Part of what makes going to Soldier Field to watch a Chicago Bears game such a fun experience is taking some time to enjoy the sights and sounds in the city, but you also need to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to check out the tailgating scene before and after kickoff too.
Tailgaters can be found setting up their spreads four hours before the game and two hours after the game, and besides the usual food and drink, there’s plenty of fun to be had as well. You’ll find fans playing cornhole (i.e. bags) and other tailgate-type games, you’ll hear music, and some even have televisions set up in their space.
I recently had the chance to talk with long time WCG member tfrabotta (aka Tony Frabotta), who has been tailgating at Soldier Field for over 40 years with his family, about what makes the experience so enjoyable. Since being a Bears fan is like having a big extended family, I had to find out what the culture is like when hanging out in the parking lots, so my first question to him was about the general vibe fans would get when tailgating.
“The tailgating culture is almost always family friendly with everyone having a good time,” Tony tells me. “Everyone likes everyone, and people borrow things they forgot to pack from other tailgaters.”
But what about those not donning the Navy and Orange: Are things just as friendly for them?
“They give a little ribbing to the opposing fans walking by in their colors, but it is always completely harmless.”
There’s nothing wrong with a little good-natured trash talk, and any fans walking around in the colors of the enemy are sure to expect some barbs from Bears fans.
As such an experienced tailgater, I had to ask Tony if things were different now compared to what it was like four decades ago when he first started setting up.
“I really don’t think tailgating has changed that much in all this time except for the parking lots,” he tells me. “I have tailgated from many of the lots, but the best tailgating area for us, in our experience, has been either the south lot or the upper level on the Waldron lot. But tailgating around other Bears fans is pretty similar to how it was forty years ago for the most part.”
I’ve seen video and pictures of some really fun stuff taking place at the Soldier Field parking lots, so I asked Tony where fans can go to check that out.
“The best tailgate spot to view is the north end of the south lot,” Tony said. “This is premium parking and it’s where you will see all the elaborate set ups and colorful people. They usually have some large vans or buses doing some promotions near there as well.”
The atmosphere is one part of the equation for sure, but if you’re like me you want to know about the grub, so here’s what Tony told me about his specific pregame meals.
“Our favorite food to cook up has to be ribeye sandwiches, because they’re tasty and cook up quick,” he said. “But we always do more elaborate cookouts for the opener, or especially for playoff games, with stuff like grilled lobster and shrimp. Basically anything you have to cut with a knife and fork is too elaborate for tailgates. Eat with your hands!”
Now that we know he’s likely to bring out the seafood spread, I wonder how many fans are going to be seeking out Tony’s tailgate on Sept. 19 when the Bears host the Cincinnati Bengals in the home opener.
EDITOR: This was written prior to the home opener, so none of us got to crash Tony’s tailgate.