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Game Day in Chapel Hill: Week 3 versus JMU

A weekly look at the best places to grab a bite or drink in Chapel Hill on game days.

Saturday in Chapel Hill
Evan Davis

Finally! Football has returned to the Southern Side of Heaven. A 3:30 kickoff in September is both a blessing and a curse. Plenty of time to tailgate, but during the game the east side of Kenan is like getting slapped with a solar flare. On the home opener, we mingled with tailgaters, watched the game from the shade, and celebrated a Carolina Victory afterwards.

Tailgating – Skipper Bowles Lot
Skipper Bowles Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Coming down the stairs towards the large parking lot near the Smith Center, you can start to feel the excitement. The sounds of tailgate playlists, the smell of barbecue and burgers, the scattering of blue tents. Football is back and you are consumed by the environment. Here, in this packed parking lot, you find old friends and make new ones. You are connected by the Carolina blue in your shirt, hat, or dress, and this connection reaches back to those Saturdays of old when shades of blue were captured in shades of black and white. In the eyes of young kids tossing a football around, you know in your heart this connection will continue long after you stop making Saturday drives to Chapel Hill. And that’s okay. That’s the point. That’s the reason you came out here in the first place: To create your own chapter forged in the spirit of friendship, community, and tradition.

Tyler, a double Carolina grad, has been coming to Carolina games since a kid and certainly feels the sense of community between Tar Heels before football games. “You enjoy the camaraderie,” Tyler said. Beyond the tailgate, Tyler wants UNC football to take the next step on the national level. “I want to see UNC dangerous.”

Amy, a State grad, was at the MBA tailgate with her fiancé. “Good people, good food, and good beer,” Amy said. “It doesn’t matter who you pull for, if you have those three factors, it’s going to be a good time.” Amy’s tailgate spread certainly had those factors, including a television tuned to the Louisville-Florida State game. To sum up her tailgate, it was simple: “Fun is being had,” Amy said.

The Bowles lot is close to the Dean E. Smith Center and Kenan-Flagler Business School. It is a large parking area with university-provided bathroom facilities in the middle of the lot. There is a wide array of tailgating setups and plenty of cornhole games. The Bowles lot is reserved, but there is public parking within walking distance. Check football parking and transportation for more information.

Blue Horn Lounge
125 E. Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

An intimate space with quick service, this Franklin Street bar is a must-stop location on your next visit to Chapel Hill. Located beside Varsity Theatre, this bar has a wide selection of drink specials and always opens early for game days. On NFL Sundays, the Blue Horn opens at noon and offers $4 Fireball, Evan Williams Cinnamon, and Jägermeister, along with $5 Jamison, Jack Daniel’s and Captain Morgan. When Carolina plays, the “Tar Heel Shot” is on a special, a light blue Kamikaze-style drink.

Chip Bowman, Managing Partner of the Blue Horn Lounge, describes the bar as “The Heartbeat of Franklin Street.” The Blue Horn is right in the middle of the action on Franklin, especially on game days, and the bar receives a lot of pre- and post-game customers. “We pride ourselves on providing speedy service along with a personable touch with the bartenders,” Bowman said. “The Blue Horn could be described as a ‘Cheers’ type of bar, especially with the relationships between bartenders and customers, and we’re always looking to expand the family.”

Blue Horn Lounge
Celebrating a Carolina Victory at the Blue Horn Lounge
Evan Davis

Two loyal patrons always come to the Blue Horn on their annual trip to Chapel Hill for a football game. Jeff and Steve, two friends from Toronto, Canada, became Tar Heel fans because of Earl Winfield, former wide receiver for Carolina and professionally for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. The duo came to their first Carolina game in Chapel Hill in 1998 against Miami and have been coming back ever since. “When we discovered the Blue Horn, we just fell in love with it,” Jeff said. “I feel at home when I come back to Chapel Hill, and the Blue Horn is one of the places that makes me feel that way.”

With 130 liquors and 35 beers, there’s plenty of options for celebrating a Tar Heel win. For big games, be sure to get there early. “Stop in next time you’re in Chapel Hill,” Bowman said. “You won’t be disappointed.”