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J Gilligan’s (official bowl game party headquarters), Arlington, TX

About a year ago I did a post on what I do at the bowl game, and one of the things I talked about was finding bar(s) to be our official party headquarters.  If the hotel and stadium are close enough to each other, we just use the same location for the whole time.  If not, I’ll find one for gameday and one for the days leading up.  Occasionally I’ll be contacted by bars that historically host visiting teams; most of the time I ask for recommendations from colleagues who live in the area.  Obviously I won’t contact a bar that is already the “official” party bar for the home team.  That would be silly.  My only requirement is that it be a fun place where we can send our fans.

During our site visit for this year’s Cotton Bowl we spent half a day at Cowboys Stadium going through the bowl manual.  Our alumni association had been contacted earlier that same day by the manager of Tailgate Tavern, and I had also been given the recommendation of Boston’s by the dad of one of our players.  After asking several bowl reps for their recommendation (without bringing up the other 2), without hesitation everyone said J Gilligan’s Bar & Grill.  I thought there might have been some bias considering members of the staff eat there several times a week, but they insisted that there wasn’t.  We ended up going for lunch that afternoon, and that gave me the opportunity to talk to the owner.

J Gilligan’s is really close to UT Arlington, and at first glance it reminds me of a combination of a dive bar and mom-and-pop restaurant.  It didn’t seem to be in the greatest part of town, but really no NFL stadiums are.  As you walk in the bar is to the right, and then the restaurant is towards the back.  It looks like it hasn’t seen much if any upgrading since it opened, but hey, that’s part of the charm!  We were seated and then greeted almost immediately by Randy Ford, the owner.  He took me on a tour of the restaurant, and we were able to discuss the particulars of gameday.  He even suggested that I contact the Texas A&M alumni association, as they had used J Gilligan’s as their gameday bar last year.  After talking to Randy, as well as Monica from the A&M alumni association, my decision was made.

The day before the game, Ellen, Mary and I had lunch at J Gilligan’s after decorating the club level at the stadium.  We started with their world famous Irish Nachos

J Gilligan's, Arlington TX - Karyl's Kulinary Krusade

Natural Cut Cottage Fries with Skins, Topped with Melted Cheddar Cheese, Bacon, Chives, Onions, Tomatoes and Jalapeños

Oh yummy deliciousness.  Yes, you might as well inject all that cheese directly into your arteries.  I have to say, these rival Joe’s cheese fries.  I could have eaten the whole thing by myself, but I decided to be nice and share.

I forgot to take pictures of my food, but I got the Best Dressed Chest in the West (A Tender Grilled Chicken Breast. Served on a Toasted Kaiser Roll Open-Faced with Mayo, Monterey Jack Cheese, Guacamole and Hot Sauce).  I wasn’t a huge fan of the hot sauce and guacamole mixed together.  Just didn’t do it for me.  So I picked off as much as I could and ate the rest, and it was good.  The onion rings were awesome.  They’re breaded, my favorite kind.

We promoted the heck out of J Gilligan’s in the days leading up to the game.  The parking especially, considering the shuttle is $8 roundtrip and he had 12 vans shuttling people back and forth day.  The other option was to park at the stadium for $45 per car.  No thank you!

On gameday I didn’t get to the bar until about 2:30. The entire place was full of OSU fans, along with a few brave Missouri fans.  I was excited to see all of his staff wearing OSU gear, and found out that he told them their options for that day was OSU or J Gilligan’s.  Love it.  We also had orange beer!

J Gilligan's, Arlington TX - Karyl's Kulinary Krusade

It’s just food coloring, but that’s still really cool.  Randy had created a gameday menu for us, featuring burger/chicken/brat/hot dog baskets with fries, all at a very reasonable price.  I took a bite of a friend’s burger, found it outstanding, and immediately went and got my own.

Randy had reserved the entire bar portion, as well as several tents for us.  I was a little disappointed because I thought it would be a lot more packed out in the tent area, but a lot of our fans stayed at the hotel until it was time to head to the game.  It was sunny but chilly, so I’m guessing they didn’t want to brave the weather.

Randy called me the day after the game to thank me for using them as our host bar.  They shuttled about 675 fans to and from the game, which is the second largest they’d done for a college game.  He also said that we were the best fans they’d ever had.  Could he have just been saying that?  Maybe, but I went with it.

My parents took the shuttle to and from the game, and went in to get food when they got back.  This surprised me, because there’s really not much on the menu for vegetarians.  My mom told me they had the Irish nachos.  Neither of them are into really cheesy foods so I was pleasantly surprised they both raved about them.

Will I go back?  No question!  I already told him we’ll be using J Gilligan’s as our official party bar when we go back to Arlington to kick off the 2014 season.

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