Travel Playbook: NYC, Ann Arbor among weekend's top destinations

Congratulations, you've accomplished the hard part. You got tickets to one of the weekend's biggest games. But travel comes with questions: where to eat, where to party, what mistakes to avoid. Well, fear not. Here's your traveler's guide to the sporting weekend.

New York

Must-Watch Game: Pelicans vs. Knicks (Sunday, Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m.)

The Knicks are a bit more sideshow than actual competitive team right now, but who doesn't love a circus? Also, this is the only chance for New Yorkers to catch the ascendant Anthony Davis before people realize he's one of the best players in the league and ticket prices skyrocket.

Sports Bar on the Rise: BottomzUp Bar and Grill

So here's the thing: There are simply too many great spots in Manhattan to single out one specific joint to watch the game. It all depends on your taste. If you like a quiet, classic vibe, hit up Standings in the East Village. If you measure your bars by the number of flatscreens and food options, try BottomzUp on Third Avenue. There's something for everyone in the Big Apple, as long as you're a sports fan.

Best Restaurant: Le Bernardin

Again, New York is such an overwhelming city to wrap your head around, but one restaurant has consistently been at the top of lists now for years (try 12 straight being named Zagat's best restaurant in New York City). Chef Eric Ripert, serves classic French seafood as well as anyone in the world. Reservations are scarce. The price tag is hefty. But Le Bernardin is a reason to come to NYC in and of itself.

Best Layover Viewing Spot: Café Rubio

There are a couple of sports bars in Laguardia Airport, but they are, according to their Yelp reviews, absolutely ghastly. Your best bet is to hop a cab a couple miles down the road to this bouncy, Caribbean-themed sports bar. Why choke down soggy chicken wings when you can enjoy La Caprichosa, chicken breast stuffed with salmon. The choice is simple, really.

So Hot Right Now: The Cronut

You might think "Mmmm a combination of croissant and donut. That sounds yummy." Well, you've miscalculated your enthusiasm by several large integers. New York has completely lost its mind over these delicious treats from Dominique Ansel Bakery, lining up as early as 5:30 a.m. to score one. If you want to sample a taste of the hottest pastry on the planet, get yourself to Soho bright and early.

Best Place to People Watch: Union Square

Comedian David Cross put it best about living New York when he described his daily conundrum, "Do I stare at the most beautiful woman in the world or the craziest guy in the world?" People watching is the signature pastime of Manhattan and no place gives you access to the style, sexiness and downright weirdness that New York has to offer better than Union Square.

Ann Arbor

Must-Watch Game: Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines (Saturday, Nov. 31 at 12:00 p.m.)

The Wolverines have had a few down seasons of late, but nothing would make 2013 special like spoiling the Buckeyes' shot at a second-straight undefeated campaign. Ohio State has a chance to become a national champion or an even more rare distinction: a major conference team to win 25 straight games and not win a title.

Best Sports Bar: The Arena

How many times have you had to sit in discomfort for fear of missing a big play or heard the crowd screaming while you're washing your hands in the bathroom? The Arena has you covered by putting two of its many TVs in the bathroom so you're always plugged in. There's also 24 beers on tap, great food and all the fixin's you need in a quality sports bar.

Best Dining Experience: The Great Sandwich War of Ann Arbor

There is a divide in Wolverine country that runs deep. If you live in this town, you have a stern answer to this question: Zingerman's or Blue and Maize? If you prioritize high-quality ingredients, you'll probably go for Zingerman's. If quantity is how you judge a sandwich, Blue and Maize is probably your spot. The one blessing you get as an outsider? You get to try both.

Inside Locals Anecdote: Fritz Crisler's seat

At some point in the game, the P.A. announcer will call out the attendance. Michigan Stadium is the largest college football arena in the country, so people will "ooh and ah" about the high number, but you can impress those around you with this tidbit: Whatever number they announce, it will always end with a one as the last digit. This is a tribute to former coach Fritz Crisler, who laid the foundation for Michigan football and will always have a seat in Michigan Stadium.

Ticket Know How

For the first time, the student section in Michigan Stadium has been converted to general admission seating. This opens up a whole bunch of seats that historically would have been sold out, with seats in the student section left empty. Students still have priority but must line up hours in advance for prime tickets. There's even a website with a live camera of the line under construction so kids can see how early they need to hop into line.


Must-Watch Game: Titans vs. Colts (Sunday, Dec. 1 at 1:00 p.m.)

What looked like a sure runaway in the AFC South has suddenly gotten a little bit interesting. The Colts are falling apart, and the Titans have looked downright competent of late. To the surprise of many, this game actually matters.

Best Sports Bar: Ale Emporium

More than 100 domestic and imported beers are offered at this Indianapolis institution that's been fueling local die-hards for more than 30 years. Though there are ample flat screens and projectors to show you the game, the emporium ditches the modern sports bar decor for a more classic look that is reminiscent of a comfortable saloon. Be sure to try the famous "Herman-style" wings, which are fried before they're grilled for a perfect crispy outside/tender inside balance.

Best Restaurant: St. Elmo Steakhouse

This is the sort of place that would make Ron Swanson dance with joy. A lounge with deep leather chairs, plenty of bourbon, a simple unpretentious decor and, of course, a menu populated by ludicrously large steaks so tender they hardly need a knife to be cut. St. Elmo lets its meat do the talking, and you should listen up.

Best Layover Viewing Spot: Indy 500 Grill

If Indiana isn't all about basketball, it's because at least a piece of its heart belongs on the speedway. Surround yourself in checkered flags and flat screens as you chow on simple, quality diner food. It's as close as you'll get to moving at high speeds while sitting in one place.

Mandatory Sports Fan Pilgrimage: Hoosier Gym

This iconic gym, with its short court and tiny stands, represents so much of what basketball means to Indiana. It takes only a 40-minute drive out of the city to Knightstown, Ind. to relive the moments of one of the greatest sports films of all time. Tours are available, as is booking for events. You'll have to bring your own short shorts and measuring tape.


Must-Watch Game: VCU Rams vs. Belmont Bruins (Sunday, Dec. 1 at 5:00 p.m.)

Havoc has been stifled of late as the preseason top-15 ranked Rams dropped two games in three days last week. On the other side, Belmont has looked strong in the early going, including upsetting North Carolina on a last-second shot. What looked like a mismatch a few weeks ago is now the weekend's best dogfight.

Best Restaurant: Arnold's Country Kitchen

The new fad in food is local, fresh ingredients straight from the producers. Well, everyone else still has a ways to go to catch up to Arnold's, which has been providing killer food for more than 30 years. Leave your pretensions at the door. This is a cafeteria-style, bumping elbows with your neighbors type of joint. You won't find a better meat-and-three anywhere.

Underrated Local Delicacy: Hot Chicken

I call this underrated because, to many, this hybrid of buffalo wings and fried chicken may be a new vice to discover. It's full-size chicken pieces, battered, fried and covered with a spicy sauce to make your eyes run. Hot chicken is serious business in Nashville. The top spots are Prince's Hot Chicken Shack and Hattie B's Hot Chicken.

Best Sports Bar: Sam's Sports Grill

The waitresses may be dressed as referees, but this is no Footlocker. Sam's has consistently been voted as Nashville's top sports bar and even occasionally finds itself on national lists. There is a huge number of TVs and some delicious greasy fare to chow on. Sundays are two-for-one after 6 p.m., which should hit sometime in the first half.

Best Music Experience: Grand Ole Opry

Could it have been anywhere else? Few musical genres have such a clear home base. The Opry has long been the center of the country music world, and the entertainment just keeps humming along. There are shows on Friday, Saturday and Tuesday if you feel like sticking around for a hoedown.

Most Awesomely Incongruous Site to See: The Parthenon

When you think of Nashville, your first thought is probably not Ancient Greek architecture. Nevertheless, at the heart of the city's Centennial Park sits an exact replica of the Parthenon in Athens. The Greek version predates the Nashville one by a couple thousand years, but this one houses the Nashville art museum, which is a lot more than the hollowed-out Greek version can claim.

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