opened in 2006, Brown brainstormed creative ways to drum up business — including this one: he flipped through an Alabama alumni directory, organized by city, and contacted graduates living in New Orleans.
“I said: ‘Hey, why don't you come watch the Bama games?’ Nick Saban was taking over at that time, so it was good timing. The excitement level was starting to build,” said Brown. “Before you know it, we had a packed house for every game.”
During the game, McClure's Barbecue and The Dat Mobile will serve up meals. Patrons can sing along to their fight song and sip a special drink called the Yellow Hammer — a Tide favorite. A percentage of those sales will go to the Alabama Alumni Association.
A local “yacht rock band,” Where Y’acht, will play on New Year's Eve, and The Lagniappe Brass Band will perform on game day.
Brown emphasized everyone is welcome to join the revelry.
“I want to make sure that locals know that it’s open to everybody,” Brown said.
Across town, Fat Harry’s on St. Charles Avenue will be crammed with partiers wearing Clemson orange.
Miles Thomas, a South Carolina native and the founder of The New Orleans Clemson Club, moved to New Orleans with his wife shortly after Hurricane Katrina. At the time, he didn’t know anyone — or any place —associated with Clemson.
But soon after he launched The New Orleans Clemson Club, Fat Harry’s became the group’s unofficial headquarters for football games.
“We had about a hundred people in attendance at our watch party for the national championship game last year,” Thomas said. “It's nice to have this orange outpost for all of our Clemson folks. We’re just ecstatic to have Clemson come to New Orleans.”
When Clemson plays during the regular season, the back room of Fat Harry’s is reserved for their fans, said Debbie Huling, the owner of the Uptown bar.
“They are customers who are passionate about their team, and that's what makes it so much fun,” she said. When Huling is working in her upstairs office during a game, she can “hear a roar when they score, and the cheer that they do afterwards.”
Fat Harry’s will sell their popular menu items, such as hamburgers, chicken wings, quesadillas, cheese fries and possibly pulled pork sliders.
A Clemson pep rally happens the Saturday before kickoff.
But Fat Harry’s and The Rusty Nail aren’t the only places where you’ll come across visiting football fanatics. They’ll be frolicking all over the city.
“We have people coming in from around the United States,” Kraft said. “The Alabama National Alumni Association is coming in and hosting events on game day.”
One event includes a second line, led by Dancing Man 504, which rambles from The Rusty Nail to the Superdome.
Thomas said Clemson allies “will be wearing their orange, up and down Bourbon Street, around the CBD, and into Uptown. You'll see them everywhere.”
“A lot of people have always wanted to come to New Orleans. The game is the added incentive that they needed,” Thomas said. “I want people to see what it is about New Orleans that's so magical, and I want them to enjoy it as much as I do.”
Since much of that magic involves food, Thomas made a few mealtime recommendations: “breakfast drinks and praline bacon” from Elizabeth's Restaurant, beignets from Café au Lait, and po-boys from Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar.
He also encourages guests to explore the restaurants around New Orleans, such as Herbsaint, Cochon, Lilette and “all of Dickie Brennan's restaurants” — rather than the “traditional tourist traps.”
“I tell them that our gas stations make better food than the best restaurant in their city,” Thomas said. “It’s true. I believe it from the bottom of my heart.”
What: Clemson University vs. University of Alabama, Allstate Sugar Bowl (College Football National Semifinal)
When: Monday, Jan. 1, at 7:45 p.m.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
4330 Saint Charles Ave.
The Rusty Nail
1100 Constance St.