Jake Smith never really got to experience it from the other side.
Watching an Arizona football game, a Barrio-brewed beer in hand, nachos in front of him, next to a pack of loud, Arizona-apparel-wearing — some intoxicated, some buzzed, some not —Wildcats fans.
But, now he does, cheering on the basketball team.
Sunday, the UA’s former place- kicker posted up at Gentle Ben’s, with some of his teammates to watch the game against Gonzaga, along with a number of UA fans who didn’t make the trip to San Diego.
“I mean, Wildcat nation is the best there is, especially this time of the year,” Smith said. “We put them all in one place like Ben’s or wherever someone’s going to watch the game, and everybody’s super into it from the opening tip to the end.”
That goes for most of the spots on University Boulevard, and all around town, really.
It’s a basketball town, and this is Christmastime for Arizona basketball fans. At least, as long as the Wildcats are in the tournament.
“It’s just good to be around an environment like this,” said Rich Rodriguez, the UA football coach.
Rodriguez will be in Tucson for Thursday’s game, so will Smith, and so will a large portion of the UA fan community.
So, here’s a list of some spots around town, in no particular order, you should consider for Thursday’s game, and any time the Wildcats might play in going forward.
1. Gentle Ben’s
It’s been the spot to go for years.
“I know people that went here (the UA) in the ’70s that used to go to Ben’s to watch the game,” Smith said.
It has beer, food and a 20 foot, HD projector so everyone can see the game from almost anywhere. You can sit and dine with the family downstairs, or go up to the patio and watch alongside much of the raucous UA student community.
Plus, the game starts at 7:17 p.m. on Thursday, and Ben’s has its 2-for-1 “Thirsty Thursday” drink special from 10 p.m. to midnight.
2. Frog n’ Firkin/No Anchovies
Bens’ biggest competitor, at least near campus, for crowds and crowd noise, comes across the street at Frog and No Anchovies.
The food is good, for sure. Plus, at Frog, it’s ample opportunity to fill that trusty beer card and get even closer to earning that coveted T-shirt or mug.
There’s a wide selection of beer, and lots of TVs — around 30 or so combined between the two restaurants. Get there early — if you want to sit, that is.
Oh, and it can get pretty loud.
“You can hear it up and down the streets and on campus,” said Mario Ziccarelli, Zona Zoo’s executive director. “The neighbors complain about it, Sam Hughes often has noise complaints because it can get loud sometimes.”
3. Your couch
You don’t HAVE to leave the house, spend an excessive amount of money on booze and food.
Stay at home, make a home-cooked meal, put that miniature Arizona basketball jersey on your dog, or baby — or both — plop on the couch, turn on that surround sound system you bought on sale at Costco, and enjoy the game from the comfort of your own home.
Heck, you can even make a thing of it. Invite some friends over, BYOB.
To honor Philly native, and Wildcat stud, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, you can even pick up some cheesesteaks from Frankie’s on Campbell Ave.
4. Barrio Brewing Co.
It’s a little out of the way — located at the corner of Toole Avenue and 16th Street — but it’s worth the trip.
It’s the brewery that provides beer to Ben’s, with good food, ample space and lots of television screens to look at.
Barrio has its own NCAA Ale on tap now for the tournament, and it tops the beer menu at 10 percent alcohol content.
Fun fact: It’s located next to a train track, and any time the crossing guards are down, pints go on sale for $3.25.
5. Watch parties
The UA is hosting its own watch parties going forward for students. Thursday night’s will take place at the Student Union Memorial Center by The Cellar Bistro. If Arizona wins, the Elite Eight party will be at the Park Student Union.
Better hope they make the Elite Eight — there will be free wings.
Also, on Thursday night Zona Zoo is hosting a watch party at the Auld Dubliner on University. You don’t need to be 21 to go, but you need to be 21 to drink. Obviously.
6. World of Beer
It’s the new spot in town — it opened at the end of 2013. Shockingly, there’s a wide beer selection — more than 600 craft beers, in fact.
There’s a lot of TVs, and their German pretzels are to die for.
7. The gym
You don’t have time to skip the gym.
It’s understandable: Those biceps won’t get grow on their own.
No worries, most of the gyms around town have TVs where you can watch the game while you lift or run the treadmill.
In fact, the UA Rec Center has a projector that shows the UA games by the free weights, and if the Wildcats make the Final Four, the aforementioned UA watch party will take place at the Rec Center, with free food to boot.
If you want to chill by the pool, bring your laptop. Or even just download the NCAA March Madness app on your smartphone.
Safety note: Try to avoid looking at a TV while bench pressing.
It’s a part of growing up, the slogan says.
It’s also a Greek life hotbed and UA game-watching hot spot, thanks in large part to its proximity to campus.
There are about 130 seats, “and we’re planning on every one being taken,” said Gary Welch, Dirtbag’s owner. “It’ll be pretty crazy.”
The kitchen is open, and from open to close, $3.50 well drinks.