A tailgate can be as simple as you like: A few folding chairs, a cooler of brewskis, a few tall boy-sized paper baggies as a sop to decorum, and a few boxes of takeout can do the job. But what if you craved a finer experience? A tailgate to remember. (Or a blurry recollection of it, anyway.)
The good news is that a finer parking lot party is within reach, featuring craft beer, locally sourced food, high-end gizmos, and enough flair to make fans painted blue-and-white do a double take.
There are scads of parking lots downtown, from Greektown to behind Foxtown, offering tailgating packages, and you can expect to pay around $30 to $45 for a spot. But one of the hottest spots for partying is Eastern Market. The market even has a special page on its website devoted to the topic, which calls tailgating at the market a "high-octane experience." The Web page even offers special parking passes online via PayPal.
You'll almost certainly need a cooler, whether it's to keep the beer ice-cold or to keep it from freezing altogether. And there are some stylish soft-sided packs with ThermoGuard insulation and water-resistant fibers, and many of the containers come emblazoned with the team logo. There's also a stylish collapsible bucket made of 420 denier polyester on the market. And whether you're trying to keep your beer cold or your hand warm, there are countless crazy koozies to choose from. In addition, there are bottle coolers, "bottle suits" fit for a 40-ouncer, and fan mugs. Perhaps you're willing to spend $25 for a Detroit Lions Blue Fan Fist koozie, or maybe you want the "Brewski Belt" that allows you to carry a six-pack hands-free. There's so much to choose from online.
But better still, more and more local craft beer comes in cans. Take a peek at the beer database at craftcans.com and you'll find that plenty of regional brews, from such breweries as Atwater, Griffin Claw, Motor City Brewing Works, MillKing It Productions, and Rochester Mills can be bought in the can format. Not only will the cleanup be easier, cans keep light and air out better, and chill faster.
Sit on it
Sure, you can bring along an oversized quad chair with the beer pouch in the handrest, but some come with their own coolers. The cooler quad looks like the way to go: It seems like you're always getting up for another beer and trying to find someplace to stow your stuff, but this baby has a mesh pouch for your can in one armrest and a cooler that holds four cans and an ice pack in the other. There's even a "program holder" on one side for "personal items."
Why stop at folding chairs, though? For $150, Cooler Time offers a folding tailgate couch that can seat two. But if you really want to go long, Hammacher Schlemmer makes a set of twin tailgater hammocks that runs about $350. Your seats will be suspended from a stand that connects to your vehicle's trailer hitch, and each seat has a footrest so you can kick back with your feet up.
Upping your grill
Sure, $30 could get you a standard Smokey Joe from Weber, and you could grill some hot dogs and toast some buns, but there are some amazingly grand grills out there. There's the Party King Grill known as the Swing'n Smoke Party King MVP-8400. It plugs into your trailer hitch and allows you to swing the grill out on an extending arm. It runs on gas, which means you can shut it down at a moment's notice, and the "what-the-heck-is-that" factor of a grill attached to your car is amazing.
If you're a coal-burning griller who believes great things come in small packages, consider the Son of Hibachi. This hardy little guy folds out to provide about 2 square feet of cooking space, enough for eight burgers at a time. When you're done, fold it up to the size of a briefcase. Better still, the whole thing can fold up while the coals are still burning and quenched by wrapping the grill in its heat-resistant snuff-out pouch. Fancy!
Eat for the home team
Between the heavy weather of football season and the alcohol-fueled appetite, hot chow is a major mood enhancer at any tailgate party. But consider eating locally. Why munch on a Hebrew National when you can get locally made sausage from Koegel's or Kowalski or Dearborn. Heck, some of the best local sausages are made a stone's throw from the "Home of the Detroit Tailgate" in Eastern Market: Corridor Sausage Co. makes a spicy chorizo, a Buffalo chicken sausage with chipotle and blue cheese, and a suitably extreme "Bacon & Beer Brat" with bacon, beef, pork, aged Swiss, and Bell's Amber Ale.
You don't even need a grill to have the best. A few stops to pick up takeout could make for a show-stopping menu. And it doesn't even need to be unappetizingly cold by the time you eat it. Hot bags use the same technology employed by your local pizza delivery guy, and some of them have internal heating units that run off your car's lighter plug, maintaining temperatures of 170 degrees. Imagine showing up with a few slabs of ribs from Vicki's or Parks', a few hot dinners from Polish Village, or a pile of kartoffelpuffer potato pancakes from Dakota Inn Rathskeller, all still hot and ready to eat.
Depending on where you are, there are plenty of places to get gut-pleasing food while it's still fresh out of the oven. Eastern Market offers plenty of choices, from Supino to Vivio's to Cutter's. Travel a little farther and you might even splurge on the sumptuous Sunday brunch at Fishbone's.
Extend into overtime
No matter how grand your tailgate is, at some point you might want to upgrade to indoors. Luckily, since Ford Field opened 13 years ago, a cluster of sports bars have opened in and around downtown to cater to the postgame crowd. You could throw a fistful of rice and hit more than one. There's Hockeytown Café, Post Bar, Detroit Beer Co., Buffalo Wild Wings, Nemo's Bar, Sweetwater Tavern, Cliff Bell's, Park Bar, Thomas Magee's, Town Pump, TAP, Harry's, and Bookie's just to name a few.
Make a good call
If you're going to splurge on tailgating, which is all about driving somewhere and drinking a lot, why not spend another $50 on an AlcoHAWK Breathalyzer? It's not foolproof, but it can quickly give you an idea of who's over the limit, and who might be in a good position to drive. (That is if you can stop people from using it to play the "who's drunkest" game all day.)