Looking Towards the Summer

Unfortunately, it looks like this will be my last post, at least my last post pertaining to Purdue.

For the readers who may not have seen my first few articles, this blog, “Off the Golden Tracks”, started out as a classroom assignment.

In a couple weeks I’ll be graduating and heading west for Colorado Springs.  I love to mountain bike, hike, and ski, so after some deliberation, it seemed like the place I should go.  I don’t really have much of a plan, but at that point I will have an M.A., in addition to my undergraduate degree from Purdue.  I’ll be hoping for the best.

Because this is my final post, I thought it would be nice to recap a few of my favorite experiences with this blog.

When I started this in January, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I didn’t know if people would find my posts interesting or even relevant to their lives.  I tend to find amusement in very simple things, everyone isn’t like that.

After several posts and a little bit of time, my blog began to get a little attention among my group of friends, often coming up in conversation.

However, it wasn’t until a post that I wrote about the potential of flooding at Purdue that I got real feedback from the public.  This got several shares and reached around 1,500 page views.  From looking at where hits were directed from, I learned a little about how to gain more traffic.  Twitter gave me almost no hits, Facebook gave me a few, but Reddit gave me a lot.

A few weeks later I wrote a post about a few of my favorite legends at Purdue, and this taught me the value of when people “share” things online.  Within a few days, 134 people had shared the article directly from my site on their Facebook page, causing page views to skyrocket, eventually putting my blog in front of 32,000 people.  Originally, I had started this blog to pass on some of my experiences and recommendations stemming from my 6 years as a student here, the ones that I felt might be forgotten.  I feel like this post is where I accomplished that goal.  Hearing some of my freshman students talk about it in class, without knowing I was the author, showed me that.

Reaching almost 40,000 people in 86 countries, it was really interesting to see how people responded to what I wrote online.  It wasn’t all positive, but it wasn’t all negative.  I hope in the future I have time to sit down and write a little more, however only time will tell.

In my final words, I just wanted to thank you for following “Off the Golden Tracks.”  Until next time.

-Spencer B. McKee

Stuck in Lafayette for the Summer?

As someone speaking from experience, just because it’s summer time in a college town doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on.  Fortunately, Lafayette has enough people here year-round to make it possible for students staying here over summer to still find a few interesting things to do.

I’ve highlighted a few fun things in a previous post, many of which  you’ll still have the opportunity to do even after the semester ends.

Whether you’re here taking classes, working a job, living as a local, or just taking a break, just because it’s getting hot outside and less people are here doesn’t mean you can’t still have a great time.

Here are a few of my favorite events that are coming up soon:

1. Mosey Down Main Street – May 10

Kick off the summer right.  Mosey Down Main is a great event to grab a few friends and enjoy some good food, good beer, and good music.  Main street gets filled with various acts and various vendors all looking to have a good time.

2. The Historic Farmer’s Market – June 7

Local farmers and vendors sell fresh veggies, baked goods, jellies, and jams, along with other crafts.  If it’s sunny outside, the Farmer’s
Market is a great place to enjoy the warmth, as well as some local flavors.  If you can’t make it on June 7, it’s held most Saturdays throughout the summer.  More information can be found on their site.

3. Taste of Tippecanoe – June 21

Taste of Tippecanoe highlights local restaurants and other culinary ventures.  Similar to the Taste of Chicago, but on a much smaller scale, the Taste of Tippecanoe will leave your stomach satisfied.

4. Stars and Stripes Celebration – July 4

Just because Lafayette isn’t a huge city, doesn’t mean they’re not patriotic.  The Stars and Stripes Celebration is an annual event in which hundreds of people pack onto and around the pedestrian foot bridge anxiously waiting for an impressive fireworks show.  It’s fun and family friendly.

5. Riverfest – July 12

More local food and vendors, but this time it’s accompanied by canoes as well as a 5k run/walk event.  Other entertainment is also available, like live music and a cornhole tournament.

The Breakfast of Champions

Purdue is known for several crazy traditions, but perhaps one more insane than any other is that of “Breakfast Club.”  Thousands of college students put on Halloween costumes and head to bars that open at 7am for a day of partying with their friends every home football game in the fall and once in the spring during Grand Prix week.

As the popularity of Grand Prix breakfast club continues to increase, the influx of thirsty students made way for the Neon Cactus to enter the scene several years ago.  Dubbing their event the Breakfast of Champions, the Neon Cactus instantly took a huge chunk of the market share, offering visitors a piano bar, a huge dance floor, and now a beer garden.  The link above will take you to a few of the images and audio from this years event, which both the bar and those attending consider to have been a huge success.

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The “How the West Was Won” Bar Crawl: A Story

As the year draws to a close, a lot of students at Purdue will be leaving shortly, not soon to return.  Unfortunately, many of these students will leave only experience half of what the location of Purdue has to offer, rarely venturing across the river into Lafayette.

After realizing my days at Purdue were numbered, I gathered 12 of my most easily persuadable friends together and planned a spontaneous a bar crawl with the simple goal of exploring downtown Lafayette.

We set out with the noon sun high in the sky, not knowing if we’d all make it back alive.

Stop 1: DT Kirby’s

I should start this story by mentioning that this bar crawl was an idea spawned while we were enjoying a drink or two at Harry’s the night before.  That being said,  greasy food sounded awesome.  All of us being avid fans of DT Kirby’s, we knew that lunch here was where we had to start.  Most of the people in our party hadn’t been to the new location yet after their relocation mid-fall.  It’s much larger than the original spot across the street (35 seats v. 120 seats).

As I’ve mentioned before, DT Kirby’s is home to all things delicious and unhealthy such as deep fried hot dogs, mac n’ cheese topped burgers, and a whole slew of other calorie intensive options.  It’s a great place to fill up the tank, but overeating there can stop your day dead in it’s tracks.  Beware.  Bar crawls are no fun when all you want to do is sleep.

Burger

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 Also, good bloodies here to start the day.

Stop 2: Lenehan’s

All fighting a food coma, we reluctantly opened the door to leave, painfully smacked in the face by the sunlight of the outside world.  We slowly managed to waddle across the street to a new slighty Irish sports bar, Lenehan’s.  I’d heard a lot about this place, mostly that it was fun if you were really drunk and if it was really late.  We had neither of those qualifications on our side, but thought we’d check it out anyways.

lenehans

Predictably, we were the only people there at 2 in the afternoon, however this played to our advantage as we instantly turned the establishment into a personal game room.  With free ping pong and several sports games you can pay a dollar each to play, this place took me back to basement hang outs in high school.  What we had originally intended to be a brief visit quickly turned into several hours of mild exercise.  The onsetting tiredness rapidly dissipated.

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Stop 3: The Vault

With the desire to keep playing bar games, we set our eyes towards the west to our favorite pool hall.  By the time we had walked several city blocks, we finally reached our destination.  The doors were locked.

We looked at our watches, 4:50, and pressed our faces against the window peering at the workers inside who kept holding up 5 fingers, meaning we’d have to wait a few more minutes.  Luckily, the overall look of disappointment that spread quickly across the faces of the group, along with probable concern for those in the party that had started to heavily chainsmoke,  seemingly touched a note of sympathy.  An employee let us in a couple of minutes early.  Sure it was only a few minutes, but there’s nothing like that feeling of special privilege to boost morales.

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It was the first time I’d been inside of the Vault without a smokey haze slowly rising towards the ceiling.  There was no music playing, no pool balls crashing, just the chatter of the group we came with.

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We quickly took advantage of the any day, any beer schooner deal ($6 for a 34 oz. craft beer) followed by cashing some bills, collecting some change, and tightly racking some balls.

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I’m not sure how long we were here, or how many games we played.  All I know is that it was long enough for us to watch the entire movie of Twister that was playing on the flat screens around the bar (and even pumping it through the speakers after enough begging).

Stop 4: Hunter’s Down Under

Having finally worked off what felt like eternal DT Kirby’s food babies, somehow we felt the need for more food.  After arguing for several minutes about where to head next, a friend made a simple request, “I know a place, follow me.”

Intrigued by his confidence, all 12 of us followed him back out onto the streets of Lafayette.  We quickly noticed we seemed to be walking away from all of the other suggestions, and that it didn’t really seem like we were walking towards anywhere too interesting.  As we all started to question our decision to blindly follow, suddenly our leader seemed to vanish in thin air.  After a few moments, we noticed he was no longer with us and confusion quickly spiked.

“Guys, down here” cut through the air, instantaneously met by heads whipping around trying to determine which direction it was coming from.

Eventually, someone peered over the railing along the sidewalk.  There were stairs, and those stairs led to a wooden door hidden in the shadows.  We were at Hunter’s Down Under.

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A humble combination between a bar and a restaurant, I felt immediately comfortable.  As we found our seats and picked our way through the menu, several locals flagged us down to make their recommendations, even one that claimed to eat there at least 5 times a week.  I got the deep fried cat fish strips with buffalo sauce.  The meat was tender, delicious and exactly what I needed.

hunters

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Stop 5: Chumley’s

The night was fast approaching, and the general consensus was that people would start dropping like flies if we didn’t head further west soon.  So after finishing up our meals, we jetted towards Chumley’s.

With a wide selection of good beer, we had decided this would be a great place to recap our day out on the town.  Somehow, be it luck or destiny, we were able to claim the huge fishbowl table in the back of the bar, where everyone could fit and no one had cellphone connection.  Cheers were made and glasses were clanked, everyone was having a good time and happy with the way the night was ending.

That is, until someone got the bright idea to spend the better half of a paycheck on several rounds of explicitly named shots for the table.

chumleys

The rest was history.

Needless to say, when we walked across the pedestrian bridge and up the hill to Harry’s, we all shared a similar feeling of accomplishment.

We had wasted a day and a lot of money doing nothing productive, filling our bodies with things that could literally kill us.

But, everyone was happy, no one was stressed, and we had made some great memories with people soon to be separated by huge geographical distance.  It’s hard to put a price on that.

Out of all the new little places and the things I’ve done trying to find content for this blog over the semester, the “How the West Was Won” bar crawl was my favorite.

I’d encourage everyone to take the time to explore downtown Lafayette before they graduate, a bar crawl is one way to do that.

The Block That Built Purdue

A short walk through downtown Lafayette drops subtle hints at the history that lies beneath the surface of the many brick buildings. Several plaques exist, with the purpose of reminding casual strollers of what once was.

One plaque commemorates the John Purdue Block, originally 12 buildings that were built in 1845, stretching from 6-12 N. Second Street.

John Purdue Block Marker

Now home to town favorites like Sergeant Preston’s and the local Movoto branch, this block looks a lot different than it did over 150 years ago when John Purdue sold the building to help fund the construction of Purdue.

Said to be built with bricks from John Purdue’s kiln, the John Purdue Block was known to be the largest commercial trade center west of New York in it’s heyday.  It offered a port for ships that were coming by the way of the Wabash river and the Erie Canal, providing a means of delivering essential cargo to Lafayette and had close ties with the first railroad to cut through Boilermaker country in 1851.

Throughout the years, candy shops, buggy factories, electric companies, and a medical college have called it home, along with many others.

While John Purdue once owned this building in the 1850s, it was sold by him during the 60s to help him concentrate his funds and energy on Purdue University.

While the building remained occupied after the sale, by 1980 it was outdated and stood in poor conditions.  The decision was made to renovate the location into a restaurant, along the space to host several small business spaces and apartments.

sgt prestons

Now once again a thriving block, the buildings that played such a key role in the development of Purdue provide a great place to meet with locals for some food and a beer.

A Meat Lover’s Guide to Lafayette: Mountain Jack’s

“Tradition of big city steakhouses, without the big city prices”

If you happen to find yourself in Lafayette wanting a good steak, I hope you find your way to a fireside table at Mountain Jack’s.

With a long list of awards throwing around phrases like “best prime rib”, “most romantic” and “best fine dining in Lafayette”, I find it surprising that a lot of students at Purdue haven’t been there.

Prime rib is definitely their speciality.

MJ

Complete with ruby port au jus sauce and horseradish that’s made in house, the various prime rib cuts range from 1/2 lb. to 1 1/4 lb., are modestly priced from $19-$26

The menu doesn’t stop there.  Other popular picks include the Steak Neil (“New York strip steak, sautéed mushrooms, onions, bacon, bleu cheese, and hollandaise sauce”) and the lobster tail.

However, they also do a couple of things here that put them a step above other steakhouses I’ve frequented.

First, they have a list of set styles that you can add to any steak.  These include the aforementioned “Neil style”, along with 8 other unique varieties like “Oscar Style” (any steak topped with crab meat, asparagus, and béarnaise sauce).  It’s also possible to get a lot of the steaks stuffed with different ingredients ranging from cheeses and vegetables to other meats, prior to being cooked.

Another cool thing Mountain Jack’s offers is a tableside salad bar, which lets patrons customize a salad specifically to their liking with fresh ingredients and several dressings made specially for the restaurant.

With great food and humble prices, visiting Mountain Jack’s should be considered any time a fancy date is planned or a special occasion is celebrated.  But don’t just take my word for it, make some reservations and try it for yourself.

 MJ2

*In case you missed my last post about South Street Smokehouse, this article is part of a series of reviews looking at a few of my favorite restaurants to order meat from in Lafayette.

5th Annual Grand Prix Trike Race

16 teams, 7 races, 4 laps, 3 winners, 1 champion.

It’s no secret that the infamous Grand Prix week is about to be upon us.  Leading up to what will be the 57th annual go-kart race on Saturday, April 26, everyone seems to have some reason to celebrate.

In recent years, this week has gotten a lot of heat from concerned citizens due to the encouragement of binge drinking and other risky behaviors.  However, many people aren’t aware that options exist to celebrate sober and still have a good time, some even located at the local watering holes.

The Neon Cactus, known for ‘cactus cup Thursdays’ are hosting their fifth annual tricycle race on Tuesday, April 22.  Not only does this opportunity give you a chance to get your friends together and do something fun, there are also cash prizes for the winners ranging from $50 – $250 cash for the top 3 teams, along with other incentives, like VIP tables during Breakfast Club and line passes.

Teams must consist of 2 males and 2 female racers.  Operating on a first come, first serve basis, 16 teams will be allowed to compete, able to sign up when doors open at 8PM.

As someone who has competed and won in the past, the event is surprisingly well put together.  For those familiar with the layout of the establishment, the tables around the dance floor have been moved, and a track marked by cones and barrels has been put in their place.  Participants don helmets and speed around the floor on adult sized three wheelers, similar to one pictured below.

 Capture

It isn’t just an oval-shaped track, which was what I had initially expected.  The race is full of long straightaways, tight corners, and even a few hair pin turns.  Each lap takes around 45 seconds , with each race consisting of 8 laps.  I have to admit, the first time I tried it, I was impressed.

For anyone looking for a fun time, sober or not (well mug fills are $2 that night), the Neon Cactus Trike Race is definitely worth checking out.  It’s something different and entertaining, whether you’re one of the people peddling or just there to support your friends.

What: 5th Annual Neon Cactus Trike Race

Where: The Neon Cactus

When: April 22, 2014

Time: Doors open at 8pm, Races start at 9pm

Cost: $5

A trip to the seldom seen side of Boilermaker country