Dozens of fan tailgate on the rooftop of Barry's Bar and Grill.
Fans tailgating at Barry’s Bar and Grill rooftop. Photo by Halle Dahlgren/CoJMC.

There is no place like Nebraska on game days: The sea of red swirling in full force, smells of Runza in the air, the palpable excitement from fans building from the second the sun rises. 

Another essential part of game days for many is tailgating, and Nebraska fans will have the chance to experience drinking in a different way after the University of Nebraska Board of Regents unanimously voted to allow the sale of alcohol at university events.

This does not mean alcohol will automatically be sold at all events, but it opens up the possibility. The university president and chancellors would then be allowed to authorize the sale of alcohol.

Fans previously relied on popular bars downtown for their pre-game consumption. Even though concrete plans for the roll-out are not set in stone, bar owners and employees are already preparing for how their business might change. 

“There is a formula in place, and it’s been in place for years. You know what to expect, you kind of you know, what the crowds gonna be like,” Chloe Tyson said. 

Tyson is the general manager of Barry’s Bar and Grill, a Husker fan favorite since it was established in 1959.

“Having beer and liquor at the games is just going to affect those formulas,” Tyson said. “So I do think there’s going to be a bit of a learning process in how to anticipate that.”

The formulas bars previously followed are not mathematical, but ideological. They consider factors such as game time, opposing teams, and even how Nebraska is performing in sporting events to predict what the crowd and atmosphere might look like. 

Will Rye works as a bartender in the Railyard, a downtown bar district outfitted with a massive screen and plenty of room for crowds.

“There’s been a lot of talk among the bartenders in town about how this might change what we do,” Rye said. “Nobody really has a good answer. We know it won’t quite be the same.”

Some fans aren’t yet sure how they will tailgate, but others know that their traditions won’t change.

Grace Sivernsen is a current UNL senior who said her loyalties to Barry’s will remain strong.

“I can’t imagine a game day without being with my friends on the rooftop,” Sivernsen said. “For me, it’s less about the game. I love the Huskers, but my memories are made with my friends, and I’m going to keep doing it that way.”

Jacob Anders is a recent graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who never misses a game but usually prefers to watch from a bar. 

“I love the atmosphere. I’ll be honest though, there is appeal to getting to enjoy a beer from your seat rather than packed wall-to-wall with tons of people trying to see the same screen,” Anders said. 

One factor that is going to influence Anders’ decision about tailgating is the price of alcohol at events.

“When Pinnacle Bank sells alcohol at other events right now, it’s overpriced in my opinion,” he said. “I don’t want to go to Memorial and spend $30 on beer when I could get the same amount at Barry’s for under $15.” 

Safety is always a concern for bar staff, and having less of a controlled environment adds a risk. 

“There are always people who overdo it before games even start and then they show up and expect us to serve them,” Rye said. “I’m just worried people are going to try to do too much too quick to try and save money.”

Over-consumption and general rowdiness are concerning factors to both Tyson and Rye, especially if people travel back and forth between bars and UNL events.

“If you’re at a bar and you’re at the same location, you’re drinking with the same bartender, so they kind of know where you’re at, they can maybe offer you food, water, pace yourself,” Tyson said. 

Moving forward, Tyson says her staff will be prepared to watch for warning signs more than ever. Her wish for customers is to be ready too.

“It’s just kind of understanding the relationship between the bar staff and yourself. It’s for safety. I know it sounds lame, but we’re not trying to ruin your night or kill your party. It makes sure that you’re safe and the business is safe.”