For those of you headed over to Oxford for the game this weekend, here's a guide of where to eat, drink, and generally be merry in Oxford. I asked the folks at Red Cup Rebellion for some tips and was going to write it up proper like I did for our trip to Atlanta, but they did such a bang up job that I pretty much left it as is (hence the gigantic quote box) except for adding hyperlinks (official sites when available, review/travel sites otherwise) for your convenience. With that in mind, enjoy your trip to Oxford courtesy of the guys from Red Cup Rebellion....
Breakfast - The single greatest breakfast joint in Oxford is the aptly named Big Bad Breakfast, and this one's not even close. BBB utilizes fresh ingredients from local farmers to prepare everything from biscuits with homemade jelly to fried chicken with gravy. They even cure their own bacon and prepare their own sausages. The coffee is Cafe du Monde chicory which, when coupled with a full meal, can fend off even the nastiest of hangovers. Also worth mentioning are The Beacon, a cheap greasy-spoon which has been an Oxford institution for damn-near half a century, and Bottletree Bakery, which specializes in homemade cinnamon rolls, bagels, and brioches.
Lunch - Ajax Diner offers a wide array of Southern style blue-plate dishes and a decent bar selection. Meatloaf, chicken 'n' dumpings, poboy sandwiches, and the veggie plates are local favorites. Ajax also offers Budweiser by the quart which adds that slightly trashy flare some of you might be looking for. Handy Andy has quick and inexpensive barbecue and burgers, the Rib Cage offers excellent barbecue nachos, and Proud Larry's has a decent selection of personal sized pizzas.
Dinner - I apologize in advance, but you're going to have to come back another weekend if you want to enjoy the following places. They're likely already booked up or will have lines stretching out the door and around the block. Having that been said, the finest dining establishment in perhaps the entire state of Mississippi is City Grocery. The Grocery's chef, John Currence, was the winner of the most recent James Beard Award (it's like the Oscars but for chefs and restaurants, look it up) for the best Southern Chef. It is a New Orleans style establishment which specializes in a sort of creole/soul food fusion. The shrimp and grits are some of the best you'll ever have and, fun fact, happen to be the favorite meal of Eli Manning who is oftentimes seen there with his wife. Also of note is the Old Taylor Grocery which is located about 10 minutes outside of Oxford in the fair hamlet of Taylor. Old Taylor boasts "The South's best catfish" and, while that title may be debatable, they certainly offer the best atmosphere in which to eat fish I've ever seen. Excellent live music (which is usually bluegrass or old-timey), a boistrous patronage, and the owner's blind eye towards brownbagging make Taylor worth the trip. Just be prepared to wait on the front porch for a while before they can clear a table off for you. Don't worry, you can drink out there too.
First, if you get your swerve on commercially (in a bar or restuarant), I suggest you ask any of our fine Square establishments for a flavor of Mississippi's own Lazy Magnolia which comes in the dark "Southern Pecan," lighter "Reb Ale," wheaty "Indian Summer," and citrusy ... aw, hell, I can't remember that one. (ed. note: I had lunch in Nashville earlier this year with the owner of this brewery...they're good people...support small/regional businesses!)
The best/most infamous place to drink in town is the City Grocery. Downstairs, it's a nice place to eat at which you won't be getting a table this weekend. Upstairs, it's a bar that looks and feels more ancient than it really is. The best bartenders in town, a young professional sort of atmosphere, and the best view of the Square from the coveted balcony... it's the best place in town to go if you want a mint julep, a Manhattan, etc.
Another pretty swank bar is the Downtown Grille. Directly across the Square from the Grocery, the Grille also has an atmosphere that's more friendly to law school kids than undergrads, and features good cocktails and bartenders. The bar has been revamped since the last time I had a chance to go. This bar is roomier than the Grocery, so it may be perfect for a game weekend.
Ajax has a decent bar for slow weeknights, but I've never attempted it on a game weekend. The restaurant will be packed, but after the kitchen closes, the bar might be fine. The Bloody Marys are made from a secret recipe (not Zing Zang), and are pretty killer.
Parrish Baker Pub has just settled into it's new location, just off the main Square on Jackson Avenue. The crowd is usually a quirky mix of hipsters, college kids, and ragged-looking townies. Last time I was there, a construction worker bought me a shot and told me stories about a particularly stiff batch of cocaine some Mexican fellows had sold him. It was an interesting lunch. At night, the bartenders are usually decent-looking girls, and it gets a little rowdy, with the mix of always-free live music (when available), pool, darts, and shuffleboard. Probably the best non-fancy bar in town.
Taylor's Pub, located in the old Parrish's building, is miss-able for Oxford folks, just because we regret the closing of the old joint. It's alright.
Two Stick: Hipster sushi bar by day, Hipster regular bar by night. If you want a drink there, and you aren't cool, you'll soon know it.
The Library: Get it? It's a BAR, called THE LIBRARY!!! Seriously, it's by far the biggest bar in town, and keeps expanding and dividing. There are something like 4 different "bars" in this building, some of which are 18+, some 21+, but all of them are intended for college kids to play grabass with one another. Eye candy is out of this world, I'm sure, so if that's what you're looking for, then please go there. We won't have to see each other.
The Levee: Ditto.
Rooster's: A huge new bar and blues club. It's pretty hoppin'. Another good balcony scene.
There's a good bit of turnover going on about the Square right now. No Murff's, no Blind Pig, no Pearl Street, no 208. Something new is opening in each of these joints, but I'm not sure if they'll be open, or if they'll be good.
If you can't stand the crowd on the Square, check out Bad Boyz Pizza (terrible, I know, but it's a good place), Papitos (a pretty standard Mexican joint, but a good one), and... well, that's about it. Happy drankin', everyone.
Generally, there are two premiere music venues in Oxford. The Lyric is an old movie theater that was recently converted into a music hall. While only having been open a year, the venue has hosted the likes of Wilco, Modest Mouse, the Black Crowes, Old Crow Medicine Show, and the Avett Brothers. Ghostface Killah will be there the night before the Bama game so get your tickets online if you're at all interested. Proud Larry's is a much smaller venue just a block away but can hold its own in terms of quality tunes. Everything ranging from local acts to the Black Keys have played at Larry's. (ed. note: Jimbo Mathus, of Squirrel Nut Zippers' fame will be playing there on Friday night.) Rooster's always has decent live blues, Parrish's usually has a decent local act, and the Blind Pig will usually have some hipster pretending to be a DJ.
As far as the absolutely random sights and sounds go, one stands head and shoulders above the rest. Graceland Too is a makeshift shrine/museum dedicated to Elvis Presley. Paul McLeod, the owner, is...muy loco. Starting a few years ago, he began collecting anything and everything Elvis related. Then, once his house was full of useless trinkets and posters of Elvis, he painted the exterior of the entire building pink. He then began to recreate the set of "Jail House Rock" in his backyard. You think I'm making this up? If you've got the time to make the drive north to the fair town of Holly Springs as a bit of a detour, do it. The house is open 24 hours a day so your schedule is as good as his and, for five dollars, getting a peek into the life of the most mentally unstable packrat in all of Marshall County is worth the time and money.
Literature buffs will enjoy Rowan Oak, the historic home of Nobel Laureate William Faulkner. They will also enjoy Sqaure Books which is the nation's largest independently owned bookstore. (ed. note: David Sedaris will be in Oxford Saturday night at an event arranged by the bookstore.) Nielsen's is the South's oldest department store and would gladly love to overcharge you for whatever new bowtie you're looking for, if you're in a big-spender shopping kid of mood.
That's a not-so brief run-down of Oxford. There is a whole lot more to see and do but, for folks who will only be here for a weekend, this is more than ample. Enjoy, pick up your litter, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.