College Towns

July 19, 2007

I was listening to a national radio talk show one day last week, and the host's topic was "What is the best college town in America?" Of course, I know this to be Baton Rouge, and I sat back to hear the opinions of those who are wrong.

The host was set on Madison. I've been to Madison, and it is indeed a really cool town. Like all great college towns, the university is huge, rabidly fanatical about football, and drives a huge bar scene. The old part of Madison itself is a really cool little bohemian town featuring lots of cool little restaurants, bars, brew pubs, independent book stores, and cheese shops, without a nationally known chain in the area. It's near a pretty state capital complex, and smooshed between two big lakes, bordered by parks, that are ideal for any kind of water recreation.

I thought through this and had a quick momentarily panicked thought of, "Shit, Madison might really be better than Baton Rouge."

And then I remembered that they have colder nastier winters than I can imagine, let alone try to bear. Average temps for Madison in April: High 55, Low 33. Our April is Madison's summer, and we're four to six weeks past when we busted out shorts and sandals. Close the book on Madison.

The next city that was a real contender was Austin. Oddly, all of the candidates are both college towns and state capitals.

I was worried again. Their bar/restaurant scene is unparalleled. I've never been to SXSW, but I know it's as big as New Orleans's Jazz Fest, but spread through the city and lasting the whole week, and that it's where great bands get discovered. It might be the friendliest town for bicycling anywhere in the Central time zone, and there's a nearby lake for water sports.

The only drawback that comes right to mind is that it's in Texas. In general, I'm anti-Texas. It's too big and dry for my liking. Too hot in the summer, and too cold in the winter. And Texans who insist the moon revolves around earth only to catch a daily glimpse of the longhorn state are all too common and all too annoying.

There's a lot more to do in Baton Rouge then there was a few years ago. There are lots of chances for free outdoor concerts, more and more bars open downtown, and food quality that can't be touched by any other city of similar size. Just yesterday, I had a link of crawfish boudin from Tony's seafood for lunch. It was incredibly flavorful -- there was a bit of smoky flavor from the grill which perfectly complimented the spicy seasoning. Neither flavor drowned out the delicate -- almost sweet -- crawfish meat. It was enough to get almost full, and it cost somewhere around a dollar.

Beat that.

The truth of the matter is that if you're going to visit a town for a couple of days, you are better off going to Madison (in the summer) or Austin. If you're looking for the perfect college football experience, come tailgate with us outside of Tiger stadium. You won't want to go to the game.

And if you're looking for the best college town to spend a year, there's nowhere else close. But you have to come and stay a little while in order to prove it to yourself.